It is our civic duty to vote, but is it our Christian duty? Some Christians seem to believe that the political world is so corrupt that it is better to avoid it altogether. While it is easy to appreciate this "other-worldly" sentiment, it is hard to justify from a biblical perspective.
Christians seeking to better understand their responsibilities in a democracy would benefit from a careful reading of the first chapter of Isaiah. Isaiah was a prophet who received a vision concerning Judah. If you remember your Old Testament history, you know that when God first established Israel, Judah was part of the larger nation. After King Solomon died, however, Israel and Judah divided into two independent nations. During the two hundred years following Judah’s birth as an independent nation, she experienced the intense blessings of prosperity followed by the deadly curse of national arrogance, greed, and lust.
Clearly, by the time of Isaiah, all was not well in the kingdom of Judah. Isaiah says, "Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him." (1:4) Following this rebuke, Isaiah compares the kingdom of Judah to Sodom and Gomorrah, and lists the sins for which the Judeans stand guilty before God.
Among the sins listed, Isaiah says, "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." (1:23) He also gives an exhortation: "Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow." (1:17)
According to verses 17 and 23, the leaders were unjust in their rulings, partial to the rich, and used their positions for financial gain. Their activities blatantly violated God’s requirements for civil leadership. But why would Isaiah criticize the citizens of Judah for the actions of their rulers? Were they really culpable for the misdeeds of those who ruled them?
Two verses from the book of Deuteronomy help us to answer the question. First, Moses told 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." (Deuteronomy 16:18) Moses later says, "When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, ‘Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,’ be sure to appoint over you the king the Lord your God chooses." (Deuteronomy 17:14-15) In these two verses we see that the people play an important role in choosing their leaders. They were instructed to appoint judges and officials, and to appoint the king chosen by God.
Therefore, going back to Isaiah, when elected officials make unwise, unethical, and immoral decisions, it reflects on the citizens who made the initial choice. Because the people of Judah had been given a voice and because their leaders were civil and moral failures, the people shared in the guilt of their leaders.
There are many caveats that must be made before applying God’s dealings with Judah to our responsibility in America. First, of course, the entire nation of Judah was seen as God’s chosen people. At best, only some of the U.S. population claim to be God’s people. Second, there was a legal covenant between God and His chosen people, initiated by God. This covenant gave the people special responsibilities. There is no such covenant between God and America.
Because of the contrasts, a perfect parallel cannot be drawn between what God said through Isaiah, and what God might be saying to Christians in America today. Still, certain principles seem relevant. We see that God, who is the same yesterday, today and forever, cares deeply for the oppressed, the fatherless, and the widowed. God loves justice and he wants us to seek it. God also holds the people accountable for the actions of their rulers.
Christians in America should reflect seriously on this point. Americans choose their leaders in a far more direct way than did the citizens in Old Testament times. If the people of Judah were responsible for their leaders’ actions, how much more responsible will we be in America? We will not be able to blame others for the injustices in America because, at the end of the day, we are responsible for our rulers. If our leaders are corrupt and we do not vote for change, we send the leaders a message—and we send a message to our nation, to our world, and to God—that we support the views and policies of existing leaders.
Christians, who have committed themselves to doing God’s will, bear a higher level of responsibility for injustices in America. Much has been given to us, and much will be expected. If we choose not to vote, if we isolate ourselves in a Christian subculture and ignore the injustices around us, if we do not encourage the oppressed, help orphans and widows, or work for a just society, then we will bear a significant measure of the blame for the evils that surround us.