Three reasons why every American Christian should vote

February 1, 2016

We are in the midst of a presidential election that, even to this political junkie, becomes tiresome with the bombast and vitriol, cliques and platitudes, polls and pundits. Every election, brave candidates step forward for public vetting, reminding us of the deep flaw and corruption present even in the best of humanity.

At times, Christians are tempted to despair, wondering if it’s even worth voting, if the politicians and the programs offered are even worth engaging. Perhaps its better, some muse, to simply sit out an election. Others wonder if, by voting, they are usurping the sovereignty of a God who works through the affairs of men to put in power whom he will (Rom. 13:1; Dan. 2:21; Psa. 75:7).

I understand the temptation toward disengagement in the voting process, but I believe every Christian should vote. Here are three reflections from Scripture that might help inform your decision:

1. We should vote out of love for neighbor. The prophet Jeremiah told the Jewish exiles in pagan Babylon to “seek the welfare of their city” by building, planting, creating and cultivating. This was difficult instruction for the people of God, thrust into a culture where their way of life and their values were out of step with those around them. What’s more, false prophets were telling the Jewish exiles that soon they’d be delivered from Babylon and would have their kingdom back. Jeremiah was tasked with the job of telling them that, no, they would not get their kingdom back, that this exile would last for many years, and that the kingdom they sought would be fulfilled, ultimately, in the everlasting kingdom of Christ.

New Testament Christians are not Jewish exiles, but there is something we can learn from the words of Jeremiah. We, too, are exiles in a world that is at odds with our beliefs. We too face the temptation to withdraw into our ourselves and disengage from the world around us. But because we are born again into Christ’s kingdom, we are called to live on mission in our communities and in our country.

Thankfully, many evangelicals are beginning to see their surroundings, not as the Promised Land, but as Babylon, as a mission field, as a place where God has called them to reflect, in part, the coming Kingdom of God. This movement is a movement of God—but what I fear, when I talk to many missional Christians, is a reticence to engage the politics that affect the cities they love. Jesus told us that we should love our neighbor as ourselves—how can we love our neighbor, how can we seek the welfare of our cities, if we sheepishly abdicate the opportunity to choose the people who lead us? How can we love our neighbor if we ignore the policies and structures that affect him?

This doesn’t mean Christians should turn their church lobbies into political party headquarters. It doesn’t mean Christians should pledge allegiance to a candidate. It doesn’t mean the church should lose its prophetic voice to both political parties. What the Scriptures do teach us, however, is that taking our vote seriously is one way, an important way, in which we love our neighbors and love our cities.

2. We should vote because God has given us a stewardship for which we will be held accountable. In a representative republic like the United States, citizens are given a share of power—we are tasked with electing our local, state, and national leaders. This isn’t a perfect system and history has shown that even in a great country like the United States, the system can at times be gamed and manipulated. And even the best politicians often pander to the worst fears and base instincts of the people in order to win their vote. But this is the system we have.

In Romans 13, Paul reminds us that all civil authority is granted by God (Rom. 13:1-7). This power to vote—this is a God-given divestment of authority to the voter. This means that not only will government officials be held accountable for the way they rule—those who vote are also held accountable for the choices they made or didn’t make come election time. In a sense, Christian citizens in America are not only the subjects; they are also, in some sense, Caesar (Mark 12:17).

This responsibility should change the way we vote in two ways. First, it should move us away from the idea that to vote is to put your full faith and power in a candidate or movement. We vote, not because we believe our man or woman will usher in the Kingdom, but because we are fulfilling a God-given stewardship. Secondly, it should remind us that, even in the best election with the most inspiring of choices, we are choosing between two fallen sinners. Every election is about the lesser of two evils.

3. We should vote because it can help speak up for the vulnerable and help gospel advance. On issues of human dignity, a vote for or against a candidate can be a vote for or against human dignity. It is a way the powerful can speak out for the powerless on issues of life, dignity and religious liberty. It’s a way to love our neighbor by seeking the common good. We shouldn’t vote, of course, because a candidate or a party is going to make America a theocracy. We shouldn’t project onto the White House what only the church should fulfill. Civil government, at best, protects its people, seeks justice for the poor and vulnerable, and guarantees religious liberty.

Some well-meaning Christians take a defensive posture, arguing that Christians should not work for religious freedom—but this is at odds with Jesus, who told his audience that there are limits on the authority given by God to governments. The conscience belongs, not to Caesar, but to God (Mark 12:17). This is also at odds with Paul, who told Timothy to pray for a government that would protect the freedom of Christ followers so the gospel could advance (1 Tim. 2:1-3).

Sure, history has shown that the advance of the kingdom of God is not dependent on governments and has, at times, thrived under severe persecution. But Christians should not  wish for government pressure nor abdicate their God-given role in influencing the government. In some ways, those who advocate for freedom are “holding the ropes” for missionaries both here in American and overseas.  

Elections are messy and often unpleasant affairs. There is an incivility and dishonesty in some of our politics that is at odds with a Christ-shaped witness. But as Jesus said in his prayer in John 17, we have not been parachuted out, but have been sent into this world, as ambassadors of the Kingdom of God.  

Daniel Darling

Daniel Darling is the Director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a columnist for World Magazine and a contributor to USA Today. Dan is a bestselling author of several books including, The Dignity Revolution, A Way With Words, and The Characters of … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24