Global Christians Are Praying for U.S. Elections. Will We Pray for Theirs?

By the end of this year, more than 50 countries — representing half of humanity — will have held national elections.

Thinking about this statistic as an American helps put my own anxieties about the U.S. presidential elections in greater perspective. As Americans, we can easily be insular and self-centered, thinking that our nation’s political situation is exceptional and that we don’t need to be aware of what is happening in other countries. At the same time, we can also be unaware of the ripple effect that our own elections have on the rest of the world.

I was reminded of this ripple effect at a recent gathering of global Christian leaders. Throughout the gathering, many leaders from other nations told me in private conversations that they were actively praying for the U.S. election. I was both moved by their concern and somewhat embarrassed that I have not been as committed to praying for them as they have been for us. Their commitment to praying for the U.S. felt especially powerful knowing that so many of them were also facing pivotal and contentious elections in their own countries this year. I left that gathering reminded of our increasingly interdependent world — and resolved to be better at praying for elections beyond our own borders. While it may sound inconsequential, I believe prayer is a meaningful and even essential way we can be in solidarity with our siblings around the world engaged in ongoing struggles to protect freedoms and human dignity.

One key reason we need to be praying: Despite the unprecedented number of people casting ballots this year, key democratic norms and principles continue to decline. According to an annual analysis by Freedom House, a nonpartisan organization that monitors democracy and human rights around the world, overall global freedom declined for the 18th consecutive year in 2023, with 52 countries seeing reductions in political rights and civil liberties compared to 21 that saw improvements. Among the primary factors driving this deterioration, according to Freedom House, are violence around and manipulation of elections, including 2023 elections in Cambodia, Guatemala, Poland, Turkey, and Zimbabwe.

People wait in a long line to cast their ballots at a polling station in Polish parliamentary elections on October 15, 2023 in Krakow, Poland. Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto

We also know that the authoritarian tactics that undermine democracy are so often contagious. As Protect Democracy has documented, aspiring and ruling authoritarian leaders all over the world are learning from one another and employ a similar set of tactics across a wide range of different national contexts. These authoritarian tactics include politicizing independent institutions, spreading disinformation, aggrandizing executive power, quashing dissent, scapegoating vulnerable communities, corrupting elections, and stoking violence. And with so many people heading to the polls this year, there are ample opportunities for authoritarian leaders to employ these tactics.

With these growing threats in mind, we can pray that elections around the world are free of violence and intimidation. We can pray that elections are competitive, with opposition parties and candidates being able to campaign freely. We can also pray that people elect leaders who prioritize promoting peace, justice, and the common good.

As we pray, we can also take heart, remembering that this is far from the first time that Christians have had to grapple with autocracy. Our own faith was forged 2,000 years ago amid the brutal Roman occupation of Judea. Since then, Christians have often been a countercultural force, including recent movements against oppression and despotism. At the same time, Christian faith has also, tragically, been coopted to side with and support oppressive and autocratic systems. To resist these ongoing temptations, we must place our ultimate trust in God who “upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry,” as Psalm 146:7 puts it, and “sets prisoners free,” “gives sight to the blind,” “lifts up those who are bowed down,” and “loves the righteous” (v.8).

In praying for elections, I think of 1 Timothy 2:1-2, in which Paul urges “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” I note that Paul doesn’t say we must approve of our leaders or of their policies; he just asks our prayers for them as leaders. It is important to emphasize that the kingdom of God is never perfectly represented in any candidate or found on any ballot. I also think it’s notable that Paul doesn’t tell us to pray for “all those in authority” so that the rulers “may live peaceful and quiet lives” but so that we — the believers — might have peace and quiet. Today, I read this passage as a call for us all to be civically engaged in our societies, offering both private prayers for leaders to make the right decisions and also taking our petitions, intercession, and thanksgiving directly to the rulers themselves.

I think this same biblical principle applies to the systems in which our leaders exercise authority, including through elections. Conducting free and fair elections is what lends democratic systems their legitimacy; and while our democracies are all far from perfect, they represent the system of government that holds the greatest promise for guaranteeing fundamental rights and freedoms. We pray for free and fair elections to ensure the leaders and systems that govern us promote the “peaceful and quiet” flourishing of all.

An election commission worker holds up a ballot paper at the start of the vote count, in a polling station in Dakar, Senegal on March 24. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

This conviction was echoed by Jayakumar Christian, a longtime friend and church leader in India who serves on Sojourners’ global advisory committee. In a recent call, he told me he was asking for prayers from Christians from around the world for India’s election, which faces the real threat of being marred by corruption, persecution, and violence. He explained that people shouldn’t just pray for India because of the large number of voters, estimated to be 970 million, or because we’re worried about how the results of India’s election might affect our own nation. Instead, he told me later via email: “We pray because we believe that we belong to each other as the body of Christ and as humanity – [this is] the business of being the body of Christ. We pray because we are committed to issues of truth, justice, righteousness, peace and fairness with equity – those are the issues on all our ballots – in all elections across all democracies […] Christians by definition are to be informed and involved Christians – otherwise we have no business being called a ‘people of God.’”

And in claiming our identity as “people of God,” we remember we are part of a global body, far larger than the boundaries of our own nation. We pray to break ourselves out of our parochialism and instead bind us together in the biblical commitment to uplift and protect the weakest and most vulnerable parts of our global body, for “when one part suffers, all parts suffer with it and when one part rejoices, all parts rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12).

So far, global election results have been uneven. For example, after initial attempts by former President Macky Sall to indefinitely delay Senegal’s election, the nation hosted a fair election and elected Bassirou Diomaye Faye, a young political outsider who pledged to fight corruption — a peaceful outcome that was widely heralded as “win” for democracy. By contrast, Russia’s March elections were widely described as a carefully stage-managed sham designed to cement President Vladimir Putin’s continued hold on power. No credible challengers were allowed to oppose him and dissent has been ruthlessly suppressed, especially since Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. As more elections continue throughout the year — including in South Africa, Mexico, and the European Union — let us pray that free and fair elections will prevail, and if these elections fall short, Christians will boldly be at the forefront of efforts to ensure more inclusive and just elections take place in the future.

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