Frank S. Page is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.
NASHVILLE (BP) — Anna Greenberg, former assistant professor of public policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, observed in a 1999 Chronicle of Higher Education essay:
“Polls show that Americans have the perplexing ability to hold ideologically contradictory views. As many scholars note, Americans are simultaneously attached to both limited and activist government policies; they are capable, for instance, of favoring both cutting the federal budget and increasing spending on education, health care, and other social programs. Americans are also quite willing to offer opinions to poll takers on subjects that they concede they know nothing about. (“Public Opinion Makes Better Sense without the Opinion Makers,” May 14, 1999, pp. B8-B9; cited in Leadership, Winter 2000, p. 69.)
As this observation humorously portrays, Americans are people with varying opinions, competing loyalties and often contradicting perspectives.
Despite our weaknesses and sometimes our silliness, we have much for which to be thankful. We enjoy freedoms that most people in the world do not have. While there is much with our government, judicial system, legislative process and executive branch to cause us concern, we must stop and thank God for the freedoms we do have. We must also remember our duties and responsibilities as Christian citizens.
The apostle Paul thought this was important. Both Romans 13:1–7 and 1 Timothy 2:1–4 are instructive about the Christian’s perspective on the role of government.
We are to acknowledge that government is ordained of God.
The Romans passage speaks of our subjection to government authorities. In verses 3–5, Paul went as far as to tell us that government is a minister of God. We know that God’s purpose through government is to aid the good and punish the evil. Governments are ordained of God to help citizens accomplish the greatest good for the greatest number and, hopefully, to prevent evil people from profiting at the expense of the overall community. Assuming that the government fulfills its purpose, one reason for obeying our laws would be the fear of punishment. However, for Christians there is a more worthy motive, namely to be good citizens as part of being a positive Christian witness in society.
We are to remember our duties.
The Romans text also instructs Christ-followers to obey the laws and honor those in authority (vv. 5–7). Yes, we have duties as good citizens! One of those duties in a free society is to encourage all persons to be involved in the political process.
I am well aware that we are in the midst of one of the most interesting election cycles in our history. There is deep division in our country as to what needs to happen in the days ahead. Colorful candidates are espousing views which reveal, in essence, two very different Americas. We desperately need to be involved in the process so that we will vote for a person who would honor the true needs of our citizens while also honoring the timeless judgments and precepts of our Lord. Christians must be involved in the political process. To relegate that responsibility to nonbelievers is irresponsible at best.
In the churches I have served over the years, we routinely held registration drives to encourage people to vote. It is unconscionable to me for a Christian not to exercise his or her right as a citizen in this country. I understand apathy. I understand fatigue. However, we must not grow weary in well-doing. We must vote our convictions!
I viewed it then, and view it now, as inappropriate for me to endorse specific candidates. But it would be irresponsible for me not to remind followers of Jesus Christ about an issue of extreme importance, namely Christian citizenship and the duty to show up at the polls and vote our convictions.
We are to prioritize focused prayer for our government and our leaders.
In 1 Timothy 2:1–4, we see the need to pray for our leaders: “First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone” (verse 1). When government espouses the values of religious liberty and respect for its citizens, hindrances to public witness and barriers to religious freedom begin to fall. Christ-followers are able to lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity (verse 2). Such an environment is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (verses 3–4).
Have you been praying for our leaders? Have you been praying for our president? Are you praying for this election process? Are you registered to vote? I hope so. Let us pray and let us vote to protect the liberties we have enjoyed in our lifetime and preserve them for our children and their children throughout the generations!