October 2004 Issue
People Fail To Vote
by John Revell
Evangelicals have a pitiful record
when it comes to voting. Over the last twenty years, on average
only half of eligible evangelicals took the time and made the
effort to go to the polls. This in itself is sobering, but White
House aide Karl Rove has repeatedly lamented that only 15 million
evangelicals bothered to vote in the last general election. That
might not sound too bad ... until you consider the fact that there
are an estimated 60 million evangelicals in our nation! By some
estimates, only 25 percent of all evangelicals went to the polls
and less than half are even registered to vote!
Only one quarter of like-minded brothers and sisters voted
in the last election. It's fair to ask, "So what?" Does
this really matter to God?
At one time I had concluded that perhaps it didn't. I knew
God absolutely was concerned about moral issues in our nation,
such as abortion and homosexuality, and as a pastor I passionately
represented those concerns in various ways. But I assumed that
He probably wasn't so concerned about such mundane things as elections
That was until a politically active Christian brother challenged
me to study God's Word on the matter. I did a word study on "justice,"
which took me to the Hebrew word mishphat, which took me
to the first chapter of Isaiah. What I found there rocked my world.
From Isaiah 1:10-31, I found undeniable and irrefutable principles
regarding our role and responsibility in the civil arena
principles that should drive us to our knees, and then to the
If you question the value, validity, or necessity of voting
in the next election, please consider the following three principles.
In Isaiah 1:10, the mighty prophet declares: Hear the word
of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the law of our God,
you people of Gomorrah! (NIV) The Lord, in this scathing rebuke,
equated the rulers of Judah with the rulers of Sodom. But what
had they done that would justify such a harsh comparison?
Isaiah revealed their wickedness in 1:17, where he declared
that the nation had failed to: Seek justice, encourage the
oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case
of the widow. Isaiah continued the indictment in verse 23,
where he proclaimed: 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 (NIV).
This alarming indictment was because of Judah's civil sin.
The national leadership had failed miserably in key areas of civil
responsibility: justice, deliverance from oppression, and protection
for the helpless. They had also allowed their rulings and policies
to be influenced by bribes and "gifts." God explicitly
identified this failure as "evil" in Isaiah 1:16, and
equated these civil sins with the depravity of Sodom and Gomorrah
But why would a fair and just God include the general population
of Judah in this indictment? These failures came from Judah's
national leadership, not the average person on the street. When
we look closely at Judah's broader history, we find that God had
indeed given the people a key role in deciding their leadership.
In Deuteronomy 16:18-19, Moses commanded 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.
Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe.
God assigned the people the responsibility of appointing fair
and just civil leaders in each local area leaders who would
not be tempted by bribes.
In Isaiah's day, God not only held the leaders accountable
for their civil immorality, He held the people accountable for
their actions as well.
The principle we draw from this passage is this: When the
citizens have a voice in the selection and direction of their
civil leaders, God holds both the leaders and the citizens accountable
for the civil sins of their government.
It was true of Judah, but is it fair to suggest that God applies
this standard to us today? Consider the following:
The citizens of the United States elect the leaders of our
nation leaders who set civil and social policies for our
nation, including policies on moral issues such as abortion, same-sex
"marriage," euthanasia, assisted suicide, and more.
The decisions of these leaders directly impact the moral direction
of our nation. Therefore, the people's vote (or failure to vote)
ultimately determines our nation's civil, social, and moral direction.
Furthermore, the president is responsible for appointing members
of the federal judiciary. These judges interpret laws and make
legal decisions that affect the entire nation. Therefore, the
citizen's role in each election directly impacts every level of
Because the American system is a representative form of government,
there is an obvious relationship between an elected leader's actions
and the citizens who elected the leader or who allowed
his election by not voting.
It logically follows that God holds the citizens accountable
for immoral governmental policies.
God has established universal standards of justice that He
expects all nations to uphold and enforce and the United
States is not exempt from these standards. If our government refuses
to uphold and enforce them, we shouldn't be surprised at the judgment
that is certain to follow. But even more sobering is the reality
that when the citizens choose their leaders, He holds the citizens
corporately accountable for the actions of their leaders.
Our vote or failure to vote has a direct bearing
on not only the election, but on how the Lord will deal with our
land. If we fail to vote for candidates that most closely reflect
God's standards or if we fail to vote we should
not expect to escape the consequences.
Isaiah 1:11-16 reveals a second principle regarding civil immorality:
When God's people neglect their civic duty and abandon His
moral priorities in civil government, it is sin and hinders their
worship. In verses 11-15, God declared that He rejected the
sacrifices, assemblies, and prayers of His people. He further
revealed that His rejection was based on the leaders' and the
people's failure to keep His most basic moral standards in civil
government (vs.17, 23). In verse 16 He identified their neglect
as "evil" and "wrong."
Both the leaders and the people knew God's moral standards
for governing, yet they failed to maintain them. In this they
sinned, and consequently God rejected their worship and refused
to hear their prayers. The concept of sin hindering worship is
not unique to this passage. In Isaiah 59:1-4, the prophet declared
that the people's neglect of justice, specifically in the shedding
of innocent blood, rendered their prayers useless. In numerous
passages the Scriptures indicate that ongoing, unconfessed sin
obstructs worship (Psalm 66:17-18; Zechariah 7:13; Matthew 5:23-24;
1 Peter 3:7; 1 John 1:6-9; 3:21-22; Revelation 3:14-22). Such
was the case with Judah.
The principle applies today. Because we know God's moral standards
for our government, and because we have the ability to elect and
influence our elected leaders accordingly, when our elected leaders
continually defy God's moral expectations, and when we fail to
respond through our vote and contact with our elected leaders,
The admonition of James 4:17 is instructive here: Anyone,
then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.
So, if we know the Lord's moral expectations of government,
and if we allow civil immorality to continue through our silence
at the polls, we should not be surprised when our prayers, worship,
and assemblies bear little fruit.
There are at least two applications for our nation. The first
regards our elected and appointed officials. When a leader claims
to be a Christian but consistently defies truth, justice, morality,
and the sanctity of human life, his walk with God is marginalized
and his prayers are blocked. That leader's prayers for wisdom,
direction, and national protection will likely not make it past
the ceiling. A leader who knowingly and continually abandons God's
moral standards in governing is living in sin and worships in
The second concerns our worship in local churches. We can't
escape the impact of these truths on corporate prayer, worship,
and fellowship with God. If members in a local congregation are
knowingly and continually involved in sin, it hinders worship.
If failure to vote according to God's moral expectations of government
is sin, and if a significant number of members are guilty, it
must impact corporate prayer life and worship. Now, consider the
time, energy, focus, and preparation that go into our worship.
Consider all of the prayers for national revival that are being
raised from our churches. Because failure to maintain God's moral
standards for our government through our vote and input is disobedience,
when Christian people disobey God through their civil silence,
the impact on our churches is monumental and tragic.
We should understand that these consequences are directly connected
to our knowledge of God's priorities in governing and our support
of leaders who will keep these priorities. If we even attempt
to be obedient in these areas, these specific consequences would
not apply. However, when we consider our nation's condition it
is obvious that many of us, if not most, have not been faithful
in voting for leaders who will uphold God's standards. Beyond
voting, how many of us actually voice our moral convictions to
our elected representatives?
This is not to suggest that failure to vote according to God's
standards is the only or even primary sin threatening
churches today. Judah was plagued by materialism, sensualism,
arrogance, and idolatry and so are we. In fact, apathy
in the civil arena may be a symptom of these deeper sins. Regardless,
it is a sin that must be recognized and dealt with if we wish
God to receive our worship and hear our prayers.
Nor should anyone conclude that the ultimate solution to our
nation's ills is political. It is not. Our nation's primary ills
are spiritual and can only be healed by salvation through Jesus
Christ. Someone has observed, "... national revival will
not arrive on Air Force One." Perhaps not. However, revival
is not likely if we do not reflect God's concern for the passengers
The Nature of God's People
The third principle drawn from this passage is this: God
expects His people to embrace and reflect His passions and priorities
in all areas of life, including the civil arena.
In Isaiah 1:26, the prophet relays God's pledge to the people
of Judah to: ... restore your judges as in days of old, your
counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you will be called the
City of Righteousness, the Faithful City (NIV).
The imagery took the people of Judah back to their very foundations
and God's expectations of them. When God delivered the Israelites
from Egyptian bondage, He established a covenant with them in
which He would view the people of Israel as "His people,"
and they would view Him as "their God" (Exodus
6:2-8; 24:1-9; Deuteronomy 29:9-15). In this relationship, God
would treat them as His own "treasured possessions,"
pouring His abundant affection, blessings, and love upon them
(Deuteronomy 7:6-9). They, in turn, were to focus their love and
obedient faithfulness upon Him (Deuteronomy 6:1-9). In this tender
relationship, God identified them as His special, chosen people.
In God's instruction to His people, He also pointed out that
because of this special relationship, they were to be like Him.
God identified Himself as "holy," and so He called His
people to be like Him in holiness (Leviticus 11:44; 19:2). The
Lord identified several areas that He viewed as "detestable,"
and He expected His chosen ones to view these same things as detestable
(Deuteronomy 7:25,26; 18:9-13). God's deliverance from bondage
and the establishment of this special relationship should have
moved God's people to embrace His concerns and values.
Finally, God expected His people to reflect the nature
of God to the neighboring nations. When God instructed His people
to obey His commands, He told them that the neighboring nations
would see their obedience and realize that they belonged to God
(Deuteronomy 28:9,10). He also pointed out that if they obeyed
and followed Him, other nations would see and respect their wisdom
(Deuteronomy 4:5-8). This pointed directly to God, for it was
the Lord who gave them the wise commands to follow. The people's
actions were supposed to send a message to the world about God's
greatness and love.
Because of God's loving nature and His loving relationship
with Judah, His people were supposed to reflect His concern in
the areas of justice, relief for the oppressed, and defense for
the helpless. When the world looked at their behavior, they should
have viewed a living illustration of God's love and compassion
in each of these three areas. Instead, neighbors viewed shameless
examples of civil scams, legalized oppression, and the state-protected
slaughter of innocent children.
When Isaiah proclaimed this message to the people of Judah,
they had completely rejected God's special, loving relationship
with them. While they still belonged to God, they no longer behaved
as His chosen ones. They no longer cherished the things that were
important to God instead, they embraced the detestable
practices of the Canaanites, and worse.
When we look to the New Testament, we find the same emphases
in the relationship between God and those who have been saved
by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The New Testament teaches that
through the blood of Christ, God delivered us from cruel bondage
to sin and established a "new covenant" with us (Romans
6:15-18; Luke 22:20). Those who have been miraculously delivered
from this slavery to sin are also called "a chosen people,
a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God"
(1 Peter 2:9).
Also, in the same way that Judah was to embrace God's priorities,
we, too, are to embrace His priorities. He instructed us to be
holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16), and to love each other because
He loved us and because He is love (1 John 4:7,8). God calls His
chosen ones to hate what is evil, cling to what is good (Romans
12:9) and to seek first His Kingdom (Matthew. 6:33). God still
expects His "chosen people" to share His concerns and
embrace His priorities.
Finally, we also are to reflect His nature to the world around
us. When the lost observe us and our behavior, they should see
an accurate picture of God's glorious nature (1 Peter 2:12). When
they watch us relate to each other, they should learn of the Lord's
love (John 13:34,35; 17:23). When the world views our marriages,
they should see a picture of the relationship that exists between
Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:22-33). As God's people, our
priorities, actions, and affections are to project His nature
to the world so that the lost can get a small glimpse of what
God is like.
God has indeed delivered us from bitter bondage and brought
us into a loving relationship with Him. Because of His incomparable
love and grace, we should respond by eagerly embracing His concerns
and accurately reflecting His nature.
Therefore, if God's heart breaks over our nation's civil immorality,
shouldn't tears flow from our eyes? If we care about the things
that concern God, shouldn't we be concerned about blatant violations
of His most basic civil expectations? Because our government is
"representative," shouldn't we seek representation of
God's concern on moral issues? If we have the legal means and
opportunity to reduce and in some cases eliminate
the most flagrant examples of civil injustice, would God expect
us to do any less? And when God's people fail to address these
issues, don't we convey a false message to the lost about God
and His nature?
Our Father is still passionate about the destruction brought
through sexual immorality and perversion. But when we fail to
call on our elected officials to stand against legalized and state
sanctioned immorality and perversion, can we justify our declarations
that we follow the Lord?
God's heart still breaks for the helpless and oppressed. In
His love, He still holds human life precious and wants it protected.
Yet, when we elect so-called "pro-choice" candidates
(or allow their election by not voting!) who perpetuate the legalized
slaughter of the helpless, how can we honestly claim to love God?
When we remain silent at the polls, or don't call our representatives
to action in these areas, the watching world could falsely conclude
from our actions that God is not really concerned about
these issues. They then could logically conclude that the vocal
minority of politically active Christians don't truly represent
God's heart, but are instead "religious right" fringe
fanatics who should be dismissed and ignored as such.
We have a dramatic opportunity to fully represent God and His
concerns for our nation by voting and holding our elected officials
accountable. If we fail to do so, we fail our nation, and more
importantly we fail God and we should not be surprised
by the inevitable consequences that most certainly would follow.
Adapted from Sinful Silence: When Christians
Neglect Their Civic Duty by Ken Connor and John Revell. John
Revell is associate editor of SBC LIFE.
The SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has
published a non-partisan, comparative guide on the Democratic
and Republican Party platforms suitable for distribution in your
church or community group. This eight-page resource features a
straight-up, unbiased, side-by-side comparison on a wide range
of issues from the two political platforms. For more information
visit their e-commerce site, www.familybookstore.net or call (800)
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