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Citizens and pilgrims in an election season

How evangelicals can prepare for whatever results an election week brings

Citizens and pilgrims in an election season

Members of the activist group Rise and Resist gather for a demonstration in Manhattan on Oct. 31. ( Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

On the Sunday morning before Election Day, the bulletin of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., included a solemn reminder: “We believe that the end of the world is approaching.”

The statement wasn’t an anticipation of this week’s election, but an affirmation of Christian doctrine in the church’s statement of faith: On the last day, God’s work of judgment and salvation will culminate when Christ returns. 

An eternal perspective is helpful at the beginning of an election week. Political outcomes are weighty, but not ultimate. For many evangelicals, though, this election cycle has proven both weighty and divisive. Respectable leaders have disagreed. 

Theologian and author John Piper recently wrote about his concerns over moral character and why he didn’t intend to vote for either of the two major presidential candidates. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, didn’t support President Donald Trump in 2016 because of concerns over Trump’s character, but he recently explained why policy concerns have motivated him to vote for Trump’s reelection this year.

Meanwhile, voter expectations are high. A recent poll of Wisconsin voters showed that 80 percent of Trump’s supporters in the state believe he’ll win. Eighty percent of Democrat Joe Biden’s supporters there believe Biden will prevail. 

That suggests a sizable chunk of American voters will be disappointed this week, assuming we know results right away. And depending on the outcome, at least some portion of evangelicals will feel disappointment too—whether they voted for Trump, Biden, or neither candidate. 

How can we prepare to respond? I put that question to Jonathan Leeman, editorial director of 9Marks ministry and author of How the Nations Rage. He offered this counsel:

If your candidate wins: “I think you, as a Christian, need to show empathy and compassion towards those fellow believers whose candidate lost, and who may be feeling a significant degree of apprehension and fear and anxiety. … You cannot lose sight of the fundamental gospel unity that we share, and the call to love those who are genuinely upset.”

If your candidate loses: “We still need to take confidence in the fact that God is on His throne, and that Jesus’ vindication and victory are certain. God is not caught off guard.” 

None of this diminishes the importance of the election, Leeman added: “It’s just to say that the gospel itself and the kingdom of Christ is that much more important. So contested outcome or no, civic unrest or no, put not your trust in horses and chariots.”

Adam Mabry, pastor of Aletheia Church in Boston, Mass., writes about the importance of truth and the anxiety over politics in a chapter of his recently released book Stop Taking Sides. Mabry doesn’t argue for diminishing truth or disengaging from politics, but he does offer a helpful reminder:

“While the world may lose their collective marbles when an election goes ‘wrong,’ may it never be so for the church of Jesus Christ.”

Mabry continues: “When you feel the nagging draw of anxiety on election night, remember your King is on the throne already. While the outcome may change the moment, it changes neither the mission nor eternity. The world is desperate for a people who are secure enough in grace that they can flourish under Caesar, whoever he or she may be”

This year, of course, isn’t the first time Christians have disagreed over a course of action. 

Four hundred years ago this month, some 100 passengers aboard the Mayflower spotted the coast of Cape Cod, Mass., after a miserable two-month voyage from England. A miserable winter awaited them, and they were already disagreeing about their next steps.

The travelers did sign an agreement on board the ship: The Mayflower Compact expressed their desire “for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith and honor of our king and country.” 

Many of the ship’s passengers knew they wanted religious freedom to worship according to the Scriptures, but they also knew what fellow passenger William Bradford later wrote about the Christians on board: “They knew they were pilgrims.”

It’s a phrase worth remembering this week. The 2020 contest is important, and elections have consequences. But Christ’s kingdom is ultimate, and as Leeman reminds us: “God is not caught off guard.”

Indeed, even when we forget, He knows we are pilgrims.