In preparation for the coming election, I had to re-sign my voter registration record. In addition to a number of simple questions about my race, gender, and address, I also had to sign my name next to the following statement:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Florida, that I am qualified to register as an elector under the Constitution and laws of the State of Florida, and that all information provided on this application is true.
Reading it, I paused and reflected for a moment, because those opening words reminded me of the oath that I swore when I became a Naval Officer to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic..”
When I took that oath I was asked how a Christian, much less a pastor, could in good conscience swear such an oath. To begin with, doesn’t Scripture forbid swearing? (Matt. 5:33-37) Doesn’t such a statement betray ordination vows? Doesn’t such an oath fly in the face of what we believe as Christians when it comes to our allegiances? And isn’t the Constitution used to defend and promote many things that a Christian, in good conscience would never dream of supporting? These are vexing questions!
But in order to serve in the Navy, I was required to swear to support and defend the Constitution. And now, in order to vote in this election, I needed to swear to protect and defend the Constitution. So what is a Christian to do, when asked to swear such an oath? Especially an oath to such a document?
How can our consciences be at peace when required to do such a thing?
I believe Martin Luther offered good guidance to this question. First, you must determine whether or not you have a Word from God telling you to do so. This doesn’t mean to read tea leaves in a cup or sit in silence waiting for God to answer you in the stillness. Instead, we must examine whether God in His Word has ordained or instituted the authority or station, to which we have been asked to swear. God places you in the home, the church, and under government, with duties to perform in each. So we must ask ourselves, does this vow that we have been asked to make, serve others in one of those stations of life?
Marriage Vows serve for the home.
Confirmation vows, membership vows, and ordination vows serve for the church.
Oaths of office or public service for the realm of civil government.
God gives us government for the purpose of protecting people, enforcing laws, and bearing the sword as His own minister. We, as citizens, have been subordinated to the government by God, and so out of obedience to God – who does accomplish His purposes for us, through our government – it is indeed good right and proper to take an oath in service to it. It may even be necessary to do so, for that oath, service, and vote, can further the goals of peace and harmony.
Yet, even beyond obedience to the government which God has placed over us, Luther says we must consider whether the oath helps us in God’s command to love our neighbor.
So ask yourself, does swearing this oath, allow you to better love and serve your neighbor? Does swearing this vow give you an opportunity that wasn’t previously there, to care for others, for people for whom Jesus died?
For this election, swearing such an oath, allows me to vote. In voting, we must consider the needs of our neighbors and consider how our votes can follow God’s commands to honor government and love our neighbors, from the greatest to the least.
Love and service to others then becomes a faithful manner to evaluate whether we should swear such an oath or not.
So when taking a vow, whether to serve, vote in this election, be ordained, married, or even testify before a court of law, remember that you are not swearing this oath for your benefit. Instead you are taking this oath on behalf of the one who demands it of you. Either to follow God’s command, to serve the government which God has established over you, or to love your neighbor by caring for their need.
Despite what flaws you might see in our government or the laws of our land, understand that though imperfect, God has given government to serve us, and we have a duty as Christians to be active in it. The oaths that we take enable us to be good citizens and good neighbors.
I do solemnly swear.. and I do so to honor God and so that I may serve others.. so help me God.