I've struggled with the choices we've been handed next month in perhaps the strangest and most divisive presidential election in recent history.
I've listened to people I respect give their thoughts about the situation. With Hillary Clinton on the far left and Donald Trump on the far right (I think), the choice would seem clear. But I've observed that, for some, there is a genuine struggle to endorse either with their vote.
I'm a Christian who has the wonderful privilege to vote, one that not every person on the planet has. It just feels wrong to want not to vote. Fortunately, the Bible is my source for helping me know what my duty is, not as an American, but as a citizen of heaven. This is not downplaying the importance or privilege of the election, but it helps me keep all this in perspective.
In 1 Peter 2:11-17, I read what God, through the apostle Peter, told early Christians was important as they navigated their culture. Because I believe in the relevancy of God's Word, I think it's just as applicable today and a particularly timely help for all believers.
Peter was encouraging Christians who lived in a hostile environment where many people did not understand them, and slandered and mistreated them. He basically reminded them that their identity was bigger than their earthly citizenship and their responsibility extended beyond earthly leaders.
First, Peter acknowledged that they were truly "aliens and strangers" to this world. He urged them to a proper behavior, but he put their lives into a spiritual context first. A Christian's true home is heaven, the city of God. Believers always will be spiritual refugees always on the move to their real home. So, if we feel we are out of step with our American culture, we might just want to remember the reason. This is not our true home.
Second, Peter urged Christians to possess a blameless character, to be diligent in abstaining from "fleshly lusts" and to keep their behavior "excellent." He told them to do this in spite of hostility toward them. In doing so, he said some will ultimately give God glory because of such excellent behavior. Some people will become Christians, who were once hostile to Christianity, because God will use the undeniable good character of believers as a witness and opportunity for the Gospel.
This should remind us that our greatest impact for the greatest good is not at the ballot box but in our daily walk with Christ and witness to others. The power of the Gospel to transform lives and even culture will flow from the church house, not the White House.
Lastly, Peter instructs Christians regarding their responsibilities to God and country. A Christian's duty to his country involves submission and honor. God wills for believers to submit to governing authorities and to honor those in charge. Ideally, government protects the innocent and punishes those who do evil. And it's nice when government gets this right.
This submission is given freely as an act of trust in God. We are to pray for, honor and obey leaders as far as we possibly can without compromising obedience to God. If government demands Christians to violate their conscience concerning God, then we must answer as Peter and others did in Acts 5:29, "We must obey God rather than men." Here, we pray for wisdom to know when to submit to government and when to defy it in order to obey God.
Peter makes clear that the Christian's responsibility to God is to fear and obey Him. We are to give our ultimate allegiance to God. He has the priority. He has ownership. Christians are "bondslaves of God." Therefore, even though I have a duty to my country and the government that administers its affairs, my conscience and my ultimate allegiance is only God's. And I must diligently protect my conscience because God is bigger than country.
So, how does this inform me as Nov. 8 approaches? Here it is: God is bigger than Clinton and bigger than Trump. His providence over the affairs of men is bigger. His grip on my conscience is bigger. His claim on my life is bigger.
I believe we are greatly blessed in this country. And, of course, we have problems, too. However, God is bigger than America. Getting to vote is a privilege of citizenship in our country, but I don't think it is a divine command. I think for the Christian voter the key concern should be about conscience because this is where we are truly free in Christ. Vote your conscience, or don't vote if that is your conscience.
And as you lay your head down on Nov. 8 with that clear conscience, keep it all in perspective. God is in the process of making a people of the nations for Himself for all eternity no matter what earthly emperor, king, dictator, prime minister or president rules for a brief time in a particular place. Church, our mission is sharing the Good News and making disciples.
Come January, no matter who is taking the oath of office and becoming our new president, this will still be our mission. God will still be in control. And our hope will still be in Him—as it always has been and always will be.
Daryl C. Cornett is pastor of First Baptist Church in Hazard, Ky., a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and former associate professor of church history at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Cordova, Tenn.