The Hebrew Bible records that while camped at Gilgal after crossing the Jordan River, Joshua encountered a warrior with a drawn sword. Aware that he was in a hot zone, Joshua asked him whose side he was on, the Israelites’ or their enemies’. “Neither,” the man replied, identifying himself as “commander of the army of the Lord.” Joshua then recognized the warrior’s divinity and fell on his face in reverence.
In that critical moment, right before the Battle of Jericho, the warrior reminded Joshua of three important principles that have implications for how Christians vote.
First, God is not a member of any political party or national military organization. He may have been involved in Joshua’s battles, but he was not just another player in the wars of the period; he was and remained above them all. To reduce him to a political player was to misunderstand him. This independence is evident in the life of Jesus Christ. Though neither contrarian by disposition nor opposed to the existence of political parties or interest groups in principle, he was not a member of any political (or religious) group. Given the weaknesses inherent in human institutions, he recognized that wholesale unquestioned alignment with any faction would likely compromise his vision and endanger his unique mission. He was thus fiercely and unapologetically independent in his views, addressing contentious and complex politico-religious issues carefully, on a case-by-case basis, guided by love for God and people and a commitment to truth. Where his views aligned with those of a faction, the alignment was incidental and only to the degree to which the latter were in agreement with his guiding principles.
His case-by-case approach suggests that voting Christians must do the hard work of assessing candidates, analyzing their positions on a wide range of issues and carefully selecting those whose views and character most closely align with biblical priorities, regardless of the candidate’s party affiliation. The strategy seems unwise given the dominance of party politics and its paralyzing effect on the function of governing bodies, but it is nonetheless the Christian way and in the long term probably the most effective way to prevent the further entrenchment of destructive partisanship.
Second, God does not serve human purposes, humans serve his. Before realizing with whom he was speaking, Joshua took the warrior for a potential tool, someone he might use to further his military and political agenda. The man quickly disabused him of that idea—God could not be used. He had his own agenda and it was Joshua’s task to get on that. In politics, the tendency to want to use God (his name, people, language and principles) for the furtherance of some transient political goal is as common as daisies. In their voting, Christians have a responsibility to enlighten those who might hold cynical views of Christian utility by not allowing themselves or the faith to be used as an instrument of destructive politics. Christians are to use the political process to advance God’s purposes for government, the core of which is the protection of human wellbeing.
Third, Christians must make a choice. Joshua learned in the brief exchange that his campaign was but one battle in a major war, and it was he, not the warrior who was clearly on a mission, who had to pick a side. Joshua chose to humble himself and follow God, but that was only the beginning of what would be a protracted struggle. Elections are similarly only a beginning, an important battle in a much bigger war. The hard work of shaping and building a better nation remains after we have cast our ballots. To avoid getting lost in the ongoing culture wars, stuck in the mire that can become advocating and advancing myriad causes, or simply being exhausted by the opposition, Christians are asked, from the onset, to choose to follow God and remain committed to him until the work is done.