Seven Proverbs that advise who not to vote for

April 23, 2024

2024 is an election year. Campaigning has already reached a feverish pitch, and we’ve many months to go until November 5. Each party has its own loyal supporters who will vote for candidates of that party regardless of their personal character and values. But there are many who will weigh whether their party’s candidate is a good person, an enlightened leader, and a person of integrity, honor, and skill in leading with the right vision. We might wonder if ancient Scripture has anything to say to advise us about who to vote for (or not vote for) in 2024. There is, of course, a book of wisdom: the Book of Proverbs. Consider seven Proverbs to guide your consideration about who is worthy to lead and who to reject:

1. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18). There is good and bad pride. Good pride is when you are proud of your child or grandchild, when you feel good about something you did well, or when you are proud of your church, nation, state, or community. How wonderful it feels to hear someone say “I’m proud of you.” Good pride represents our self-respect and dignity. Bad pride, on the other hand, is vain, self-centered, conceited, narcissistic, and delights in calling attention to itself. Bad pride hogs the spotlight. It is conceited and arrogant. The pride spoken of in Proverbs is the bad pride – vain and egotistical. It is hard to rein in pride and control the ego. Everyone has an ego and appreciates recognition, praise, affirmation, and notice. The key is learning to manage your ego. When a person’s ego gets out of control, it is a sign that the Spirit within is lacking. Avoid candidates whose ego is out of control.

2. “Do not quarrel with anyone without cause, when no harm has been done to you.” (Proverbs 3:30). Quarreling engages and enrages conflict. Conflict is a natural part of life. The goal is not to avoid conflict but to manage it. A person who can name the conflict, put it in context, and employ good tools for conflict resolution will likely enjoy the best relationships. Do not fear differences of opinion. Appreciate and embrace a wide diversity of ideas. Abide with differing views and debate them. Attack the position, never the person. You can affirm a person while differing with their point of view. Healthy disagreements are not to be feared, but to be managed. You can agree to disagree on a position and still be friends. Others may cause division, speak half-truths, insult, bully, and seek to injure others. But you cannot live like that, for you are a person in whom the Spirit of God dwells. Therein lies the motivation for our highest and most noble efforts in responding to conflict. When the Spirit of God dwells within us, instead of retaliating with petty quarrels, we are more inclined to pursue goals of kindness, gentleness, peace, grace, and seeking the highest and best interest of the other. That is how to live, by the grace of God. Avoid candidates who thrive on creating conflict and embrace those who seek reconciliation.

 3. “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches. (Proverbs 22:1). Your name is your identity, your honor, your bond, your integrity, and your word. Your name is your greatest treasure. Shakespeare wrote “Good name in man and woman…Is the immediate jewel of their souls.” (Othello Act III, Scene 3, lines 182-183). The Bible’s message encourages us to choose the way of honor, integrity, honesty, and truth. Avoid candidates who do not choose to preserve a good name, and choose those who favor the honorable path.

 4. “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools suffers harm.” (Proverbs 13:20). Aesop wrote that a person is known by the company he or she keeps. Your parents told you that in early childhood. You become known by who you associate with. Birds of a feather flock together. You become known by who you hang around with. There is a saying in business: First rate people hire first rate people. Second rate people hire third rate people. You see the logic: a person might feel threatened by great staff members who draw lots of attention, so they hire less effective staff members whose work will not threaten or draw the spotlight away from the insecure boss. Visionary leaders hire the best and the brightest to build a winning team and allow them to shine in the spotlight. That too reflects on the leader. Distance yourself from people who disrespect you, mistreat others, do not tell the truth, are abusive, lie to you, are negative, have no goals, use you, use others, or put you down. Instead, choose to walk with the wise, the kind, and with people of integrity. Look at the people who surround candidates – are they people of integrity? Choose candidates who do not keep company with those who are not persons of honesty, integrity, honor, or wisdom.

In 2024, we are not electing religious leaders but political leaders. And yet, the Proverbs propose age-old wisdom about what is good and what is not. When you enter the polling booth, favor what is good.

5. “Whoever belittles another lacks sense, but an intelligent person remains silent.” (Proverbs 11:12). In our time we have witnessed some public leaders at the highest levels belittling people. The behavior is nasty, unkind, rude, mean, childish, unbecoming, and certainly un-God-like. It lacks sense. It lacks sensitivity. It lacks basic human thoughtfulness. Those who belittle others are bullies. We encounter belittling bullies in government leadership, schools, healthcare, online, the locker room, the neighborhood, at work, at church, and perhaps even in our family. Their behavior hints at a sense of insecurity and inferiority. Perhaps they mistakenly feel that making another feel inferior will make them feel better about themselves. The second half of the proverb reminds us “an intelligent person remains silent.” Isn’t it strange that we feel that if we do not say something, if we remain silent, we will be perceived by others as being weak? Or perhaps remaining silent makes us think that others will assume we agree with their position, even when we do not. Silence is an attribute of the strong, as is affirmed in this gem from Proverbs. Only the strong can remain silent. Silence radiates strength. Proverbs reminds us to understand and practice the great value of silence. Avoid candidates who feel that they must fill every silence, and especially do not vote for candidates who belittle another, for they lack sense – and why would you ever vote for a leader who lacks sense?

 6. “Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to advice.” (Proverbs 12:15). Wisdom in the Bible essentially refers to common sense or the art of successful living. So, this proverb can mean that those who desire to be successful at life listen to advice. Listening to advice does not require you to accept it. Look at wise professionals of every kind, executives, and leaders who willingly pay consultants to advise them, guide them, save them from pitfalls and landmines, and educate them about how to succeed. In the art of negotiating or resolving conflict, a common axiom is to seek first to understand, then to be understood. This is true for international conflicts which engage our public servants, as well as interpersonal conflicts that confront each of us. Sometimes we are impatient to let the other know exactly where we stand or what we want, so we impede a successful outcome by not listening first. It is as though we are standing with hands on hips demanding that others listen to us. How much wiser to hear their point of view first, to probe, ask questions, listen between the lines, and to try to understand their need or point of view. Only then are we poised to pursue a win-win outcome. When considering which candidate to vote for, favor candidates who listen to advice and hear what others want to say to them.

7. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10). In the Old Testament, fear does not mean to be afraid of. Words have changed over the millennia, and some have come to mean the opposite of words we use today. Fear in this Proverb means to revere, to make holy, or to honor. So, the key to understanding the entire Book of Proverbs is found in reverence, holiness, or honor. In other words, to revere God is the beginning of wisdom. When you are considering political candidates, a great many of whom claim to radiate religious righteousness, consider especially those who revere God, honor God, and obey God’s commandments. God’s commandments are clear: The first is to love God, with both heart and mind. The second is to love your neighbor (Matthew 22:35-40). Who is your neighbor? Jesus answered that question with his Parable of the Good Samaritan. Note that Samaritans were considered unclean by the Jews. In other words, favor the outcasts, those on the margins of society, those in the greatest of need. The Good Samaritan was the one who tended to the person in need. And so, favor candidates willing to stand with and speak for those with the greatest need, for those on the margins of our globe, for those excluded, discriminated against, persecuted, and neglected. God’s way is inclusive, not exclusive. Favor candidates who seek to build a larger table rather than a higher wall.

In 2024, we are not electing religious leaders but political leaders. And yet, the Proverbs propose age-old wisdom about what is good and what is not. When you enter the polling booth, favor what is good.

Rev. John Zehring has served United Church of Christ congregations for 22 years as a pastor in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine. He is the author of more than 30 books and e-books. His most recent book from Judson Press is “Get Your Church Ready to Grow: A Guide to Building Attendance and Participation.”

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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