“Should I vote?” Well, first, I’m not so sure we should “should” on anyone. I don’t think that’s the way of Jesus. I think he released us from the enslavement of making sure we do the “right thing” all of the time. It’s amazing, the Apostle Paul channels this through-and-through in his letters, which compose a large percentage of the New Testament. Paul’s main rule is Christ.
In Romans 7, Paul is saying that the rule-dominated life that the strict Jews lived was taken away with Christ’s death. Jesus said he came to fulfill the law. That law is basically summarized in the Ten Commandments. Paul says that those rules that dominated Jewish life were good, but they were manipulated for evil.
Jesus changed the world, gave us an opportunity to conquer death once and for all—to “marry” the resurrection life. And to witness to others through it. The problem with the old way of doing things is that people started to do as much as they could get away with. Now we are free from the law and free from sin, so we are free to live a new life of freedom.
We are no longer shackled to anything. We are free to live fully. So ultimately, if you are asking a question to find out what you should do, I am not so sure I can give you an answer that is sufficient. It seems to be against the way I’ve been transformed.
The voting question is a really hard one to answer. In the United States, we are told by the patriarchs of our civil religion to vote because that is elemental to our democracy and our voice being heard. The argument is that if you don’t vote, you can’t “complain.” You can’t protest. You can’t talk about issues that matter to you. Mainly because in our “representative democracy,” our voices are carried out by our legislators. I don’t think that’s the case, and I don’t really believe them when they tell me that. And if my voice is just limited to some symbolic vote? I don’t care that much.
And to be honest, I wouldn’t be the only one. In 2012, the big presidential election that re-elected President Obama, only 58.83% of voters turned out. That’s a big election. If you look at the next year’s election, when huge campaign dollars weren’t spent, it dropped to a measly 11.4%. It seems to me that many Americans aren’t super-interested in voting and even when the state tells us it’s important, it doesn’t seem to be a very important influential voice. So I understand the disillusionment that accompanies the hysteric cry to vote.
What does it actually do? I don’t really know. Should I vote? Well, no one else seems to.
But when we look at other arguments for voting, they are a little more compelling. Voting hasn’t always been everyone’s “right.” It was only in 1920 that women gained the right to vote. Black people in the U.S. truly didn’t have the right to vote until 1965, when racial discrimination was completely prohibited. Now, that’s questionable, since there is still a debate about whether voters should be literate or whether or not they should have an ID present when voting.
There’s been a lot of work done to ensure that everyone has the right to vote. With a battle fought very hard among many oppressed people, to ignore the vote seems like an affront to their work. So, I suppose it makes sense to consider that perspective too. Should I vote? Well, a lot of people have fought for your right to.
Perhaps, however, abstaining makes some sense because it could send the message of indifference that our elected officials need to hear. Not voting may be more powerful than voting at all. We are collectively indifferent because we don’t think anything changes whether you are empowered or not. This might not already be a conscious choice of the voter, but it is certainly in the nation’s unconscious.
There is a distinct belief among many Christians that we shouldn’t participate in elections because we are called to be set apart from the world. We don’t deal with the world’s affairs because we are under God’s kingdom and covenant. We are connected to God, and casting a vote for another ruler seems to be violating that. There is a good argument to be made that we shouldn’t participate in worldly institutions because we are so committed to making the alternative. You can clearly see this in the Old Testament when God repeatedly says that we are His people and He is our King.
For a long time in the Old Testament, the Israelites only had God as their ruler. When Israel demands a king, God and Samuel really try to convince them not to. They persist, and God concedes.
There is a cost to being ruled by a king. That warning is very noteworthy for us if we sell our souls to the state. People really have ideological reasons not to vote. They really think it is idolatry. They might even characterize it as a sin. And if we are empowering people in an unjust system, I see their argument. The entire system is built on violence, and for that reason it seems to be categorically the opposite of the Kingdom, which is built on grace. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the ultimate protest of the violent system—when given a chance to avenge himself, he didn’t. There is a very good theological argument to be made against voting at all, that is for sure. Committing yourself to a political party? That also adds to the idolatry.
Moreover, voting itself might not be the most Christian way to make decisions. I prefer consensus and agreement, occurring as a response to intense dialogue. I was demonstrating this at the BIC General Conference last weekend when I was engaging in dialogue. Some people thought I was talking too much, but I really believe in a dialogical process and I am talkative! I don’t want to just cast my vote and let it be still. In fact, sometimes I refused to say “yea” or “nay” on an issue we were voting on because I think the system itself is flawed. As if we need another thing to divide. Voting might just divide Christians and oppress the minority too!
Some people really believe that we vote to preserve our values (whether they are “Christian” or not is up for debate) in our government. There are a variety of issues at hand here, but there are those “issue voters.” I don’t want to get into the politics, but some people vote because there is an issue that is really important to them. The Brethren in Christ made exceptions to their typical non-voting stance, when it came to issues surrounding prohibition. Outlawing alcohol was important enough to curb their conviction not to participate. There are other issues like that today. Some people believe that we need to vote for the candidate that is most likely to offer equal marriage rights. Others might think it’s the people that are going to outlaw abortion. Still others think we should vote for the people that are not going to engage us in international entanglement, military or otherwise. Others think we should vote for people that will keep the government out of our lives. There are a lot of issues that people may vote for or against, because they are really important to us. And the truth is? Those actual laws and policies may affect a lot of people. Sometimes we will elect someone that’s going to influence the world positively, save lives, share resources, create justice, clean the environment, all sorts of things. It is conceivable that voting might do a positive thing. So there’s that too.
I personally vote. I read the newspaper (on the Internet, of course) and other news magazines. I try to stay informed, in part to participate as best as I can, leaving no stone unturned. But also because it’s a hobby of mine. I follow politics so that my dad and I have something to talk about, too. I do it so that my neighbors, who care a lot about who is in office, see me at the booth. They often introduce me as their neighbor and sometimes their pastor! I like that camaraderie. Like many things I do, I vote so I can be relatable. This a personal and relatively nuanced reason, to be sure.
If we get too ideological about it, I think we miss Paul’s point about being free from the law. Voting should probably occupy as much space in our minds as it takes to do it. And if we think our work for justice and for Jesus is done once we press that button that often produces all-too-familiar results. We might want to think a little bit harder. Vote or don’t vote, but our work isn’t done once we are out of the booth.
Truly, like Paul tells the Corinthians in his first letter in chapter ten: “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.
For me, the question isn’t what is right or not. What is permissible or not. What you should do or not. But what is beneficial? What builds up? If you give it that level of thought and seriousness, I don’t think you can really go wrong. I think everything is worth that level of testing, so if you haven’t asked yourself those questions, it might be a good time to start.