Voting When There’s Simply No Good Option
It’s been quite the election cycle. I began watching the preliminaries with interest, then amusement, then a sinking realization that the ironic prediction I made earlier this year the beginning was becoming reality. And I’m not alone. I’ve been asked a few times, “So…who are you voting for?” It’s a knotty one, to be sure. What do you do when there’s no good option?
There’s no quick and easy answer for this one. These are sticky questions that require wrestling down. I can, however, point out a few of the things you, as a Christian, need to wrestle to the floor.
1. Recognize the Privilege and the Responsibility of Voting
The New Testament was written to people living in an empire that relied on social stratification and the subjugation of inferiors for its success. Guess which levels of society many Christians lived in? That’s right: the bottom. Which meant life was hard for these voiceless, powerless people.
So what does Scripture tell these Christians under the thumb of an oppressive government?
- Christian, you have an incredible identity (1 Pet. 2:9-10) and a heavenly citizenship (Phil. 3:20).
- As such Christian, you live in this world, but don’t belong to it (Jn. 17:14-16; 1 Pet. 1:1; 2:11).
- And Christian, you must submit to earthly government, since God is the true King who uses even earthly authorities to accomplish His purposes (Rom. 13:1ff; 1 Pet. 2:13ff).
- Finally, Christian, you are called, as exiles, to do good to the culture you live in (1 Pet. 2:12f; Gal. 6:10).
What was true for these first century Christians is true for us. And yet, our own context is quite different. We live in a remarkable country, with a remarkable privilege: we all have a voice. Regardless of our class, race or creed, we can speak our mind. We can write our legislature. We can vote.
Which puts us in an interesting situation. We are still called to submit to the government (as far as we are able without violating God’s rule; see Acts 5:29), but we have a hand in shaping that government. Therefore, I would argue we have a responsibility to participate in leveraging every opportunity to “do good to everyone” by using our voice and our vote to seek the objective good of this nation.
But we also must recognize the responsibility of the privilege we wield. When we vote, we put our stamp of approval on this particular candidate or that particular issue. Which, of course, is precisely where things get sticky. Which leads me to consideration #2.
2. Think Twice About “Nevers”
I am suspicious of “never” voting. By “never” voting, I have in mind the strategy that does whatever it takes to keep one candidate from getting into office – even voting for someone you like only slightly less. It’s like negative voting.
To be sure, there is an attractive logic in taking a “never” position. Isn’t it better to vote for the enemy of your enemy? Or, to put it differently, isn’t it better to vote for the lesser of two evils?
But let’s dissect this for a moment. Shouldn’t we be suspicious of any strategy that finds itself forced to decide between two evil options? Are we truly and really caught in such a bind that we are satisfied with the binary options of voting for a really bad evil, or just a kind of bad evil?
That brings me to my third point:
3. Let Your Conscience and Convictions Sing
As Christians, we are people who are liberated from the tyranny of expediency. We are released from the pragmatism of this world, and set free to actively pursue the objectively good righteousness of God. This, of course, makes us oddballs and misfits in our culture (or as Peter calls us in his first letter, “exiles”). But that’s ok. Because we belong to a better country, with a better name, and a better hope.
So think about that for a moment. We may be citizens of the United States of America, but our loyalties really and truly lay elsewhere. Why else would we call Jesus “Lord”? Let that settle for a moment. When we say “Lord Jesus,” it’s not a prefix, like “Dr. Jesus,” or “Mr. Jesus.” We are saying something qualitative about Him. We are saying that we pledge our allegiance to Him supremely. We are confessing that He is our Ruler, and our ruling principle.
Here’s what this means. When, as Christians, our convictions and consciences comes into conflict with the convictions of our surrounding culture, we have a choice to make. To whose will we submit?
Now, realistically, no political candidate will ever look like Jesus. Does that leave us with our hands tied? No. We can vote our conscience – even if it is not the most strategic political move. We can withhold our vote not in apathy, but as a form of vocal protest. We can be actively engaged in other political and cultural arenas.
What we must not do is toss aside our convictions and conscience for the sake of expediency. If we refuse to let our convictions and consciences sing out with clearheaded resolve, and instead stifle them to vote for the enemy of my enemy, we have sacrificed too much.
4. Don’t Hope in Presidents
Regardless of how you determine to use your vote, at the end of the day, a man or woman will be elected the next President of the United States. But you need not fear. Nor should you put much hope in him or her. Will the next president make significant changes? Likely. Will the next president alter the course of our country? Very possibly. Will the next president do things we disagree with? Most definitely.
Does that upset the sovereign plan of God? Not one squidge.
We are not fatalists. But neither are we Chicken Littles. We are called to confident, humble security in the bigness of our good God. As Christians, we live coram Deo – in the presence of God. The God who flung the stars into their constellations certainly holds our world together. The God who loved this world enough to send Jesus to die for finicky rebels (like you and me), will certainly continue to labor to bring those rebels to Himself. Christian, rest your hope in the only place worth resting hope.
Which leads me to my final consideration:
5. Make Known God’s Greatness
We have a job to do, Christian. And it is not to make our country great. It is to make known God’s greatness. We do that by making disciples of Jesus from all peoples. We do that by telling the world of God’s greatness in the cross of Jesus. We do that by loving our neighbors concretely and transparently with the love with which we’ve been loved.
So if you’re experiencing the pre-election jitters, humble yourself before the mighty hand of God, cast your anxieties on Him (1 Pet. 5:6-7). Keep yourself busy beholding and showing the glory of God.
Here’s where the hard work comes into play. Wrestle with your convictions. With your role as a citizen of this country – but more importantly, a citizen of heaven. Ask the God of wisdom for just that (Jam. 1:5-8). Whether you vote for a Republican, Democrat or third party candidate; whether you make your voice known by casting or withholding your vote, do it with a clear conscience. Let your convictions sing. And do it all in the presence of the God who calls you His own.