EDITOR'S NOTE: A version of this column ran during the primaries. With the election less than a week away, it is being reposted.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Evangelicals have a pitiful record when it comes to voting. Over the last 30 years, on average only half of eligible evangelicals took the time and made the effort to go to vote in a general election for a president.
It's fair to ask, "So what?" Does this really matter to God? Is He really concerned about elections?
At one time I had concluded that perhaps it didn't. I knew God absolutely was concerned about moral issues in our nation, such as abortion and homosexuality, and as a pastor I passionately represented those concerns in various ways. But I assumed that He probably wasn't so concerned about such mundane things as elections and voting.
That was until a politically active Christian brother challenged me to study God's Word on the matter. I did a word study on "justice," which took me to the Hebrew word "mishphat," which took me to the first chapter of Isaiah. What I found there rocked my world. From Isaiah 1:10-31, I found undeniable and irrefutable principles regarding our role and responsibility in the civil arena -- principles that should drive us to our knees, and then to the polls.
In Isaiah 1:10, the mighty prophet declares: "Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah!" The Lord, in this scathing rebuke, equated the rulers of Judah with the rulers of Sodom. But what had they done that would justify such a harsh comparison?
Isaiah revealed their wickedness in 1:17, where he declared that the nation had failed to "seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow." Isaiah continued the indictment in verse 23, where he proclaimed: "Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow's case does not come before them."
This alarming indictment was because of Judah's civil sin. The national leadership had failed miserably in key areas of civil responsibility: justice, deliverance from oppression and protection for the helpless. They had also allowed their rulings and policies to be influenced by bribes and "gifts." God explicitly identified this failure as "evil" in Isaiah 1:16, and equated these civil sins with the depravity of Sodom and Gomorrah in 1:10.
But why would a fair and just God include the general population of Judah in this indictment? These failures came from Judah's national leadership, not the average person on the street. When we look closely at Judah's broader history, we find that God had indeed given the people a key role in deciding their leadership.
In Deuteronomy 16:18-19, Moses commanded the people to: "Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes in every town the LORD your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people fairly. Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe." God assigned the people the responsibility of appointing fair and just civil leaders in each local area -- leaders who would not be tempted by bribes.
In Isaiah's day, God not only held the leaders accountable for their civil immorality, He held the people accountable for their actions as well.
The principle we draw from this passage is this: When the citizens have a voice in the selection and direction of their civil leaders, God holds both the leaders and the citizens accountable for the civil sins of their government.
It was true of Judah, but is it fair to suggest that God applies this standard to us today? Consider the following:
The citizens of the United States elect the leaders of our nation -- leaders who set civil and social policies for our nation, including policies on moral issues such as abortion, "gay marriage," euthanasia, assisted suicide, and more. The decisions of these leaders directly impact the moral direction of our nation. Therefore, the people's vote (or failure to vote) ultimately determines our nation's civil, social and moral direction.
Furthermore, the president is responsible for appointing members of the federal judiciary. These judges interpret laws and make legal decisions that affect the entire nation. Therefore, the citizen's role in each election directly impacts every level of government.
Because the American system is a representative form of government, there is an obvious relationship between an elected leader's actions and the citizens who elected the leader -- or who allowed his election by not voting.
It logically follows that God holds the citizens accountable for immoral governmental policies.
God has established universal standards of justice that He expects all nations to uphold and enforce -- and the United States is not exempt from these standards. If our government refuses to uphold and enforce them, we shouldn't be surprised at the judgment that is certain to follow. But even more sobering is the reality that when the citizens choose their leaders, He holds the citizens corporately accountable for the actions of their leaders.
Our vote -- or failure to vote -- has a direct bearing on not only the election, but on how the Lord will deal with our land. If we fail to vote for candidates that most closely reflect God's standards -- or if we fail to vote -- we should not expect to escape the consequences.
John Revell is editor of SBC Life. This is adapted from "Sinful Silence: When Christians Neglect Their Civic Duty," by Ken Connor and John Revell.