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David Platt on the Problems With Saying ‘You Can’t Be a Christian and Vote For…’

pastor david platt

In an interview with Collin Hansen of Gospelbound, Pastor David Platt shared his thoughts on how believers and church leaders can navigate an acrimonious political election with wisdom and love. Platt emphasized the need for Jesus to take preeminence in all of our conversations and explained why he believes Christians should almost never say, “You can’t be a Christian and vote for” a particular candidate.

“We’ve got to work as members, leaders in churches, to foster a community where we really are quick to listen and slow to speak and slow to become angry and really hear each other out and hold on to God’s Word,”  said Pastor David Platt, who leads McLean Bible Church in the Washington, D.C. area. “How do we humbly relate to one another instead of giving into this constant temptation to demonize one another, just jump to polarization of positions, straw man arguments, all of these things that we see all around us in the world?”

Hansen pointed out that many people, pastors included, prefer to avoid discussing politics, much less write a book about it. The topic is perhaps even more fraught for Platt considering that the livelihoods of many members of his church depend on the outcome of the presidential election.

Platt responded that the reason why he has decided to share his thoughts on politics and voting is that if he does not pastor his congregation when it comes to these issues, someone else will. “I don’t want this toxic political climate that we’re in, and even the effects that it has on the church, to be what is discipling the people God’s entrusted to my care,” he said. He stressed that his purpose is not to influence people with his own political opinions, but to encourage them to put Jesus’ concerns at the center of their political values, actions, and conversations.

Pastor David Platt: We Need Empathy and Nuance

It seems more common in this election cycle than it has previously for people on both sides of the political aisle to state that it is not possible to be a Christian and vote for a certain candidate. “It comes from both sides,” said Pastor David Platt, adding that when he hears people make a statement like that, he becomes concerned that they are promoting unity around a particular candidate instead of around Jesus as per Ephesians 4:13

When people say, “You can’t love Jesus and vote for Donald Trump,” or “ You can’t love Jesus and vote for Joe Biden,” then what we end up doing, said Platt, is “questioning people’s orthodoxy based on how they vote.” He is not saying that either statement is right or wrong. Rather, “I’m just saying, how do we keep focus on the centrality of Jesus in the middle of it, love for one another in the middle of it?”

Platt does believe there could be a scenario where it would be fair to encourage every Christian to vote for one particular candidate over another. For that to happen, one candidate would have to be a wholehearted follower of Christ in every area of his or her life while the other was totally opposed to God in every way. “But I don’t think that it’s that clear cut in our current climate,” said the pastor. “But that’s part of the challenge…because people think it is that clear cut. And it’s interesting, there’s people on both sides that think it’s that clear cut.”

It is possible, Pastor David Platt believes, for Christians to have the same core values and end up voting for different candidates, a view that Tim Keller also recently voiced. To understand how this could be, Platt differentiated between biblical principles and practical consequences and explained how this concept might play out in the case of abortion. This, of course, is the next question that some people will inevitably raise: How could any true follower of Jesus vote for a candidate who is not running on a pro-life platform? 

To answer this question, Platt gave the example of a Christian he spoke to who was “zealously pro-life” and was planning to vote for Joe Biden. The reason why is that person had observed that a midterm election in Virginia had resulted in a Democratic governor and legislature being elected and in abortion becoming much more accessible. This believer was convinced those results were a reaction to the way that President Trump has led the U.S. Therefore, that person was planning not to vote for him. Plus, abortion, while an extremely important issue, is not the only matter to consider when voting for a candidate.

This example does not mean that person’s reasoning is correct, said Platt, but it does illustrate “it’s definitely possible for followers of Jesus to believe that abortion is wrong and still not vote for President Trump for a number of other reasons.” 

One significant challenge with discussing whom to vote for and why is that doing so requires people to be nuanced. Hansen observed it is not in the interest of most politicians and media outlets to be nuanced, and Platt added that social media and other online platforms also limit thoughtful conversations. What’s more, these platforms separate the dialogue “from good, loving, caring Christian community, where we’re quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”