Should Christians Vote?
In this tense election season, I have heard a lot of thoughts from fellow believers regarding not only how we should vote and who we should vote for, but also whether or not we should vote at all.
Yes, initially, I was super duper mad at these people who suggested to me that Christians should not vote. Are you kidding me?! There are people out there whose lives and livelihoods honestly depend on our choice of lawmakers a lot more than ours do. There are vulnerable people who need help and protections from the government in order to survive. Yes, the church and caring individuals can and should also take care of these folks. But if we do not participate in electing the people who decide these things, some will undoubtedly be left out in the cold. Aside from that, if we bow out of the system altogether, how can we ever hope to make it even a little bit better?
But hear me out – the argument against voting isn’t actually as crazy as it sounds. These friends raise some valid points: If we participate in the election of corrupt and broken leaders (and is there truly anyone among us who is not at least a little bit corrupt or broken?), how can we expect more than corruption and brokenness? Like the ancient Hebrews, we are nervous about a King we cannot see or touch, so we demand a human king and are given what we want, only to realize that human governing never seems to lead us back to wholeness. How could it? We have, each one of us, fallen short and messed up. How can we expect to fix our deep issues ourselves? (If this sounds familiar, it is because it’s the indispensable first half of the Gospel, before Jesus arrives on the scene – we have screwed up, and we need help from outside ourselves.)
If we’re being honest with ourselves, we can point to times in history when a human leader has done wonderful things, but there are also many instances (arguably many more) when a human leader has wrought corruption and suffering for those he governs. If we’re honest, trying to fix our problems ourselves through human governing bodies has never really worked out all that well, so many believers subscribe to the idea that Christians should not vote.
But (and this is a big ol’ BUT) it’s also important to realize that refraining from voting is an act of privilege. We have found that when we choose not to participate in the system, the system goes on without us, and often affects the vulnerable among us the most: people of color, LGBTQ folks, the homeless, the chronically ill, immigrants, the imprisoned, the elderly, the economically disadvantaged, etc. These folks cannot afford for us not to vote. In some cases, their very lives may depend on it. They cannot afford to check out of politics and remain neutral. If we can, it is important to realize that it’s only our privilege that allows us to do that. If you, like me, are white, Christian, a citizen of the US, healthy, and are employed enough to mostly make ends meet, it’s possible that you may not be affected by an administration or body of lawmakers where racism and classism are allowed to thrive. If you are all of the above and male, it is likely you also don’t have to worry about sexism and misogyny in the mix. But others do have to worry about those things, because these laws and executive orders and Supreme Court decisions affect their day to day lives, families, employment, safety, health, and wellbeing. For these among us, not voting is not an option they can afford. And if we are to be people who stand in the gap for the oppressed, choosing silence in the face of oppression over just action is not an option for us, either.
So how can we reconcile these thoughts? As believers, we may not want to participate in a broken system, but we do want to point our steps in the direction of the footprints of Christ and put our hands to bringing about justice for the marginalized in our world. How do we do both? Can we?
I believe there is a way, but like following Jesus, it involves thinking outside the box, subverting human rules in order for the Kingdom of God to shine. It involves a love so radical and a surrender so selfless that it may be hard for some folks to hear, but so is the Gospel, so I am going to gather up all my brave and say it anyway.
One way to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God during an election is to surrender our vote to someone in the margins.
Yes, I mean find a friend whose voice those in power seek to silence – a person of color, an immigrant, someone who lives in a neighborhood where they have moved the polling place out of the city limits in order to suppress poor voters, someone in prison – and ask them who they would vote for. Then vote the way they tell you.
It’s simple, but it’s not easy. I know this sounds completely crazy to some people, even offensive.
So did Jesus.
If we are to look more like Love, His is the way forward. For centuries, people have debated the question, “How would Jesus vote?” I believe this is one possibility. It is certainly one viable solution for those who want to bow out of a corrupt system while still supporting and standing in the gap for the oppressed. Our own will and opinions and flesh are denied, and the voice of one in the margins – who Jesus always, always ran toward – is amplified. I cannot think of a better way to use our personal freedom for good and honor Christ with our vote.
Pray about it, talk it over with a friend, and then I hope you will cast your vote today however you feel led. You’ve got a couple more hours. Make them count. I hope you will choose to vote not for a candidate who promises to fix our collective brokenness, but for those among us who are suffering and crave the hope that Jesus came to pour out. We are here to carry on in His footsteps, so may we pour hope out like we’re made of it.
*Note: Special thanks to my friend Keith Giles (keithgiles.com) for talking over these thoughts with me. Thank you, friend, for your wise and thoughtful interpretations of our culture and the Bible, and your kindness in the way you lead.