I have been surprised by the number of Christians who have given up on politics this year. "I don't like either candidate, so I'm staying home," some say.

I get fed up with the vain posturing and empty promises, too. But not voting is not an option—it's both our civic and sacred duty. Voting is required of us as good citizens and as God's agents for appointing leaders.

How do we go about choosing the best candidates? Not by pulling a partisan lever—that's knee-jerk ideology. Christians live instead by revealed truth, never captive to any party. Thus, the best place to go for wisdom is not the candidates' websites, but the Bible.

Moses' father-in-law, Jethro, advised him to appoint as rulers "able men" who "fear God, men who are trustworthy and who hate a bribe." The standard is competence and integrity. Later, God ordered Samuel to pick Saul, who "shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines." This passage reminds us of Paul's teaching in Romans: Government's role is to wield the sword to preserve order and restrain evil. So we should seek leaders best able to do that and to pursue justice.

Today, God no longer chooses our leaders directly (although some of us wish he did, if only to spare us the years-long political campaigns). We live in a democracy, so God entrusts to us the job of choosing leaders he will anoint. (Deuteronomy 1:12–13 shows us that democratic principles go directly back to the Old Testament.) Like Samuel, we are commissioned to choose leaders of competence, virtue, and character. That's why not voting or rejecting candidates because they are not perfect on some biblical or political score sheet is a dereliction of our trust.

So is voting for a candidate simply because he is a Christian—startling as this may sound. Rather than checking on the candidates' denomination, we should look for the ablest candidate. Martin Luther famously said he would rather be ruled by a competent Turk—that is, a Muslim—than an incompetent Christian.

In casting a vote, judgment should ultimately be guided by what we perceive to be the common good, a term not often heard in today's special interest–charged political debates. Our founders understood this, which is why they used the term commonweal, or commonwealth. But today's politicians pander to special interests, as we saw last year when congressmen dumped over $13.2 billion into earmarks, paying off special pleaders.

But if we look at politics from God's perspective, we see that he has a deep and abiding interest in all people being treated fairly. If God favors any "special interest group," it is the poor, the hungry, the unborn, the handicapped, the prisoner—those with the least access to political power.

This is why we Christians should never allow ourselves to be, as the press has often characterized us, just another special interest group pleading for our agendas only. But if we were a special interest group, we would be lobbying for the dignity of all, especially those who can't always speak for themselves.

So maybe a particular candidate isn't going to cut your taxes or vote for your favorite program, but the real question is, will he serve all the people, or only the loudest?

After considering these criteria, if you are still tempted to stay home on Election Day, dust off your copy of The City of God, in which Augustine introduces us to the idea that we live in both the City of God and the City of Man. In describing them, he reiterated Jesus' teaching that while Christians live in the City of Man, they do not belong to it. We are like sojourners in a foreign country; our true home is the City of God.

But Augustine also taught that if we are to enjoy the blessings of the City of Man, we must assume the obligations of citizenship. Instead of doing our civic duty out of compulsion, the Christian does it gladly, out of obedience to God and love of neighbor.

Augustine's teaching also helps us to put the coming election into perspective. Some will be jubilant over the outcome, others bitterly disappointed. But regardless of the returns, the City of God endures. When Augustine was informed that his beloved city of Rome was in flames, his response was that the City of Man is built by man and can be destroyed by man, but the City of God is built by God and cannot be destroyed.

On Election Day we should be the best of citizens, voting for the candidate best for all the people.

And then the next day, after indulging in your celebration—or pity party—get busy working to advance God's kingdom in this earthly society.



Related Elsewhere:

See Christianity Today's special 2008 election section, which includes an article on how to pick a president, profiles of Barack Obama and John McCain, previous CT editorials and news stories.

Previous columns by Charles Colson are available on our website.

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