FORT WORTH (TEXAN) — Immigration, gun rights and response to the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage are just a few of the wedge issues among Christians. Even Southern Baptists are not immune to disagreement on these issues. As a matter of fact, it seems Baptists like to find things to argue about. There is nothing wrong with robust debate, but when the discussion becomes counter-productive for gospel advance, it is unacceptable.
We are entering a presidential election year in 2016. This may come as a shock to you, but no candidate (even the one I like) is going to bring revival to the churches. No president will be in the forefront of evangelism even if he is a committed believer in Christ. This doesn't mean we should not participate in the process. Based on Romans 13, believers have an obligation to be good citizens. In the American context that means we should register to vote and cast our ballots.
As you consider candidates this year, I would like to propose some considerations.
Be informed. Select a candidate who has high moral character. This is a tall order because all of us are sinners; no one is perfect. It is impossible to find a candidate who has no blemishes, but David was a flawed man and still had redeeming qualities, such as humility before the Lord. Politicians will say anything to get your vote. Research the best person for whom to cast your ballot. Character matters.
Be convictional. Biblical issues are important. God is pro-life from beginning to end and in between. A candidate or party that holds pre-born babies as mere tissue is outside the biblical ethic. Euthanasia is taking God's place in the process of death. Racial discrimination is unacceptable to the Christ follower. All people are to be treated with respect and dignity. The Bible speaks to economic systems. There are virtually no public policies that are untouched by God's Word. Find out where the parties stand on these issues. Vote for candidates that more closely represent a biblical ethic.
Be a patriot. There is no conflict between being a Christian and an American. Perhaps one of the most controversial subjects is patriotism itself. I believe some have created a false dichotomy by saying, "I'm a Christian first, an American second." Every Bible-believing Christ follower should say, "Amen" to that statement. However, being a Christian first doesn't mean you can't be a good American. The United States has provided evangelical Christianity with greater opportunities to present the gospel to the world than any country in modern times. Why would Christians want to weaken our nation? A strong America enables the gospel to be furthered to the ends of the earth. Whether it is reducing our national military defense or allowing illegal immigration, it is self-destructive to our nation. We should pursue peace, but we are not pacifists. We should love those who are in our land illegally without perpetuating the crisis.
Be a witness. America has experienced a shift in culture that will never be reversed by politics. Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists have a completely different worldview from our founding fathers. Secularists seek to eradicate the Christian witness from the public square. The only way we will ever see an America that is based on Judeo-Christian principles is to win people to Christ and teach them a biblical worldview. God doesn't need America, but we need him. Only the gospel, not public policy, can change people's lives. They need our Savior to save them from hell.
As you go to the ballot box this year, remember it is important to be a Christian first, then an American second. If you do that, you will cast a vote pleasing to our Father. May God bless America!
Jim Richards is the executive director of the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention. This commentary appeared first online in the Southern Baptist TEXAN, the official SBTC newspaper.