Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Why Vote?

I got an email raising that question last night and found it to be a very thoughtful inquiry. Why vote? Specifically, why as a Christian living in America should I feel compelled to be engaged in the political process which culminates in casting a vote for candidates and issues? It certainly doesn’t have any linkage in Scripture. First century Christians didn’t vote for their government officials, they often were persecuted and fed to lions by them! Yet the very suggestion of not engaging in the political process is borderline heresy in America.

Voting is the ultimate civic responsibility and privilege. I am sure every American has heard ad nauseum that “if you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain!”. Voting as a civic duty is one of those cultural distinctives that make up middle-class American values right alongside going to church, owning a home and saving up for college for your children. Voting is as American a baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet. Of course here is the problem. Just because something is an American cultural virtue it doesn’t necessarily follow that it is a Christian value. In fact I can’t find a single compelling reason for Christians to vote and be engaged in the political process. On the other hand I see plenty of reasons to avoid it. The unhealthy obsessiveness of many American Christians, especially politically conservative evangelicals, is reason enough. We are far too eager to make common cause with unbelievers or even enemies of the Gospel for the sake of political influence and conversely quite happy to demonize other followers of Christ who embrace a different political philosophy. Similarly we are overly dependent on the political process to do what only the life giving power of the Gospel can achieve.

If Obamacare is overturned and the mandate to provide contraceptive care is undone, will that make a Kingdom difference? Not really and yet many Christians are simply incensed by this. I suspect it has a lot more to do with personal and political animus toward the current President than it does with a principled stand, although certainly the two are not mutually exclusive, in the same way Christians seem all to eager to support any and all military action when a Republican is President but not so much when the Commander-in-Chief is a Democrat. What about New York City public schools kicking church groups out? That will not stop the King from building His church. If the U.S. Supreme Court decides that homosexuals have a right to “marry” will that destroy marriage? Not hardly, it is laughable that a judicial fiat in America would impact a relationship defined and designed by the One who holds the universe together. That doesn’t mean it isn’t bad law or a grotesque usurpation of Constitutional authority because it is. It just is not a Kingdom issue. Unregenerate sinners acting like unregenerate sinners is as old as time.

Believe it or not, I don’t find politics and civil engagement nearly as interesting or compelling as I once did. Do I think that from a secular view America is headed down a disastrous path? I certainly do but I also know for certain that should America as we know it collapse entirely and be replaced by a totalitarian regime it would have absolutely no impact on the mission of the church. The relative tax rate in America, fiat versus hard currency, the national debt, military spending levels, etc. have no bearing on what we as the church are called to do.

So what about my question? Why vote? I don’t know that we should. I will go to the voting booth in November and I will vote for whichever Republican is running against Barack Obama and I will vote for Mike Pence for governor of Indiana and so on down the ballot. I will also do so with the full realization that voting in American elections or not voting is irrelevant. My rulers are not in Washington D.C. or Indianapolis. My King reigns on high and His reign is absolute and irrevocable. He is not the King of conservatives or liberals and His reign is not thwarted or advanced depending on whether the President of the United States has an (R) or a (D) after his name. As I said I can find no compelling Kingdom to see voting as something laudable for a Christian but I can certainly find more than a few reasons it is not. This is something I need to ponder more.

What are your thoughts?


Ur Man CD said...

Errr ... you outline a lot of reasons why voting won't make a difference from a Christian perspective and how we take our cues from a Kingdom perspective. Then you go and vote anyway. Why? I have to say though, you post only increases my intrigue on the issue and I for one look forward to getting people's perspectives on the matter that highlights the link to Christian responsibility and not merely as you point out a perception of civic responsibility. Thanks for this post.

Arthur Sido said...

That is the question isn't it? Politics for me is sort of morphing into a hobby rather than a deadly serious business.

Anonymous said...

also - you can vote for something, and then, a Judge (or Judges) can override the vote of the people.
Complicated issue indeed.

Thank you for the post,

Debbie said...


To imply that we shouldn't vote because first century Christians didn't vote is no more valid than saying we shouldn't use cars or wear tennis shoes because they didn't. Voting wasn't an option for them. If you can point out a place where they had the opportunity to vote, and chose not to because of their faith, then we could discuss the validity of voting based on their actions.

It seems to me that the rest of your post addresses two issues: 1) confusing citizenship duties with Christian living, and 2)thinking that something like voting will make a difference in Christ's kingdom. So, FWIW, here's how I see those two issues....

I agree that our thinking is often rather muddled about patriotism & Christianity. (Like the guy John knew in the navy who, when asked if he was a Christian, replied "Of course I'm a Christian. I'm from Texas!") I think it's important to use care and discernment in separating the two. But there are directives in Scripture about how we are to behave as citizens - paying taxes, respecting those in authority, etc. I think the general idea is that we are to be good citizens, respecting the rules and customs of the land where God has placed us. (Assuming it doesn't require us to break God's laws.)

As to whether voting makes a difference in God's kingdom, of course not - at least not in the ways you've mentioned. But what we do does matter. For example, does it matter for the kingdom if Tim Tebow wins a football game? No. Does it matter for the kingdom how he plays, and the example he sets? Yes. Does it matter for the kingdom if you play x-box? No. Does it matter for the kingdom whether you use it as a way to ignore your kids, or draw closer to them? Yes. Things we do that aren't necessarily directly kingdom-related can matter. Not that they will make or break God's kingdom, but they matter in how they can affect individual lives.

So I'll be voting, even if I don't see much difference between the candidates - though I hope to be able to vote for someone I can respect. :) Why? Because my vote might help elect someone who will stand against abortion, and maybe some people will have the chance to be born because of it. Will the kingdom stand or fall because more children have the chance to be born? No. Does it matter whether I try to make a difference? Yes.

As usual, I don't think I've expressed all that's going around in my head very well. Hope it makes sense.

Arthur Sido said...


I certainly didn't mean to imply that we shouldn't vote because first century Christians didn't vote. However something we can draw from the early church is that their idea of being "good citizens" and our idea are vastly different. To us, being a good citizen means voting and being a productive member of society. For Paul and others, when speaking of citizenship, they were speaking of mere survival in a hostile culture.

As much as a oppose abortion, I have come to the point where I trust God and do what He has called us to do in ministering to those who are in the position of choosing life or death. I don't think anything at all is accomplished or advanced by holding up signs at marches in Washington D.C. I wish more Christians who were pro-life would put action to their words beyond donations to politicians and voting in November.

Debbie said...

In terms of something like abortion, is it either-or? Do we either try to affect the rules that are in place or minister to those facing the decision? Can't we do both? I'm not one for marches or just throwing money at something (don't have any to throw anyway, lol), and I understand that we need to reach out one-on-one to those around us, but the fact is that one person in Washington can affect many more lives, for good or ill, than I can. So I will do my best to do what I can where I am, but will also do my best to cast my vote for people who will do their best to do what is right.

It sounds like you think that God never uses those involved in politics to work His will. Is that accurate? I think of people like William Wilberforce, who worked within the political process to stop slavery in England. Would you say that he was wrong not to step down from parliament when he became a Christian? Don't you think God can/will/wants to/does use people from all walks of life, in all professions, where they are, to build His kingdom?