It is election time again and we have a civic responsibility at the ballot box. Notice the word “civic.” When we step into that voting booth, what values and vision will guide our hand?

Every Baptist grounded in Baptist principles will be struggling with an age-old question in the coming days–where is that line that separates what is Caesar’s and what is God’s. I wish it showed up like the scrimmage and first-down lines they draw on televised football games, but it doesn’t. And when that line is blurred or overlooked, we misuse faith and politics.

One has to be deaf not to hear the battle cry of the James Dobson’s: “Vote your Christian convictions. It is your Christian obligation.” This theme has a nice ring to it as long as the ringing is confined to your own ears.

Thankfully, our Baptist ancestors made us consider the religious liberty of all citizens, not just our own. They worked to make sure our government did not promote anyone’s Christian convictions, especially those of the majority.

In 2004, some churches (liberal and conservative) received slaps on the wrist from the IRS for crossing the line. They promoted specific candidates and ways to vote on specific issues. They could do this legally if they gave up their tax-exempt status, but I’m not holding my breath on that one. They prefer the free ride to political action.

How can Baptists “vote their convictions” on the one hand while protecting the religious and civil liberty of all citizens on the other? I offer a humble checklist as we draw near to our civil “festival of booths.”

–Distinguish between convictions. Baptists feel strongly about believer’s baptism but we would not let this position determine our vote. Truth is, most of our biblical convictions are meant to be established and expressed in our faith communities, not cities, states or nations (Acts 5:29).

–Distinguish between means. The Kingdom of God is advanced by the work of the Holy Spirit through followers of Jesus who use the methods Jesus employed, not through governmental policies or power. If our convictions are meant to build the Kingdom, we will need to do something about them other than voting on Nov. 7 (John 18:36).

–Respect the Baptist notion of soul competency and religious freedom. If our religious vote must be paid for with someone else’s religious freedom, including the freedom to have no religion at all, the cost is too high. If we turn purely religious convictions into law, we deny the convictions of others and take God’s place as the only judge (1 Cor. 5:12)/

–Vote for the good of all, not the good of a few. Too many Christian political advocates are drunk on the heady wine of power–majority power. But we are aliens in this world called to pray for and work for what is good for everyone, not just what is good for us (Jeremiah 29:7).

–When you have voted, turn your attention back to living your convictions. That’s what our country really needs.

Ken Massey is pastor of First Baptist Church in Greensboro, N.C.

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