World

How Should a Christian Vote?

October 26, 2020 by

I don’t vote in national elections.

When I tell people this, I often sense a shock wave of incredulity. Why in the world would you refuse to vote, especially for president? Especially now? Isn’t voting essential to democracy? Why would you throw aside a chance to determine who will govern you? You may as well live in a dictatorship!

I understand the arguments that Christians should vote. Even in my own church community, there are those who differ from my point of view. The arguments against voting are also varied; I won’t rehash them all. My own reasons are a matter of principle: I refuse to vote, not because voting is a waste of time, or because the system is rigged and corrupt, or because there aren’t any satisfactory candidates.

I choose not to vote because Jesus teaches me to love my enemies, to do them good, to pray for them and bless them (Matt. 5:41–48). His love is indiscriminate. His kingdom is built not by acquiring power or coercing others to do what I (or the majority) think is right, but on sacrificial love and humble service. Even less is it built on wielding the sword. In fact, Jesus prohibits his followers from killing. Killing is wrong – always, without exception and without excuse. If Jesus died for his enemies, how can we kill them?

But this is exactly what the commander in chief must be willing to do, on our behalf!

RuinsRuins of the Jupiter Temple in Athens Tivadar Kosztka Csontvary 1904.

If killing is wrong, then consenting to or participating in killing is also wrong. Take the issue of abortion. If intentionally taking the life of an unborn human created in God’s image is murder, then performing an abortion and assisting in one are both wrong. Now, what if I had the opportunity to vote for the director of a clinic that performs abortions? Wouldn’t casting my vote make me complicit in the whole business? Wouldn’t my support constitute some form of authorization, even if I voted for the “better” candidate? For anyone against abortion, this whole scenario is ludicrous. Such clinics, even if they were “safely” operated, shouldn’t even exist!

Similarly, in voting for president of the United States, I am authorizing him or her to carry out the duties of the office. This means my vote authorizes the president, as commander in chief of the armed forces, to order others to kill on my behalf. Yet Christ commands me to love all people at all times. Such love never harms anyone (Rom. 13:10). By voting for president, I am appointing someone to perform tasks I neither believe in nor am permitted to do.

The president is responsible for executing and enforcing the law, through lethal force if necessary. That is the role of the state, but it is ultimately contrary to the way of the cross. Jesus overcame evil not by killing or ruling over it, but by dying and sacrificing himself in the face of it.

Though God may use the sword of the state to keep evildoers in check, as Paul says (Rom. 13:1–7), this is not our task as Christians. To be subject to the laws of the land is one thing, but to advance or defend the interests of the state is another. As believers, we serve a different master and belong to a different kingdom. Our responsibility is to faithfully represent the priorities and values of that kingdom. Our task is a redemptive one; it is not to destroy evil but to overcome it with good. That, of course, demands a great deal of us, especially at the grassroots level. Government’s coercive policies and actions often stem from our lack of working to further the common good right where we are.

But what about our obligation to pay taxes – something I do, however reluctantly, in light of Jesus’ command to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s (Luke 20:20–26)? Doesn’t this make me complicit in the war machine of the state? If I pay for war, then why not vote to ensure that war is less likely? This warrants further discussion, but in short, the one action is required by Jesus and the state, the other is not.

Many people feel my argument skirts responsibility. Isn’t the failure to vote a failure to act for the good, and doesn’t such failure make me complicit in any outcomes that may follow? In one sense, yes. All of us are responsible for the suffering in this world, both at home and abroad. Yet who of us, whether we vote or not, ever fully extend ourselves in working for the good? Voting is one act, but what about all the other deeds throughout the year that we do or fail to do? Even in war, my refusal to fight does not get me off the hook. I am to live in such a way that I help eliminate not only the likelihood of violence, but the seeds from which it springs. Similarly, my refusing to vote is only conscionable if I am committed to acting and living in ways that actually diminish suffering in the world. In this way, I cast my ballot elsewhere.

This argument may hold no water for those who believe that Christians can sometimes justify lethal force. Yet wherever one comes down on the issue of “justified” killing, we mustn’t forget what the apostle Paul explicitly states: Christ’s followers are not to take revenge! God alone has the prerogative to exercise wrath. “‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). That wrath is invariably bound up with human governments. But our task, as citizens and ambassadors of God’s kingdom, is to show that in Christ there is a different possibility: that of overcoming evil, not with evil, but with good (Rom. 12:21). Choosing not to vote is simply my commitment to do this very thing, and to do so in a way that reflects Christ’s all-encompassing love.

To many people, not voting is a copout. Indifference is worse than inaction. But for me, it is an act of obedience that reflects my new citizenship. It is an act that stakes its claim on Jesus’ lordship. It is an act that declares how God advances his redemptive will on earth – not by principalities and powers, not with weapons of this world (2 Cor. 10:4), but by the Spirit and by unconditional love. By swearing allegiance to Jesus and his kingdom, I am devoting my energies in a different direction and to a different political order. This is an act of faith. Such faith says no to national governments’ mechanisms of violence, and yes to the politics of humble love. Such love is a power of a different sort and is unleashed every time I wash the feet of others, including my enemies. While respecting the efforts of those in power, I live in accordance with a different hope.

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About the author

Charles E. Moore

Charles E. Moore

Charles E. Moore and his wife Leslie live in Denver, CO, where they form a small house community with friends and visitors...

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