Political disagreements often end these days with the exclamation, “How could you possibly vote for that person!” We focus on the particular candidates, and as Christians we consider and dispute the wisdom, prudence, and morality of voting for a specific person. But what about voting itself: When is it good? When it is it bad? When does casting a ballot become an act of sin? We asked a range of Christian leaders across the country to consider the question and got back a range of answers.

Take responsibility

Voting for the right candidate for the wrong reasons is sin, just as voting for the wrong candidate for the right reasons is not a sin. Do we intend to further an evil agenda with our vote? Does our vote represent an indifference to the suffering and plight of others who will be hurt by the policies of that candidate? Do we vote and then just walk away, thinking that we have no other responsibility to love our neighbors in this regard? If we want to know if and when voting becomes a sin, we must take pains to examine the motivations of our hearts.

— Nathan White, pastor of Christ Reformed Baptist Church, Lookout Mountain, TN.

Christians must follow their conscience, as Romans 14 describes. That conscience should be informed by the Holy Spirit, Scripture, reason, and wise voices in the church. We have to accept that followers of Jesus vote differently as they seek to be faithful to him.

It is wrong, however, to vote for someone who isn’t a morally decent person, whose character falls below the minimum standard required to handle the responsibility of governing. And Christians must focus on those who are marginalized and oppressed in our society: the unborn, minorities, women, the poor, and others who suffer injustice.

There will always be tensions in voting our values. We need wisdom and grace to navigate that.

—Michael W. Austin, moral philosopher, Eastern Kentucky University.

Vote with love

Voting for someone is a sin when it is done out of misdirected love. We will all make wrong political decisions because both our knowledge and discernment are imperfect. But all our votes should be cast, however imperfectly, out of love for the coming kingdom of God. When our vote is cast out of warped love—for security, prosperity, national identity, or white supremacy—it is sinful.

This does not mean motivation trumps impact; it means the desires that motivate our political action change not only how we vote but what kind of flourishing we seek for our communities. The desires that animate our political participation are dangerous not only for the way they can inspire wrong political action but for the way they can corrupt our communities and our own souls. Misdirected love results in policies and people that harm our neighbors.

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Kaitlyn Schiess, author of The Liturgy of Politics: Spiritual Formation for the Sake of Our Neighbor.

Consider what the Bible calls “sin”

I am uncomfortable calling any vote a “sin,” since the Bible never mentions voting. It does warn that “when the wicked rule, the people groan” (Prov. 29:2). So, if I were voting, I might consider first God’s concern for the people groaning. Scripture offers this instruction from beginning to end. The wisdom tradition tells us to “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:8–9, ESV). And our King Jesus said that his rule is good news because it sets the oppressed free and proclaims justice for the poor. As we follow Jesus, that seems like it should be our priority.

—Jordan Kellicut, pastor of Oakland Drive Christian Church, Portage, MI.

The Bible is extraordinarily clear on these matters. I believe it is a sin to vote for someone who will not protect the value of life. Abortion is the watershed issue of our day, and if the church doesn’t stand against it, we will usher in further judgment from God. I also think it’s impossible for a Bible-believing Christian to vote for someone who stands against the nation of Israel. We’ve become so apathetic and lukewarm that we have become cowards. For far too long we have been told that the church must remain silent on the issues. Because we have done just that, our silence has become our surrender and the culture has now devastated this beautiful nation. It is time for God’s people to push back.

— Greg Locke, pastor of Global Vision Bible Church, Mount Juliet, TN.

In the Old Testament, there is a pattern in which God held leaders accountable. If we look at voting as God appointing kings, and sin as their breaking of God’s covenant, then to vote for a sinful king would count as a corrupt vote. God’s punishment of wayward (sinful) kings—which were many—always had a similar theme. The prophets would declare on God’s behalf, “You (king) have turned away from God; you have worshiped false idols, and you have neglected the poor.” These are the things that matter to God, and they should matter to all believers when voting.

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—Harlan Redmond, student at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Beware of false idols

I am part of a heavenly kingdom, not an earthly one. A sure way to cement that distinction in my own mind and to free myself of cloying ties and compromise is to stay out of government. I have never voted for a US president, a state representative, or even a mayor.

I asked my dad, a wise Mennonite minister, “When is it a sin to vote?” He said, “It becomes a sin when people place their trust in government and human systems and lose their trust in God and his ability to control the affairs of men.” I couldn’t say it better than that. As Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar, “The Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wishes” (Dan. 4:32, NET).

— Lucinda J. Kinsinger, author of Anything But Simple: My Life as a Mennonite.

The sin arises when we idolize a particular party or candidate to the extent that we deify our ideals and use them as a litmus test of love. In a democratic nation, it’s permissible (and welcomed) to have a wide variety of opinions, but when we elevate one candidate as the only “godly” choice, we can veer toward making anyone who differs into an enemy. The gospel is undergirded by the twin principles of loving God and loving others. If our politics makes brothers and sisters into enemies, we could fail to love, and thus fall into sin.

— Mary DeMuth, Christian author and host of the podcast Pray Every Day.

Vote with repentance

Because we do not vote in a vacuum and have inherited sinful structures in our collective life, voting needs to be accompanied by repentance.

Unless we repent of our shared guilt as Christians in structural injustices, we will continue to turn a blind eye to America’s church-sanctioned sins of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, and other iniquities. There is no doubt Christians in every generation have presented dissenting critique against the sins of their age. But the church has never been truly free of worldly entanglements. Exercising our vote to clarify, repair, and seek the common good should be our primary focus, rather than pursuing what is personally beneficial.

Voting not marked by repentance of these sins is doomed to perpetuate injustice and is therefore sinful.

— Peter Choi, director of academic programs at Newbigin House of Studies and pastor at City Church San Francisco.

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