Beyond the Ballot Box

By Mark A. Taylor

Once again it’s Election Day in America, and as Christians march to the polls to express their convictions, it’s time to remind ourselves why we go and what we hope to accomplish.

Do we expect to change America through the ballot box? As candidates bob and weave to attract the Evangelical vote ahead of caucuses, primaries, and the presidential election a full year from now, how much hope are we hanging on their positions and pronouncements?

Jennifer Johnson offered her answer in her message Saturday morning at the International Conference on Missions (ICOM) in Richmond, Virginia.

“Our job is to win souls, not to win elections; our job is to change lives, not to change laws,” she said. “This doesn’t mean wNov3_MT_JNe don’t have convictions, but it might mean we have to change how we express them.”

She quoted New York Times columnist Ross Douthat: “Himself a believer, he says the more we focus on fighting a few morality wars in politics, the more we are a special interest group with nothing transcendent to offer anyone.”

I well remember decades ago hearing Focus on the Family’s James Dobson express frustration because Christians were absent from public debates and congressional hearings about issues where Christians have profound convictions. Since then the Moral Majority has arisen and waned, the Reagan era has come and gone. Christian ethics are not the cultural norm in government or entertainment, and Christians knew—even before Jim Tune made “Away Team” the theme of this year’s ICOM—that we’d lost home field advantage in the public square.

Johnson responds, “We need to let go of this idea that the government of the United States is going to reflect the values of the Bible. The first-century church lived in an environment where that was absolutely not true.”

While acknowledging that voting, letter writing, even campaigning, or protesting are our right if not our responsibility, she said, “We can participate, but that’s not where our hope should be.”

Today I will vote against legalizing marijuana in Ohio where I live. I will do so because I believe legalized marijuana use will add to family brokenness, traffic tragedies, and other kinds of heartbreak in the city where I live. I will cast my vote out of my Christian conviction about how the outcome of this election could damage the fabric of my community.

But if marijuana use becomes legal in my state, or if the next president of my country turns out to be an anti-Christian scoundrel, I will try to remember Johnson’s words and refrain from wringing my hands. “Even the best laws change only behavior,” she said Saturday. “But we are in the business of changing hearts.”

Regardless of how this election, or any election turns out, I must redouble my efforts to open my heart to God and demonstrate to others how and why that change is making a difference way beyond the ballot box.

 

Go to www.catapes.com to order an audio or video recording of Jennifer Johnson’s message, along with the whole session, including a challenge from Caleb Kaltenbach and a testimony by Caleb Lucas. Their messages were delivered Saturday morning, October 31, 2015, at ICOM.

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