By the time this article is published, we will be just over a week from receiving our mail-in ballots.
As the political activity reaches its peak, it seems like a good time to consider what the Bible and the traditions of faith have to say about political involvement by the citizens and political conduct by our leaders.
Although it is not always remembered, Baptists have been staunch defenders of the separation of church and state during the 400 years of the Baptist Movement. One shining example was John Leland, a pastor who worked tirelessly with James Madison to have freedom of conscience written into both the Constitution of Virginia and the U.S. Bill of Rights. Leland believed it was the task of government to support the freedom of “Pagans, Jews, Mahometans and Christians” alike.
But having an appropriate separation of church and state does not mean that people of faith should absent themselves from the political process. Although a democratic vote was not available to the peoples of the Roman Empire, the apostles Paul and Peter encouraged the early Christians to be involved in the ways in which they could. Paul advised that Christians should pray “for kings and all who are in high positions.” Paul and Peter wrote that even in times of official persecution political authorities were actually servants of God, carrying out God’s will in ways that neither the authorities nor the believers might expect. “Honor the emperor,” wrote Peter, who would eventually be condemned to die by the emperor.
But if the Bible is clear that God’s people should pray for and obey civil authorities, it is equally clear that God expects certain things from leaders. In Ecclesiastes, we can read a warning against leaders who are foolish, who take more than their share or who look only to their own pleasures. The prophet Amos spoke out against leaders who took bribes, who ignored right and wrong and who did not care for the poor. “Hate evil, love good and establish justice,” he warned the leaders of his land.
When Moses was leading the Children of Israel to the Promised Land, his father-in-law gave him sound advice on what sort of people he should find to help him in leadership – trustworthy people who hate dishonest gain. Later, Moses recalled that he had asked the people to help him find leaders from among them: “Individuals who are wise, discerning and reputable.” He then charged them: “Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien. You must not be partial in judging: hear out the small and the great alike; you shall not be intimidated by anyone…”
As we prepare to fill out our ballots, let us remember to support those who fit the characteristics named in Scripture. And both during the election season and at all times, let us remember to pray for our leaders and to give them the respect due their office.
The Rev. M. Christopher Boyer is pastor of Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Lynnwood.