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Friday, February 12, 2016

To Vote or Not To Vote?

Is it an obligation for Christians to vote? We were discussing this over in How Did This Happen?. I can find nothing in Scripture, obviously, so the answer is not as clear as one might think.

David Lipscomb, a 19th century Christian leader, wrote Civil Government and argued that Christians should not vote based on passages like Daniel 2:21 and Daniel 4:17 that suggest that God puts into office whom He will. Early Christians refused to involve themselves in civil government because those were temporal affairs and their concerns were eternal and spiritual. This ignores the fact that God uses people in His work like He used Samuel to crown a king for Israel (1 Sam 8:5). One side argues that your vote doesn't matter and the other argues that no vote is a vote for evil. One side says you must vote for the lesser evil and the other says no vote at all absolves you from being responsible for voting in evil. Then there's the whole "Is it a sin not to vote?" question, which spawns the "Is it a sin to vote different than I think you should?" corollary and ... well, you can see how this would get sticky. I know there are those who call themselves Christians who voted for Obama and others who call themselves Christians who considered that a sin, but they also consider it a sin to have not voted at all.

It is true that we need to be in submission to civil authority (Rom 13:1), and some argue that this includes voting. They do it by pointing out that the authority in America is ... the people. That seems rather thin. And while we are indeed supposed to be lights in this world, to be a voice for Christ, to stand firm, to defend the faith -- all that good stuff -- it is equally thin to argue that good citizenship (exemplified in voting) is a way to do this.

It is undeniable that my vote will not decide the direction of this country's leadership ... either way. In fact, if "No taxation without representation" is right, I should not have been taxed for a long, long time since I have rarely if ever been represented in our government. But, of course, if I don't vote, I couldn't complain about that, could I? If I don't vote, what right do I have to say anything about the political situation of my world?

Of course, if you decide that the right thing to do is to vote, you run into a new sticky question. How? We tend to vote on matters like immigration and abortion and taxation and ... well, you know, political and civil stuff. Our marching orders, on the other hand, are on the spiritual side. Make disciples. Love your neighbor. Preach the Gospel. Pray. That kind of thing. So if you decide to vote, it would seem paramount that you vote on matters of spiritual importance based on biblical values. Now try to do that in the American political climate.

In the end I see it as a Romans 14 issue, a "Christian Liberty" question. "The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves." (Rom 14:22) But, remember, "whatever is not from faith is sin." (Rom 14:23) I am, of course, always open to a different point of view on this.
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Postscript. For a different perspective (because I have no intention of suggesting that mine is the only right one, especially on this point), see Pyromaniacs on the subject. They disagree with me wholeheartedly.

20 comments:

Bob said...

i find that it is always easier to vote, then it is to explain why you didn't.

Alec said...

Wow Stan, quite a discussion going on in the comments of "How Did that happen".

The strongest point I could pull out was this one:

"Do not mistake it for indifference, and do not think that not voting is "doing nothing". It is not voting, which in itself is something."

Many people seem to hate this idea, and refuse to consider it. But having watched enough elected American politicians of both parties completely and utterly ignore their constituents, I've come to the position that "not voting" is one of the strongest statements that an individual can make.

Voting for evil is evil. I think it makes one an accomplice. To me that's a sin. But that's just me.

Alec

Marshall Art said...

I read the Pyro piece and find it compelling in favor of voting, and voting as a Christian duty. He has a link that I think is even better and defends the point I was trying to make earlier quite well.

By the way, we do have representation that deals with taxation. The problem is not so much whether or not they are doing what you want, but whether or not you are making known to them what is you do want. Yes. Like with your vote, you're but one person among millions. But that's either one less or one more. One more is better. Always.

I will state again, emphatically, that voting is a way to be a voice for Christ by, as both links affirm, we are moving in the desired direction, even if only incrementally. To expect big changes or else I won't vote is a less than mature way to view the issue. Indeed, one could spend one's life doing nothing more than interfering with how bad things get and how fast. That, too, is being a voice for Christ.

As to the differences that exist between Christians (left/right, fundamental/progressive, whatever), that's irrelevant as the point is what YOU, the individual, does. Not the other guy.

One thing that is ignored in this discussion is that voting is but one act that serves to move our country toward a desired destination. I do not contend that it is the be all and end all. By our example, as well as by specific works (or by the absence or lack of either),we move the country one way or the other. We can't help but be a part of who things work out. Thus, besides merely voting, we must involve ourselves in other ways. I can't see a separation between what we do to serve God in the spiritual sense, versus our actions as Christians modeling that duty. While the spiritual and our eternal destination is our primary concern, I can't see how we serve that concern by allowing the worst to befall our fellow human beings by not participating in life. That includes the political.

Marshall Art said...

Alec,

"The strongest point I could pull out was this one:

"Do not mistake it for indifference, and do not think that not voting is "doing nothing". It is not voting, which in itself is something.""


I don't know about others, but I do not consider it indifference. I consider it completely irresponsible given the ramifications. You say that voting for evil is evil. That isn't the choice, though, it it? The choice is between two evils, one of which is greater than the other and thus likely to do more harm. So the choice is really more harm versus less harm. Not voting allows for more harm. It is never allowing for less. This is a fallen world and the absence of choices for good never results in good. It only invites more evil.

As the links to which I referred above express well, the choice between those who got by the primaries is too important and not the time for "statements". The only thing that is truly stated is that no one cared enough to vote. No one is taking a poll to find out why every eligible voter didn't make the effort.

You also fall victim to the same sort of rationalizing the others were making. The failure of our choices does not justify not voting at all. What it indicates is the lack of involvement of the people in between elections. The vote is to be the culmination of all we did to make our voices heard, to encourage the better people to run and to oppose all that we believe is bad for our country. To do nothing during this time and then expect less than ideal candidates will satisfy is...I can't think of a way to express it without being insulting, because it's that bad.

Now, because not enough voted and of those who did, not enough voted wisely, we will now suffer another buffoon being appointed to the Supreme Court. Don't dare tell me our votes don't count. They most certainly do.

God help us now.

Stan said...

The question that Pyro and you have not addressed is HOW DO WE GET BETTER CHOICES? "The choice is between evil and a less evil." Fine. So we vote for the less evil and you say that makes it better. Alec says it's a statement. When enough people say, "You are not giving me a choice I can support," wouldn't it be possible that this could produce better choices?

Well, no, of course not, because the ONLY option genuine believers have is to vote your conscience, to vote for the Republican who is running. The Democrat would be a sin. An Independent would be a sin. A Constitutional Party person would be a sin. A refusal to vote is a sin. Seems strange.

Marshall Art said...

"The question that Pyro and you have not addressed is HOW DO WE GET BETTER CHOICES?"

That's because the topic isn't getting better choices, but whether or not we have a duty to choose between the choices available. But the question not addressed is a great one and worthy of its own post. In the meantime, I alluded to the answer several times in this discussion by referring to what we do in between elections. How involved are most people in what goes on in their local governments and school boards, their state governments, and the federal level in between elections? How often do we write or call our representatives, attend even PTA meetings, for Pete's sake (who is this "Pete", anyway?)?

"So we vote for the less evil and you say that makes it better."

Technically, I'm saying voting for the lesser evil makes things less messed up. If you wish to preserve your car, but the only choices you have is between ramming into a wall at 5 mph versus 50 mph, there is damage either way, isn't there? Which is "better" for the goal of preserving your car? I'm concerned with preserving the union and the integrity, security and overall health of our nation. I'll choose the lesser of two evils every time to slow the damage until a better person becomes available to lead the nation or represent me and mine. Until then, I'll do what I can to pay attention to what is happening in that vile place we call the political world and support the best against the greater evils and seek out and support someone that is actually worthy of the effort. That's how self-governing is supposed to work. Not by ignoring the process and then whining that the choices come election time are poor, or that those we did elect aren't perfectly accomplishing what we had hoped they were to do.

"When enough people say, "You are not giving me a choice I can support," wouldn't it be possible that this could produce better choices?"

Anything's possible. But what is likely is that by not voting because you don't see a choice you can support, you allow the worst possible choice available to succeed and cause harm. Think of the harm that will now befall us if the Senate doesn't prevent Obama from nominating another Ginsburg to the bench to replace Scalia. Thank you all who didn't vote!

"Well, no, of course not, because the ONLY option genuine believers have is to vote your conscience..."

That's true if by doing so it includes preventing the greater of two evils from being elected. How your conscience isn't bothered by allowing that amazes me. The rest of that last paragraph seems snarky and sarcastic, but to respond to it, I would say that I don't think it is impossible for even a Democrat to be the least evil available, despite the fact that it is unlikely. Thus, my conscience would move me to hold my nose and punch his ticket. That would be the genuine believer's only choice if all the rest appeared to be worse than he and would likely bring about more harm to the nation.

There's nothing whatsoever strange about the fact that the harm that befalls us by doing nothing to prevent it, even if all we can do is mitigate the harm by choosing the lesser of two evils, is a sinful proposition. Not strange because it's true and self-evident. (You even referred to not voting as an action and the equal and opposite reaction is more likely more harm, than it would be for producing better choices.) You might as well engage in perpetrating the harm yourself given that you are, by your inaction, absolutely complicit.

David said...

When one votes for the lesser of two evils, how is that working toward a righteous goal? All it is doing is merely slowing the inevitable, not moving toward a better tomorrow, just hoping for a less worse tomorrow. Unless we see a truly electable candidate that believes in conservative moral values and aims to reform this country, nobody is going to be a step in the right direction. That's not because 40-some-odd percent of Americans aren't voting. That's because 60-some-odd present (that's being very conservative) of Americans believe that Christian moral values are wrong. As you keep saying, we are a country "governed" by the people. The people are increasingly morally decaying, so it only stands to reason that the leadership (which is chosen of and by the people) is going to reflect that decay. Unless we have another Awakening through God's mercy, we can expect a continued decline. Some presidents might show the decline, some might even hasten it (though I believe the government is always lagging behind the nation when it comes to the decline), but none in this coming election will make any progress toward reversing the decline. Only God working in the people will accomplish that. We're not going to vote this country into a better tomorrow.

I'm still unclear why this is a sin question and not a Christian liberty question. Political involvement is not an explicitly biblically mandated action, so to call it sin to not be politically involved is stricter than is called for.

Alec said...

David,

Agree with all points of your assessment. This is a matter of Christian liberty.

Alec

Bob said...

Perhaps the issue could be made less complicated by those that went before us.
do you suppose they shared the same difficulties? perhaps they were just as confused and discouraged as we are. is it remotely possible that our fathers felt just as insignificant.
and yet they gave up their freedoms and comforts and their very lives so that we may have this privilege. and they warned us that if we fail to exercise this right we will eventually forfeit all our freedoms. if not for yourselves than vote for the sake of someone else.
keep it simple , pick a candidate and let God sort it out.

Josh said...

The biggest reason I don't vote, is because at a time in my life politics became a huge idol. I had this fairyland view that my perfect political ideas could fix everything. My faith was in the US governments ability to carry out a morally conservative brand of politics. Here is the reality:

1. If you are relying on your once every 2 or 4 year vote, and the spread of your political opinions, to enact change in society where is your faith being placed? I argue in the government, and not in Jesus.

2. I vote everyday. My vote is to live out my Christian Faith to those around me. I don't spout out political ideologies, I speak about a saving faith in Christ. No government will ever do this.

3. It is absurd how the republicans have seduced the "evangelical" vote on SSM and abortion, and yet done nothing to affect either. While at the same time carrying the harshest stance on immigration, and taking us into unjust wars.

4. Strong political views usually draws us unwittingly into Patriotism. This creates an us vs them mentality and ends up causing division. Between political parties, and between countries.

The bottom line is faith in any political system over the work of Christ is idolatry.

Marshall Art said...

David,

"When one votes for the lesser of two evils, how is that working toward a righteous goal? All it is doing is merely slowing the inevitable, not moving toward a better tomorrow, just hoping for a less worse tomorrow."

You refuse to regard less evil, when confronted with the choice between that and more evil, is progress toward "a better tomorrow". How can less evil not be better than more evil? Because it is still evil? Of course it is, but the choice is between more and less, and less it better every time. I don't argue that I prefer evil of any degree, but only that when given the choice, I take it as a duty to do what I can to ensure that less evil wins out over more evil. Where's the flaw in this plan? Would you prefer 90% of your body burned to the third degree, or only 10%? Would you prefer 90% of your body burned to the third degree, or 90% burned to the first degree? More evil or less evil? Which leaves us better off?

And of course, this "lesser of two evils" is only a euphemism for choosing between two less than ideal choices. I think it is beyond cynical to say no one in this election will move us toward progress. What we can't know is whether or not they will actually be able to accomplish it. What we do know is that they can't without our help in the day to day, in between election time. But assuming they aren't totally prevented by circumstance or partisan interference, I can see most of the remaining GOP helping us improve if only by not being leftists.

"We're not going to vote this country into a better tomorrow."

You seem to want to make this little disagreement about whether or not voting is the be all/end all of bringing us to salvation. I'm not even hinting at such a thing. My point is that it is one of many things a Christian can do, and should do, to influence change in our country. When given the choice, and when it is our duty as citizens to involve ourselves in making the choice, we must choose rather than not choose. Not choosing is choosing the worst possibly outcome because you've done nothing to prevent it.

You also seem to want to make it a political thing, rather than just another means by which a Christian lives a Christian life. Consider the story of the Good Samaritan. While Christ didn't explicitly condemn those who chose to do nothing about the suffering of the robbery victim, is there any way you can infer that Christ was well pleased with them? I think not. The victim here is our nation and our fellow citizens, including those who willingly wish to turn us away from God. Not voting is akin to being one of those who left the victim to suffer until the Samaritan happened upon him. I think that's sinful.

While this opinion is likely no more convincing for you than I have been, it may speak to you in a different way. We can only do the best we can with what we have. Saying one choice is no better than another is rarely true if the choices aren't totally identical, and while that is unlikely, to at least prevent the "greater of two evils" is a Christian duty.

Stan said...

"to at least prevent the "greater of two evils" is a Christian duty"

In light of the fact that I voted ... every time ... and we still got Obama, this seems to prove the point that a good vote for a "lesser evil" doesn't necessarily prevent the greater one.

I'm imagining, "Let's see, Sanders or Clinton will drive this Titanic headlong into an ice berg, but Trump will only scrape its side until it sinks. Much better." I'm still not getting this "lesser of two evils" argument.

David said...

So, if the candidate you want wins, and I don't vote, then I actually voted for your candidate, by your logic.

Stan said...

This comment is not to any one commenter here in particular.

In truth, I find this whole discussion distasteful. "You must vote (and, likely, for the candidate of my choosing) or you're sinning." "My vote makes no difference." "You shouldn't vote because any vote is a vote for evil." Sure, sure, all caricatures of what is being said by any individual, but that's how it appears. It seems to me that we're all missing some important things.

On one hand, God commanded His people, "Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare." (Jer 29:7) If Christians are His people and we live in the world in a sort of exile awaiting our coming to Him, it would seem that we, too, ought to seek the welfare of the people around us rather than fall back on "My vote doesn't count." We are often commanded to participate in God's work even though it is God who accomplishes it and always accomplishes what He will. On the other hand, there is the problem of voting for the "lesser evil". Our current top options don't rise to the level of "less than ideal", perhaps more so than ever before. Trump or either of the Democrat options are indeed more or less evil, but thoroughly evil.

To those who argue that a failure to vote is a sin, you might want to rethink that. It's not a biblical command, so making up new rules for Christians, I think, is unwise. For those who think, "It's better not to vote because my vote won't make a difference," that may well be true, but if that is true and if we are supposed to love our neighbor and seek the welfare of those around us, what else are you doing instead? Maybe your vote won't matter. (We've certainly seen enough of that in the last few years on the single topic of the definition of marriage in this country, where judicial fiat overruled the will of the people in more than two-thirds of this country.) So if you're not voting because you don't think it will help, what are you doing that will? And for every single one of us who call ourselves Christians, followers of Christ, attempting to be obedient to the Word, are we (you and I) following the unmistakable command to earnestly entreat God on behalf of our leadership (1 Tim 2:1-2)? We, above all others, ought to be respectful of the office even if we don't find the officer respectable because "There is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God." (Rom 13:1)

I've voted in every election and I may or may not in this one. I'm still not convinced of the sinfulness of failing to do so nor the sinfulness of doing so. But I am sure that bowing out and throwing up my hands at it all is against God's commands, even if we conclude that a vote doesn't help. Doing nothing is wrong.

Marshall Art said...

Alec,

"This is a matter of Christian liberty."

I don't know that anything I've said even hints at a concept of vote by force. I assume liberty as a given. But liberty, even by, if not especially by, Christian standards is not neglecting responsibilities and duties. As has been said in one way or another, freedom ain't free. One must be vigilant and persistent in protecting liberties and voting is but one way to do so.

Bob,

Well said.

Stan,

"In light of the fact that I voted ... every time ... and we still got Obama, this seems to prove the point that a good vote for a "lesser evil" doesn't necessarily prevent the greater one."

Failure to achieve a goal does make make the goal unworthy of pursuit. I never insisted that an individual vote prevents the greater evil. I spoke of the concept of the result of good people not voting. Would all those like David, Alec and Josh have cast their votes for Obama? I might be wrong, but I believe David's numbers are backwards. I believe it's more like only 40% of eligible voters vote. Either way, it's a lot of voters who could have prevented Obama's election the first time, also preventing the need to vote against him the second time.

"I'm imagining, "Let's see, Sanders or Clinton will drive this Titanic headlong into an ice berg, but Trump will only scrape its side until it sinks. Much better." I'm still not getting this "lesser of two evils" argument."

This is primary time. Is Sanders or Clinton even a option for you now? The choice you present doesn't yet exist. We're dealing with Trump or any of the other GOP candidates as far as I'm concerned. To that, if there's anyone here who feels that anyone on the Dem side constitutes a "lesser", I'd love to hear the argument for that.

David,

"So, if the candidate you want wins, and I don't vote, then I actually voted for your candidate, by your logic."

Not even close. All it means is that you didn't support whomever YOU might have considered the least evil available. I've never said anything about my personal choice being the most ideal. That's not even part of my argument, which is merely the duty we each have to vote.

Stan said...

Marshall, just for clarification, the term "Christian Liberty" is a reference not to Christians being free, but to a specific concept in Christianity that says that which is not specifically commanded or forbidden is a matter of Christian Liberty. It comes primarily from texts like Romans 14. The "Christian liberty" in view is not our freedom to do what we please, but the liberty of determining what we believe is right or wrong for ourselves because the Bible didn't say in this case. Alec was saying that it's a matter of personal conscience and not a matter of biblical command.

Oh, and when you speak of "not voting" as being wrong, I believe you are including "not voting for the Republican candidate" (at least most of the time), right? I mean, a vote for, say, the Constitution Party is a vote, but you would still classify that as wrong (sin?), right? (I hope you understand how confusing that position might be for folks.)

David said...

Wait, why is a non-vote automatically a vote for the "wrong" side? How does that even make sense? Also, of the roughly 60% of people that didn't vote last election, you truly believe the majority of them would have voted Republican? That seems really naive. My guess would be that the percentages of those that didn't vote versus those that did would be equal. My guess would be that if 100% of voters contributed, the result would have been the same (maybe with a closer gap). You seem to believe the majority of people want a more moral society, and if only those pesky quiters would do their duty we'd be on the right track to a righteous country. I believe the reason our choices are only the lesser of two evils is merely a reflection of our society.

Marshall Art said...

Stan, (Limited time here)

I sit corrected regarding the use of the term "Christian liberty", and I have some things to review later to deepen my understanding. Now, though, I believe bringing up the concept is ill chosen for this discussion. I'll have to let it lie for now.

"Oh, and when you speak of "not voting" as being wrong, I believe you are including "not voting for the Republican candidate" (at least most of the time), right?"

A separate issue. I'm speaking only of the act of voting versus not voting and whether or not it is proper for a Christian to recuse himself. My position is that it is not proper at the very least, and sinful at worst. Details to follow later when time allows.

Dave,

"Wait, why is a non-vote automatically a vote for the "wrong" side? How does that even make sense?"

The quick answer is in that we vote to improve things or maintain that which is working well; more often than not the former. Who votes to make things suck? The assumption is that things are moving in the wrong direction, and even "the other guys" have the same belief, though they are wrong. Thus, we can only assume that things will NOT change for the better if we don't vote for the person most likely to improve things, or less likely to make them worse or as bad as we feel the worst candidate will.

"Also, of the roughly 60% of people that didn't vote last election, you truly believe the majority of them would have voted Republican?"

For the purposes of improving the country, even if by slowing its descent, I don't much care about ALL of those who don't or didn't vote. Some don't pay attention. I have a friend who hates Republicans because of all the reasons the typical low-info lefty gives for doing so. It's a good thing he doesn't vote, especially since I've got him to admit he's conservative on a variety of issues without ever mentioning politics or conservative or liberal.

No. I'm concerned with those who would normally vote for the same types of candidates I do had they not reverted to the many rationalizations for not voting that have been listed in this discussion. In my mind, they should know better, too.

So, if 100% of those voters voted, and the rest continued to ignore their duty as citizens, I don't think Obama would have won either time.

Out of time

Stan said...

Then you would NOT say that a vote for, say, the Constitution Party would be a non-vote or a sin? I guess I missed that somewhere.

David said...

Wanted to touch on your burn analogy for the lesser of two evils. I agree that 10% 3rd degree burns is less "evil" than 90%. However, I don't see my presidential options as that far apart. To me, the choice is between 90% and 75%. While one is less evil than the other, to the burning man, what difference is 15%? It's all bad at that point. Another way, you are comparing the difference between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism and I'm comparing between Calvinism and Arminianism. While Catholics and Protestants are both considered Christian, they are so far apart they might as well be different religions (your view, Rep Pres is much better than Dem Pres). While Arminius and Calvin are Christian, they only really differ on five points (my view, Rep Pres is only very slightly better than Dem Pres). I see my presidential options as so far left, they might as well be Democrats. So, if my choice is more liberal or less liberal, neither one is even close to conservative, and I see no reason to choose, since both are bad choices.