By / Feb 7

“The Nations Belong to God: A Christian Guide for Political Engagement” is a resource written to help Christians facing an election year. This guide is a starting point for Christians to think about how to engage the political processes around them.

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Every election is about getting the most votes—whether it is at the local level directly from voters or at the presidential level in the Electoral College.

Anxiety and animosity are a driving force behind a number of candidacies. Think of how many times you have heard an office seeker paint the next election as a battle between “us vs. them” or deploy dehumanizing language against opponents, specific groups, or the media.

Why are election years so difficult?

During election season, there is a tendency to reduce complex issues to soundbites. As a consequence, voters are not required to think deeply about problems and solutions. Instead of substantively engaging, voters are asked to become partisan automatons or polarized performers.

  • So how do we see through the political gamesmanship and grift?
  • What can be done to think more deeply how to steward our votes instead of falling into the lazy “binary choice” framework?
  • Most importantly, how can we honor God as we engage in political decisions on Election Day—or any other day?

What is a Christian Guide for Political Engagement?

This guide titled “The Nations Belong to God,” patterned off the ancient model of a catechism, is a starting point for Christians thinking about how to engage the political processes around them. It is not the end of doctrine or teaching on any of these subjects, but a place to begin, a call to consider anew what it means for us to declare, “Jesus is Lord.” 

Though this political catechism was written to help Christians facing an election year, and in a time when there is a growing sense of fear, polarization, vitriol, and apathy about the current landscape of politics, it is also a guide to how life should be lived every other day besides a Tuesday in November every four years. Our political participation should not be boiled down to a vote cast on one day, important as that vote may be.

Politics is about life in community with others, and those relationships exist even when candidates aren’t vying for our votes, donations, and attention. 

Brent Leatherwood, ERLC President

In the face of an election year sure to be filled with angst, division, and fearmongering, the teachings of Jesus will be all the more important for a witness that is bold and hopeful. The hope flowing from a confidence that no matter who occupies the White House, Congress, or seats of power, our citizenship lies in heaven, and our work as ambassadors continues.

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By / Nov 11

In this episode, Lindsay and Brent talk about the results of the midterms and how Christians can think about them. They also discuss the temptation toward discouragement, the path forward, and the hope believers have. 

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By / Nov 7

The 2022 midterms elections are tomorrow, and in the last days and weeks, Americans have increasingly turned their focus to politics. Voter turnout for the last midterm election in 2018 was 49% of the eligible population, the highest for a midterm election in 100 years, according to Pew Research. Some election officials are predicting that this year’s numbers will be equally high. 

Elections are an important avenue for Americans to register their opinions about the direction of the nation and their local communities. How should Christians think about elections and how should we engage this moment? I’d like to provide three answers to equip and inform believers as they make their way to the ballot bot.  

Be informed, not ignorant

I know, we are all busy. Our lives are consumed by family responsibilities, professional requirements, and our preoccupation with social media. I’ll admit, adding “candidate research” on top of that doesn’t sound appealing. But the reality is, our vote is important, and we should want to know who we are voting for and exactly why that candidate deserves to receive our vote.

Samuel Adams put it like this in 1781, “Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please an individual – or at least that he ought not so to do; but that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society.” So how does one get informed to be able to approach Election Day as a “solemn trust”?

Being informed means getting inquisitive. But how? I’d suggest your local newspaper, first and foremost. The reporting there is likely based on the issues affecting people in your area. Second, a great site to visit for some unbiased analysis is the Cook Political Report. Finally, if you’re looking for something that really dives into the history of states and districts, the go-to resource for journalists is The Almanac of American Politics.

All of these resources, and others like them, can help you research positions and policies, give you handles for examining a candidate’s record (especially if they have a history in public service), and, ultimately, help you determine whether the individual exhibits enough of an alignment with your principles to merit your vote. 

As we do this, we should realize that not every determination we make is going to be an easy call. There are going to be some political races where there isn’t a clear indication as to who deserves our support. That can be frustrating, especially operating in a culture that wants clear, binary choices. But that isn’t the world in which we reside. While it can be tempting to withdraw entirely from the political space, we aren’t called to that. Instead, we must wisely process the information we collect and move forward.

Be discerning about politics, not dogmatic

As we are doing our research and gleaning the necessary information to make an informed choice, we should be on guard against false reports and misleading details, particularly from entities that are spreading them on purpose.

We all are tempted to read sources or believe social media posts that only serve to reaffirm our political beliefs. That’s the type of behavior that political advertisers and Twitter bots feast upon. As such, we are merely turned into the talking heads that we see on cable news, parroting the talking points we’ve just been fed. We should resist this.

I would suggest, instead of being discipled by our favored media outlets, we take it upon ourselves to collect information from a number of different sources. Do you watch MSNBC all the time? Ok, pick up The Wall Street Journal, too. Do you follow all the writers at The Federalist on social media? Take the time to peruse what the folks at The Atlantic are writing about, as well. Do you listen to Fox News Radio on your drive in the afternoon? Occasionally flip on PBS Newshour once you get home from that drive. And vice versa.

All the outlets I just listed tend to focus on national issues. I would submit that local matters and candidates for offices closer to home are just as, if not more, important for your life than nearly everything that comes out of Washington, D.C. So pick up the local newspaper, scan what reporters across your home state are covering, and try to listen to some locally-produced programs and podcasts. There are a number of critical issues in our communities that deserve our attention, but they are flying under the radar because all of us are devoting far too much attention to the latest procedural vote on Capitol Hill.

Let’s commit ourselves to being good stewards of information by keeping a discerning eye on what we come across. From there, we can be helpful voices as we actually engage with our neighbors.

Dialogue without dehumanizing

After we have taken the time to research the candidates for federal and local office and any ballot measures, what should we do with the information? In other words, if we’re given the opportunity, how do we helpfully engage people around us?

Unfortunately, there’s too few who are leading well in this regard right now, especially online. Instead, there are numerous examples where individuals are trying to rhetorically “own” their opponents and demean any hint of opposing viewpoints. While that may be appealing in our current cultural moment, that’s not how a Christian should view his or her interactions with others. Ephesians 4:29 reminds us that we’re called to a higher standard: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Seek to persuade, not pulverize. All around us, whether on the political left or right, activists are trying to drive their opponents out of the public square. Online mobs attack their partisan adversaries. Political leaders completely dismiss their rivals. In lieu of mimicking that behavior, I would hope my words about current political issues bring a greater sense of clarity and perspective. Does that mean there won’t be disagreement? Of course not. Well-meaning people can disagree without seeking to dehumanize one another. That is the type of heart we should display in both our personal interactions and our public pronouncements.

Here’s the added benefit: This type of healthy engagement on the personal level helps strengthen the public square. Much like the streams that form the headwaters of rivers, our conversations with friends, colleagues, fellow church-goers, and social acquaintances knit stronger social bonds in our communities. It helps build up what former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called the “free trade in ideas.”

Moreover, there are some scriptural underpinnings to this too. Though in a different context, the call to “come and let us reason together” (Isa. 1:18) stands out as well as what Paul tells us in Romans, “live at peace with everyone” (12:12). These are helpful reminders and framings for the posture we should take as believers. By inviting someone to sit down and talk through an issue (with the hope of finding common ground), you are respecting their status as one made in God’s image and, in our current context, reaffirming the notion that our American experiment is a shared project that’s better undertaken together than apart.

Overall, we must keep perspective. All that is mentioned above is advice for this particular season. Yes, we should stay abreast of the political developments of the day, but we cannot let it consume our lives. Politics and the policy decisions being made by our leaders are important in our society, but they are not eternal. The things of God are (2 Cor. 4:18). We must be mindful of that as we engage in this space. Doing so will ensure we remain informed and charitable toward those who are casting ballots alongside us.

By / Jan 20

Jeff Pickering, Chelsea Patterson Sobolik, and Travis Wussow are back together for the start of a new year in D.C. The team reflects on the two historic Wednesdays at the U.S. Capitol and what it all means for our democracy, our public policy work, and for Christians in the public square. January 6th was a day of chaos. January 20th is a day that will see the inauguration of a new president amidst unprecedented security and pandemic precautions. Both are meaningful for the work of the ERLC.

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By / Jan 20

Every four years our nation celebrates the inauguration of a new president. The occasion is always marked by ceremony, pomp, and circumstance, as power is transferred to or reinvested in America’s commander in chief. For Christians, bearing witness to another inauguration is a unique reminder of our duty to pray for those in authority. One place that command is found in the Scriptures is 1 Timothy 2:1-4, where Paul provides the following instructions:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

One of the benefits of this passage is its clarity. Here Paul tells us not only that we are to pray for those in authority, but how we should do so. As we commemorate this day, here are four specific ways to pray based on Paul’s words from this passage.

1. Pray for our country 

Paul is clear that we are to pray “for all people.” As citizens of this country, we should take this opportunity to pray for our neighbors and fellow citizens. We can ask for God’s blessings upon those we live alongside. We can pray for God to grant them wisdom and success in every good endeavor. We can pray for their health and safety. And we can thank God for the privilege of living together in this republic.

2. Pray for our new president 

Paul tells us to pray for those “in high positions.” In our country, there is no higher office than the presidency. And with a new president comes a host of new leaders in the apparatus of government. We should pray for God to grant President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and those in their administration the wisdom to enact just policies that lead to human flourishing. We should pray for God to bless their efforts to accomplish the work of government in all the ways that are pleasing to him, and we should pray that God would stay their hands from actions or policies that do not align to his will. 

3. Pray for our peace 

Paul tells us that we are to offer these prayers so “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life.” The reason for this is simple, government is necessary to order our common life. Its primary task is to promote peace and justice (Rom. 13). We can pray today that these incoming leaders will lead well, that they will preserve domestic peace, and that our nation and our world will enjoy greater peace in the days and years ahead. In our polarized and fractious country, we should all desire peace, not only in the policy realm, but at the family and community level as well.

4. Pray for our lost neighbors

As we pray for our new leaders, as well as our nation and our neighbors, we must remember that our goal is their salvation. God “desires all people to be saved.” Paul recognized that a good and just government allows more freedom for the church to do its work of bearing witness to the gospel. We should pray that over the next four years, our churches would be free to minister and to point the way to Jesus. More than anything else, our neighbors and our world need the hope of the gospel.

By / Jan 20

I moved to Washington, D.C. four years ago this week. There was an anxious excitement that January as Americans coming and going in the nation’s capital prepared for a new president, new Congress, and a soon-to-be transformed judiciary. Some were enthusiastic and others were worried.

Much has changed since the 20th of January in 2017, but much remains the same. Our country remains deeply divided. The Americans who were eager for the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States are sullen about the 46th. And the inverse is also true.

In 2017, my trek to the National Mall for the Inauguration included dodging the loudest of my fellow citizens’ screams and countless signs of how great America was about to be made again—or how dreadful. Walking in my new city, I felt like a high school kid who moved back to town after a few years away. I recognized the tribal passion but didn’t fit within it. I was, as many young evangelicals have found themselves to be in recent years, politically homeless.

I knew what I believed, what policies required advocacy, both for and against, and that character mattered in leadership. While the state of our politics left much to be desired for a pro-life, pro-refugee evangelical like me, the red, white, and blue flags emblazoned on the U.S. Capitol and down Pennsylvania Avenue that day stirred in me both pride and gratitude.

The day’s events then, just like those we will see again today, remind us of what’s foundational to our country’s system of government. We are a people who are free to vigorously debate the issues because we have maintained a long-treasured peace under the righteous constraints of the rule of law. Elections matter only when we respect them as the way we determine who holds power.

The peaceful transition of power

Every four years, we get to be a part of this remarkable American tradition––the peaceful transition of power. The transition is established in the U.S. Constitution and by the actions of our leaders who, by their submission to the law, constrain partisan passions. What might be most remarkable about the transition is how unremarkable it has been over our country’s long history. Rare is the president who has not attended their successor’s inauguration.

The value of the rule of law can only be understood in contrast with the peril of the rule of man. The rule of man results from our fallen state—it is the system where might makes right. Our system in the U.S., ruled as we are, not by power but by elections conducted and laws passed according to the consent of the people, constrains the powerful, even at times against their will and at odds with their partisan interests. This idea, that a body of just laws ought to constrain us, runs to the very essence of what our union means. Just laws protect the powerless from injustice. For us at the ERLC, this means first and foremost, working through the law to protect the vulnerable, beginning with the unborn, and also the widow, the orphan, the religious minority, and the sojourner.

America’s peaceful transition of power is a ceremony in which our national commitment to the rule of law above the power of man is made most evident. Think about it: this ceremony celebrates the individual holding the most powerful office in our nation, entrusted as the head of government, the head of state, and the commander-in-chief of our armed forces, transferring that awe-inspiring power to someone else.

When President Washington voluntarily gave up the presidency after two terms in office, he began a tradition, now enshrined in the Constitution, to which the world was left in wonderment. This peaceful transfer of power reminds every American watching that the presidency is, above all, a stewardship. And in this stewardship, leaving is just as important as entering. This is a virtue at the heart of our republic.

Sadly, the militarized security surrounding today’s 59th Inauguration of the President of the United States is a stark warning that our experiment in self-government is not guaranteed to last. Only two weeks ago we watched as the resiliency of our democracy was tested by an unimaginable tragedy. January 6 saw seditious riots at the very same building that is today decorated for a ceremony. That violent attempt to forcefully overturn the presidential election on the basis of conspiracy and lies reminded all of us of the threats facing our constitutional order. If we allow partisan passions to undermine faith in our elections, we will eventually replace the rule of law with the rule of man. This is not the way for the people of God, nor for the United States. As Christians in America, let’s consider again that God has always intended for His people to be constrained by a law that stands higher than themselves. 

Today marks a moment that merits our appreciation as citizens of this republic, just as it did four years ago, and in 2009 and in 2001 and so on. These occasions in the American story are days we can be grateful for not necessarily because of the politicians involved but because of the laws and traditions created by the Founders that they operate within. Seeking the welfare of the city into which we have been sent as exiles begins anew on days like today when we uphold the traditions of our democracy, respect the rule of law, and protect justice and liberty for all.

By / Nov 6

In this episode, Lindsay also gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Jordan Wootten with “3 ways Christians can mend the political rural-suburban divide,” Josh Wester with :Why would Christians support religious freedom? Learning from early Christian leaders,” and Marissa Postell with “What should we do with the fear we feel in 2020? Trusting God in the midst of pandemics and politics.” Also in this episode Josh, Lindsay, and Brent discuss all the details surrounding the 2020 election and the results still coming in. 

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By / Nov 6

The 2020 presidential election is still ongoing and has raised many questions. Here is an explanation of what’s happening.

Why is it taking so long to count the ballots?

The two primary reasons why ballot-counting is taking longer than usual, is because of high voter turnout and the process of counting absentee ballots (i.e., mail-in ballots). 

Voter turnout has been higher than in normal elections, which estimates ranging from roughly 157.1 million to 165.0 million votes cast for president. This is likely to be the highest percentage of voter turnout since 1900, when 73.7% of eligible Americans cast ballots. Vice President Biden has already broken the record for most votes ever cast for a U.S. presidential candidate, beating President Obama’s 2008 tally.

The record number of absentee ballots has also slowed the counting. So far there have been almost twice as many absentee ballots as in person ballots (65.2 million compared to 35.9 million). Some states, such as Pennsylvania, are not allowed by their state laws to count any mail-in ballots until Election Day. 

Because absentee ballots require additional steps to process, such as opening the envelopes and checking the names against voter rolls, they take significantly more time to process. That is why states like Texas and Florida, which were able to process their absentee ballots early and know their projected counts on the night of the election. 

What are each candidate’s paths to victory?

For President Trump to win reelection, he needs to win Pennsylvania and three of the remaining states: Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, and Nevada. For Vice President Biden to win the election, he needs to win Pennsylvania or two of the remaining states. 

At the time of publication, Biden was leading in all states except for North Carolina. 

What does it mean for media outlets to “call’ a race?

Media outlets create projection models to predict the likely outcomes of a race. Such models are based on criteria like exit polls and past elections and are usually based on a county-by-county breakdown. Some models also consider the relative number of absentee ballots and urban votes (which tend to skew Democrat) compared to election day ballots and rural votes (which tend to skew Republican). For this reason, where the remaining votes are in a state can help projection models determine the likely outcome. For example, if all of the historically Republican parts of a state have counted 100% of the vote but all the historically Democratic parts of a state have counted 0% of the vote, they may call the race for a Democrat losing the state by 1% if the exit polls show the Democratic areas will continue voting for the Democrat by a significant margin.

The two primary projection models are Edison Research’s National Election Pool (which is used by ABC, NBC, CBS, NBC, et al.) and AP VoteCast (which is used by the Associated Press and Fox News). The differing methodologie are why some media outlets project winners in certain states while others do not. The most prominent example from this election is the AP and Fox News calling the state of Arizona for Biden on the night of the election. 

But while such projections help us know who the likely winner will be, the determination of who will be president is based on the official vote counts being certified by the Secretary of State for each individual U.S. state. 

Could a recount change the outcome of an election?

Before the votes are certified, states can allow a recounting of the ballots. Each state has their own laws about when a candidate can request a recount. For example, Wisconsin law only allows for a recount if the margin in the race is within 1% (Georgia has already announced they will be conducting a recount). In many states, a candidate can also request a recount if there is evidence of fraud or significant error. 

Recounts rarely change the vote count by more than a few hundred, and almost never change the outcome of race. For example, in the 2016 presidential contest, Wisconsin conducted a recount after Trump beat Sec. Hillary Clinton by more than 20,000 votes. The recount resulted in Trump gaining an additional 131 votes.

The most famous recount in presidential history was in the 2000 election. George W. Bush was leading Gore by about 2,000 votes on the night of the election. These results were contested, and after a statewide machine recount and partial subsequent hand recounts in some counties, the Supreme Court ordered an end to the process with Bush leading by 537 votes.

Has there been significant voter fraud in this election?

Currently, there has been no evidence that voter fraud has been occurring. 

Trump’s campaign has filed lawsuits in Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania. Judges in Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania have dismissed the legal challenges.

In only one state—Nevada—have they officially claimed fraud was occurring. Trump tweeted that there was “plenty of proof,” but neither he nor his campaign have offered any proof at all. 

There are numerous reasons why widespread election fraud is difficult, if not impossible, to pull off at the presidential level. Political parties appoint partisan poll watchers to monitor polling places and election offices. For instance, an election office in the Democratic stronghold of Detroit had 134 Republicans, 134 Independents, and 134 Democrats as poll watchers. Extensive research has shown that voter fraud is exceeding rare, that voter impersonation is virtually nonexistent, and that many instances of alleged fraud are merely mistakes by voters or election administrators.