Voting: Option or Obligation?
“To vote, or not to vote? That is the question,”—if one may paraphrase a renowned English writer. This is a serious question for many people as the election season approaches. It is one of those issues, I respectfully suggest, upon which good people may disagree without dissension.
A recent article by a devout Christian took the position that voting is “a privilege, and a responsibility.” One can argue reasonably that voting is a privilege under our government; to declare that it is a responsibility is to go beyond what is justified. It is the equivalent of suggesting that it is a sin not to vote. There is no biblical teaching that necessitates such a conclusion.
Some contend that voting is a way to exert one’s influence for good, hence to neglect such would be morally irresponsible. What, then, would be the case if one votes, but votes for a different candidate than your preference? Has he or she sinned? Also, must one choose your mode of operation as the exclusive avenue of exerting his influence? These are serious questions.
One of the great Christian leaders of the nineteenth century was David Lipscomb. Lipscomb wrote a book titled Civil Government. This highly respected gentleman took the position that Christians ought not to vote. He contended that since the Bible teaches that God rules in the kingdoms of men, and puts into office those he chooses (Daniel 2:21; 4:17), Christian people ought to leave the matter to him, and remain aloof from the political process. Others argued similarly long before he lived.
Noted historian Edward Gibbon declared that the early Christians refused to take “any active part in the civil administration of the empire” (416). Phillip Schaff, a celebrated church historian, similarly called attention to the early Christians’ “disregard for politics and depreciation of all civil and temporal affairs as compared with the spiritual and eternal interests of men” (430). These historical observations are not void of merit.
A weakness in the argument, however, could lie in the fact that the Lord might providentially use citizens to set certain leaders in places of authority to then either reap the benefits or the disciplinary consequences of their choices (1 Samuel 8:5; Hosea 13:11).
Some declare they prefer not to vote because they feel there is no candidate representing their values. This could be a logical position reflecting one’s personal conviction. A Christian must guard the sanctity of his own conscience (Romans 14:23).
Others allege: “You must vote—at least for the lesser evil.” This is a fallacious argument. No one should be coerced into voting for a candidate with whom he or she is not comfortable. A “lesser evil” could still be an evil in the mind of a devout person!
Some Guiding Principles
If one chooses to vote or to speak out regarding candidates (even if deciding not to vote), there are principles that should guide the Christian’s thinking.
- One’s political preference should not be grounded in superficial bases, e.g. race. There are highly qualified people of various races who might serve with distinction. To discriminate because of ethnicity, either for or against, reflects a superficial mentality.
- The character of the person is important. Does the candidate have any level of spirituality? If he professes faith in God, does he have a significant pattern of life that is consistent with true morality and spirituality? It is one thing to say, “God bless America,” yet in the next breath be spewing the vilest profanity. Jesus taught that what proceeds from the mouth is an index to his heart (Matthew 12:34).
- Moral issues are far more crucial than economic factors. It is much better to be poor and good, than prosperous and wicked. This is an ideal many Americans seem to have forgotten—or choose to ignore.
- Currently there are terribly important ethical issues that challenge the very foundation of this nation. One of these is the slaughter of the unborn via “legalized” abortion, a heinous practice in vogue for the past third of a century. How could a Christian possibly vote for a person who supports “baby murder,” under the guise of “pro-choice”? The “choice” to do what?
- Another malignancy gnawing at the vitals of this nation is the scandalous attack upon the institution of marriage (the very foundation of civilization), legitimizing, by means of law, illicit sexual unions. This corruption has been promoted incrementally for several decades. First, there was the granting of equal legal privileges to “domestic *hetero*sexual partners,” apart from marriage. Then came the “equal-under-the-law” provisions for *homo*sexual couples. Finally, there now is the legalization of sodomy under the facade of “marriage”—both in Massachusetts and California. How in the name of common sense could a Christian ignore these vital issues in deference to less-important considerations?
- There should be serious consideration concerning how the next President would fill vacancies on the Supreme Court, thus affecting the flow of law for decades to come. It only took one rogue swing-vote in 1973 (Roe v. Wade) to shift the court toward the bloody carnage of legalized abortion. It would be a travesty indeed to contribute to the further disintegration of the nation’s moral fiber.
While Christians may disagree on some political options, each person must plumb the depth of his conscience (hopefully one educated by the Scriptures) and act consistent with his own judgment.
Ultimately, peace should prevail among the people of God.
- Gibbon, Edward. n.d. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Vol. 1. New York, NY: The Modern Library.
- Schaff, Phillip. 1980 reprint. History of the Christian Church. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.