In less than a month, Nigerians will be voting to elect five sets of new representatives that would serve as our leaders for the next four years.
As we think about our voting options, it is important to remind the injunction of Paul that we as Christians must try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord (Eph 5:10) in every area of our lives including in how we approach the elections. Here are 5 principles I have been thinking about on how to approach the elections that I wanted to share with you.
- It is important for Christians to vote
I can already see the frowns that this point will generate on the faces of bible literalists who will want to ask me “what chapter and verse in the Bible say that”? The answer is that the writers of the NT and OT lived in an age of absolute monarchy, so there is no way they could have written about voting, but in our determined allotted period (Acts 17:26), God has ordained that we are currently living in a republic where the constitution gives us the privilege of voting to elect our leaders.
When the people of Israel were carried away into captivity to Babylon in 587BC, their (natural) focus was on pining for their future return to their promised land and they were not thinking about how best to live in their current situation, hence God sent the prophet Jeremiah to tell them: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jer 29:4-7). God wanted them to live wisely in the present situation they found themselves.
Today we Christians in Nigeria are pilgrims and exiles in our own Babylon. We should pine for heaven, but during our sojourn here, God wants us to seek the welfare of our country. There are many ways in which we are to do that: as model citizens; as good neighbors; as members of churches that promote the greater good; but one of the most important ways we promote the welfare of our country is by exercising our franchise of choosing good leaders and then holding them to account while they are in office.
- Christians must prioritize character in choosing leaders
When deciding who we want to vote for, we must remember that we are choosing people who will represent us in the highest offices of the state. When there are meetings of the committee of nations, these would be the people that would stand up in our place. When foreigners think of our nation, it is our leaders that would come to their minds.
In choosing leaders, we are also choosing role models for our children. We are saying to future generations “these are the qualities in leadership that our society elevates”. We prize character in choosing representatives in all other areas of our lives, it should be fairly obvious that character should be a major consideration in selecting the people who will govern us.
I said this point should be fairly obvious because somehow in the heat of the political season, we always seem to forget this basic principle. Our talking points quickly become about other factors, such as which part of the society’s turn it is to govern; what religion the candidate verbally subscribes to; whether they belong to X or Y political party, and so on. I want to encourage us to keep the basic issue of character in mind this election cycle as we make our choices.
- Christians should consider other factors beyond character
Character must be emphasized, however, I must emphasize that it is not the only factor a wise believer should consider. When electing someone, we are selecting them for their ability to carry out the roles of a certain office and we must ask whether their previous experience and their abilities make them a good fit for that role.
For those of us who are employers of labor, it is often a temptation in a country like ours with such high unemployment to employ a family member or a church member whenever there is a job opening. Indeed many people have tried it in the past and got their fingers burnt because they learned that even though the person employed may be someone with a good moral foundation, they struggle to do the job because they do not have the necessary skills or attitude to do the job they were employed to do and that someone else who was better qualified should have been hired.
In the same way, we must ask ourselves what characteristics are needed for an ideal candidate for the offices we are voting for. We must look dispassionately at their track records, at their ability to manage people and resources, and whether they would be able to govern effectively in such a fractious and complex society as ours.
What happens when, among the available options, the person with the best character (point 2) is not the person with the greatest ability to govern (point 3)? In an ideal world, character and ability would match, but in this imperfect world, they sadly do not always align. In that case, prudence would suggest that a Christian should choose the most capable person who will cause the least damage to their conscience to vote for.
- Christians should not allow elections to cause division in the church
During the last election cycle, I was talking to a Christian brother and during the conversation, he mentioned one of the major candidates and wondered aloud why any Christian in good conscience would vote for such a candidate. That same week, I was in another conversation with a mature Christian couple and they brought up the name of the other major candidate and categorically stated that it would be a sin for any Christian to vote for that person.
In every election cycle, Christians would come to different conclusions on who to vote for based on the same facts available to us all. This is usually because different people, as a result of their backgrounds and political inclinations, would assign different weights to different factors in making their decisions. Sadly, some Christians would fall into sin and make bad electoral choices because they prioritize unbiblical considerations while making their choices.
What then should we do? For starters, we should be able to have respectful frank conversations with our brothers and sisters in Christ on who we are voting for and why we believe it would be a mistake to vote for certain candidates. However, we must be careful that we do not make sweeping assumptions about their Christian faith, or their Christian maturity based solely on who they decide to vote for. John Newton’s advice to a fellow Christian involved in a dispute is instructive: If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom, are very applicable: “Deal gently with him for my sake.” The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself. In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.
- Remember the most important election has already occurred
I have lived long enough that I started to notice a pattern of hyperbole that creeps into the speech of otherwise sensible people once an election cycle approaches. They start to speak in apocalyptic language about the elections and the consequences of choosing the wrong person. Some also make the additional error of describing their preferred candidate in messianic language as the one whose coming would right all the wrongs of the political system.
Now I would be the first to acknowledge that some election cycles are more important than others and that some candidates are much better than others. Indeed, I would even admit that considering the very serious situation that Nigeria currently finds itself in, this election cycle is clearly one of the most important in our history.
However, as Christians, we know that the ultimate salvation we are looking for would not come from any human being, no matter how good he or she is. We can consider the countries that we aspire to be like and see that even with all their development and progress, they have not been able to solve the problem of sin and human depravity.
Therefore, we need to keep things in context as we vote. Our ultimate hope is not in any human leader or in a better country, but in the coming age where God has promised to show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:6). This means the most important election is not the one we will vote in, but rather that election in eternity past where God voted to gift us the privilege of eternal communion with Him. It is the consummation of that election that we long for, that we wait for with eager anticipation, and in the meantime, we hold all other elections in their proper perspective.
I am sure that this list is not an exhaustive list of all the factors that wise Christians must consider before making their choice in the coming elections. These are simply some of the factors that I have been thinking about and I wanted to share them with you in the hope that they may be helpful to you as you make your decisions.
May God be with you as you go out to vote wisely. May He, in his infinite wisdom, be merciful to us and give us good leaders.