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.

Download the Guide

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 / 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.

Resources from the Conversation

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 / Jan 15

In this episode, Josh, Brent, and Meagan discuss president Trump becoming the first president to be impeached twice, the increased national guard presence at the U.S. Capitol, COVID-19’s raging numbers, new thoughts on COVID-19 immunity length, US Space Command, Alabama winning the National Championship, and ‘Way Maker’ topping the charts in 2020. Meagan and Josh also gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Carl Laferton with “3 ways smartphone usage can distort our perceptions: Habits, theology, and Christian discipleship,” Jason Thacker, and Josh Wester with “Understanding Twitter suspensions and the need for consistent policies,” and Russell Moore with “The Roman Road from Insurrection.” Also in this episode, the hosts are joined by Haley Byrd Wilt for a conversation about life and ministry. 

About Haley

Haley Byrd Wilt is an associate editor for The Dispatch. She previously reported on Congress for CNN and The Weekly Standard. Haley and her husband Evan live in Washington, D.C. You can connect with her on Twitter: @byrdinator

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. Trump becomes first president to be impeached twice
  2. Here are the Republicans who voted to impeach Trump
  3. Here’s what the U.S. Capitol looks like as impeachment is underway
  4. Axios: Next move is the Senate
  5. Multiple resignations in wake of Capitol riot
  6. Capitol Hill police chief resigns, said he requested back-up
  7. US Space Command Headquarters is coming to Huntsville
  8. Air passengers entering the United States will be required to present a negative COVID-19 test, according to the CDC
  9. Coronavirus Immunity May Last Years, Possibly Even Decades, Study Suggests
  10. Covid is raging
  11. Alabama wins national championship
  12. ‘Way Maker’ top 2020 worship song

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  • A Parent’s Guide to Teaching Your Children About Gender: by Jared Kennedy. This short book walks through six conversation topics designed to help you apply the truth and hope of the gospel to the complex issue of gender. 
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By / Jan 15

The peaceful transition of power from one chief executive to another is one of the most enduring and cherished legacies of the American government. But it’s also a complicated process. There is a lot that has to happen between Election Day and Inauguration Day.

Here is a brief outline of some of the steps that have to be taken in the transition from President Trump to President Biden.

Presidential campaigns usually create a transition team during the summer before the election. The Presidential Transition Act of 1963 and the Presidential Transition Enhancement Act of 2019 authorize funding for pre-election activities and support. But after the election, the president-elect is authorized to receive additional funding to pay for his staff, secure office space, and pay for other expenses. (The President’s FY2020 budget request included $9.62 million in funding for the transition.)

Pre-election transition activities continue until the General Services Administration (GSA) officially declares the winner of the presidential election through what is known as ascertainment. Although President Trump disputed the election results on social media, GSA ascertained President-elect Biden as the winner of the 2020 election on November 23. Ascertainment allows the transition team to begin a broad range of official activities, such as getting guidance from the National Archives and Record Administration on preserving presidential records.

Around that time, the transition team will also create agency review teams, which as the Center for Presidential Transition explains, are responsible for “collecting information about the unique roles and responsibilities of each major department and agency of the federal government, and providing information that is relevant, useful and important to the new administration.” Presidential transition team members can also begin receiving security clearances, classified information, as well as access to government offices and staff.

The transition team also selects the top 50 Cabinet appointees and key White House personnel, develops a policy implementation plan, budget and management agenda, sends intended Cabinet agency appointments to the Senate, and determines how to fill roughly 4,000 politically appointed positions—including more than 1,000 jobs requiring Senate confirmation.

They will also begin to draft new executive orders so that they can be implemented as soon as the president-elect takes office, and work with Office of Management and Budget (OMB) career staff to develop a “shadow” presidential budget aligned with the president-elect’s top policy priorities.

The Presidential Transition Act requires the Trump administration to provide President-elect Biden with a classified summary of the nation’s national security threats and major military or covert operations. The briefing is generally given daily during the transition period. The law also requires the Trump administration to host interagency emergency preparedness and response exercises. Around mid-January, the transition team submits agency review reports and briefs incoming agency heads, prepares a Cabinet orientation/retreat, and takes care of other last minute items.

Under the Constitution, the President and the Senate share the power to appoint the principal officers of the United States. Since most of the highest-level political appointee positions in the federal government—including all cabinet members—are filled by such officers, the Senate has to hold confirmation hearings to fulfill its “advise and consent” role. The Senate typically also begins the process of holding confirmation hearings prior to Inauguration Day. But because the Georgia Senate race wasn’t decided until early January (thus determining who controlled the Senate) the process has been significantly delayed.

The Senate has set a date of January 19 for hearings on his nominees for Homeland Security, Defense, State, and Treasury. But those positions might not be confirmed and able to start work for days or even weeks later. Until the cabinet is officially confirmed, Biden will rely mostly on acting officials. (Under the Vacancies Act, acting officials can be chosen from among first assistants to the vacant position, Senate-confirmed officials in any agency, and agency workers who have served at least 90 days prior to the vacancy and paid at least at the GS-15 level.) Because the Senate’s trial for President Trump’s second impeachment takes precedence over other floor business in the chamber, the confirmation process may be delayed several weeks.

President-elect Biden will take the Oath of Office and become the President of the United States at noon on January 20. Following the inaugural ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, the outgoing President and First Lady normally leave to begin their post-presidential lives. But President Trump has said he will not attend the inauguration. (Three other presidents—John Adams in 1801, John Quincy Adams in 1829, and Andrew Johnson in 1869—refused to attend their successors’ inaugurations.) Later that day, after the completion of inaugural festivities, President Biden will move into the White House. Because of COVID-19, the federal government has increased White House janitorial and housekeeping work in order to perform a deep cleaning, allotting $127,249 for “2021 Inaugural Cleaning.”

By / Jan 8

In this episode, Josh, Brent, and Lindsay discuss the protests and attacks on the US Capitol as a result of the 2020 election results. Lindsay also gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Jordan Wootten with “3 ways smartphone usage can distort our perceptions: Habits, theology, and christian discipleship,” Josh Wester and Jordan Wootten with “Why we need the tenderness of our Savior: An Interview with Dane Ortlund about Gentle and Lowly,” and Jason Thacker with “3 ethical issues in technology to watch for in 2021.”  Also in this episode, the hosts are joined by Seth Brown for a conversation about life and ministry. 

About Seth

Seth Brown serves as Executive Editor of the Biblical Recorder, a Baptist news outlet based in Cary, N.C. He lives in Wake Forest with his wife and three children. They are members of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh. You can connect with him on Twitter: @dsethbrown

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. Warnock wins Georgia runoff, CNN projects, as control of Senate comes down to Perdue-Ossoff race
  2. Pro-Trump protesters force US Capitol into lockdown as Congress meets to certify 2020 election results
  3. Protesters breach Senate chambers at U.S. Capitol
  4. Trump pledges “orderly transition” after Congress certifies Biden’s win
  5. Exodus begins for White House staff after pro-Trump siege on Capitol

 Connect with us on Twitter

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  • A Parent’s Guide to Teaching Your Children About Gender: by Jared Kennedy. This short book walks through six conversation topics designed to help you apply the truth and hope of the gospel to the complex issue of gender. 
  • Stand for Life: At the ERLC, we stand for life. Our work to save preborn babies and care for the vulnerable is vital to our work. Believing that abortion can end in our lifetime, will you join us as we STAND FOR LIFE?
By / Jan 8

On Wednesday, a group of insurrectionists attempted to disrupt the final step of the Electoral College, the counting of the electoral votes by Congress. As Congress reconvened later that night after the Capitol was cleared by law enforcement, the counting was made officially and declared President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris the winners of the 2020 presidential election. 

Here is what you should know about how the Electoral College process is used to determine the presidential election and why it is an important institution for protecting our republican form of democracy.

What is the Electoral College?

We tend to associate the term “college” with higher education. But in this case, the term refers to a meaning that goes back to the 14th century: an organized association of persons invested with certain powers and rights or engaged in some common duty or pursuit. The Electoral College is thus a process rather than a place. Although the term Electoral College is never used in the Constitution (Article 2, Section 1, Clauses 2 and 3), the electors that choose the president at each election are traditionally called a College.

The Electoral College process consists of the selection of the electors, the meeting of the electors where they vote for president and vice president, and the counting of the electoral votes by Congress.

Where did the Electoral College system come from?

The Electoral College was proposed by James Wilson at the Constitutional Convention as a compromise between those who wanted the Congress to choose the president and those who believed the election should be decided by the state legislatures. The Framers were generally in agreement that giving the people the power to directly elect the president was a terrible idea, but that decision was changed with the 12th Amendment (Amendment XII) to the United States Constitution, which provides the procedure for electing the president and vice president. 

Who decides how many electoral votes each state receives?

Each state receives an electoral vote for each U.S. senator (two per state) plus one for each Congressional representative. Since the number of representatives is based on population, the state’s electoral votes are also based on the number of people who reside within a state. 

Currently, the Electoral College includes 538 electors, 535 for the total number of congressional members, and three who represent Washington, D.C. (for the purposes of the Electoral College, the District of Columbia is treated like a state).

When U.S. citizens went to the polls on Nov. 3, 2020, they were voting on electors who would cast a vote for their preferred candidate (Donald Trump, Joe Biden, etc.) The voters in each individual state thus chose electors to serve in the Electoral College.

How do these electoral votes decide who becomes president?

On the Monday following the second Wednesday in December (which fell on Dec. 14, 2020 for this year), the electors of each state meet in their respective state capitals to cast the official votes for president and vice president. 

The governor for each individual state then verifies the count and issues the Certificates of Ascertainment and the Certificates of Vote. These votes are then sealed and sent to the president of the Senate (the current Vice President, Mike Pence), who will open and read the votes on Jan. 6 in the presence of both houses of Congress. The Certificates from all 50 states and the District of Columbia are opened, presented, and recorded in alphabetical order.

The president of the Senate then announces the results of the vote and calls for any objections. To be recognized, any objections must have been submitted in writing and be signed by at least one member of the House and one senator. If an objection is recognized, the House and Senate withdraw to their respective chambers to consider the merits of any objections, following the process set out in 3 U.S.C. §15. For the objection to be recognized, both chambers must agree to it by a simple majority vote. If they do not both agree, the original electoral votes are counted with no changes.

Even after the insurrectionists attacked the Capitol building, six Republicans in the Senate and 121 Republicans in the House objected to certifying Arizona’s electoral outcome, and seven Senate Republicans and 138 House Republicans objected to certifying Pennsylvania’s electoral outcome. Those objections were overwhelmingly rejected by the other members of Congress. 

After all the votes are recorded and counted, the president of the Senate declares which persons, if any, have been elected president and vice president of the United States. Because of the riot, Vice President Mike Pence was not able to formally announce President-elect Joe Biden as the winner until just after 3:40 a.m. on Thursday. 

The president-elect and vice president-elect take the Oath of Office and will be sworn into office exactly two weeks later, at noon on Jan. 20.

Who are these electors?

Since the political parties choose electors, they tend to be partisan political activists. The Constitution doesn’t have any requirements other than specifications for who cannot be an elector: a representative or senator, a high-ranking U.S. official in a position of “trust or profit,” or anyone who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the United States.

Do the electors have to vote for the candidate who received the most votes in their state?

No, the elector is free to cast his vote for anyone he or she chooses. In fact, there have been times when electors have voted contrary to the will of the people—and it’s entirely Constitutional. Anyone who votes against their state’s choice is known as a “faithless elector” and essentially ruins any future they might have had with their political party. In the history of the process, only about 156 faithless electors cast their vote for another person other than the candidate they were expected to choose.)

However, states can pass laws against faithless electors. Currently, 33 states plus the District of Columbia require electors to vote for a pledged candidate, though about half (16 plus DC) do not have  any penalty or any mechanism to prevent the deviant vote from counting as cast. Five states have some type of penalty and 14 states provide for the vote to be canceled and the elector replaced. The Supreme Court upheld the legitimacy of such laws in the 1952 case Ray v. Blair, and the 2020 case, Chiafalo v. Washington

How many electoral votes are needed to win?

A presidential candidate must receive a majority (270 of the 538 eligible) in order to win the election. Joe Biden’s electoral win over Donald Trump was 306-232, the same margin Trump won over Hillary Clinton in 2016. 

Could Vice President Pence have rejected the election results?

On Tuesday, Jan. 5—a day before the counting of the electoral votes by Congress—President Trump tweeted, “The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors.” 

It’s unclear why the president made this claim since neither the Constitution nor any other federal law give the vice president such authority. The 12th Amendment merely states that, “The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted.” The other relevant law is the Electoral Control Act of 1887, which also does not mention any role for the vice president in resolving electoral disputes.

Vice President Pence issued a letter saying he recognized the limitations of his role. “It is my considered judgment,” wrote Pence, “that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not.”

Additionally, no state legislature has sought to change their state’s vote counts and no governor has claimed their state’s results were based on fraud or voting irregularities, as Trump has claimed. 

Why does the Electoral College matter?

For much of human history, the dominant legal principle was rex lex—“the king is law.” In the 1600s, though, that view was subverted, mostly by Christian thinkers like Samuel Rutherford, who claimed lex rex—“the law is king.” Since then most Western governments have adopted the principle that the rule of law, rather than the arbitrary diktats of government officials, should govern a nation. 

For 224 years—since John Adams took office in 1797—there has been a peaceful transition of power between presidents of the United States. That record is due, in no small part, to our reliance on the rule of law as applied to the Electoral College. 

While an attempt was made on Wednesday to disrupt and usurp that process, the eventual outcome revealed that the Electoral College remains a robust institution. But it also revealed that Americans—and especially Christians in America—need to be vigilant to protect the rule of law from mob rule.