It’s August, and that means the November 2020 elections are bearing down on us as Southern Baptists. That the election is happening during a pandemic only adds to the feeling of tension and pressure. If you’re anything like me, frustration and gnawing impatience are eating away at what little normalcy is left in our world.
In a typical election year, emotions and opinions run high. In an election year with a pandemic, emotions and opinions are through the roof. That means, as Southern Baptists, we have even more work to do to be a voice of conviction and calm as our nation chooses its next administration.
As a matter of conviction, as a denomination, we’re not without guidance on the nature of our political witness. Our Baptist Faith and Message 2000 states that “All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society.” It goes on further to state, “Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love.” Our priorities cannot be the result of blind partisan devotion, but biblical fidelity. “In the spirit of Christ,” our denominational confession statement reads, “Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death.” Our political urgencies are shaped foremost by our allegiance to Christ and His Kingdom, and secondly, by the unique contexts where God has placed us.
Our denomination’s confession beckons us to care about morality, justice, and dignity and act accordingly in our political ethics, which necessarily includes the responsibilities of citizenship.
That means we must ask some questions about our politicians and their party’s platforms as November looms:
Do the political platforms of America’s major parties reflect a moral code that pursues justice and upholds dignity? No political system, or party for that matter, is perfect. Yet, Christians are to reflect God’s standards as His ambassadors on this earth regardless of the cost, and regardless of whether these standards find purchase nationally.
Are the platforms morally equal? To me, they’re not. One party has injustice woven into its platform’s DNA. This is no endorsement of any platform, candidate, or party, but a call to sober recognition that “social justice” is an empty term unless it is coherent and consistent. At the same time, intrinsic moral flaws in one party does not mean the other party is flawless or deserving of unquestioned support.
Are the major party candidates’ persons of reputable character and proven competence? Personal character and party conviction should not be separate issues. We should never focus only on one to the neglect of the other. Questions of character, conviction, and competency are a complex web of decisions that Christians have to wade through and decide. This means that if we are to care about morality, justice, and dignity, as Southern Baptists, we’ll need to respect the consciences of our fellow brothers and sisters who make different judgments about this complex web of factors that go into deciding how to vote. We may not agree with our brothers and sisters but can assume they are acting in goodwill. Because no perfect candidate exists, we need not elevate prudential political decisions to zero-sum debates about who is orthodox (Rom. 14). Knowing the faults of every candidate, I’ll have my own internal conflict as I cast my vote. Might we be gracious to allow fellow believers to wrestle with their own conscience, seek the Lord’s will, and cast their vote without sitting in judgment on them or questioning their commitment to Christ.
Southern Baptists, let’s be agents of calm. Calmness is neither indifference nor passivity. In fact, in our day, calm requires the courage to know how and when not to engage. We do not have to be the people sharing blistering political posts that insult family or friends. The foundation we stand upon is not our own or a political parties’, but a confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ who has overcome the world (John 18:36). We can echo Hebrews 13:6: “So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” Christians believe that all of life—including our elections—are under the watchful providence of God.
We may not be able to rally around the same politician. Still, hopefully, with Scripture and a set of confessional principles as our guide, we can unite around truths that make experiencing a pandemic election more than just an exercise in enduring despair. The Bible does not call us to the low bar of just existing alongside one another in smoldering contempt, but bearing with one another in gentleness, humility, and love (1 Cor. 6:13; Col. 3:13; Eph. 4:2).
Andrew T. Walker is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Executive Director of Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement.