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Electing Not To Vote
18 September 2010
UPDATE: 24 October 2016 — I have had a change of heart regarding the upcoming presidential election. As usual I was planning not to vote. But after further consideration, I would rather be accountable to God for voting for Donald Trump and then having him turn out to be a bad president, than to not vote, thus aiding Hillary Clinton to win, who I am convinced would be a horrible president for this nation. Things are already bad in this country, and there is some hope that Trump will be a good president, so I can’t, with a clear conscience, help the situation get worse by electing not to vote. Like many others, I feel that the future of the United States hangs in the balance. What will you do on Election Day?
NOTE: You might consider this article a follow-up to my first Brian's Bits article: Reflections on the 2008 Elections.
Electing Not to Vote: Christian Reflections On Reasons For Not Voting compiled and edited by Ted Lewis.
This book is the next logical step after having my understanding of Biblical Christianity transformed by Pastor Gregory Boyd's books: The Myth of a Christian Nation, and to a lesser extent The Myth of a Christian Religion. In these books, Pastor Boyd clearly shows how the demonic seduction of political power has corrupted the Church for the last 1,700 years, with particular emphasis on the more than 200 years of American history. After gaining that vital understanding, the equally vital question arises: "How does this affect me personally, and what should I do about it?" It is precisely at this point that Electing Not to Vote is able to make a profound impact.
I do think that you would get a lot more out of this book if you read The Myth of a Christian Nation first, so that you have a solid grasp of the big picture before you wade through the details of why a Christian might be compelled to abstain from voting. Each chapter of Electing Not to Vote is written by a different author, so you get nine different perspectives, from various Christian traditions such as Mennonite, Baptist, Catholic and Pentecostal. The style of the writing leans more towards the intellectual, so you're not going to be able to plow through this short 115 page book lickety-split. But that is as it should be, because the arguments presented should be digested slowly, and the final decision about whether to vote or not should be arrived at carefully.
Each paragraph below is a separate quote, encompassing all nine authors. So it is not to be read as a contiguous exposition, but read as each paragraph comprising an individual thought. I've quoted a fairly large amount of material, and sometimes it was difficult to decide what to include and what to leave out. Obviously, I've been able to share only a small portion of the book here. But it will suffice to give you a taste of what the entire book contains. If this whets your appetite, then you will definitely want to get the book as soon as possible and read the whole thing — especially with national elections coming so soon.
One special note before we dig in: throughout The Myth of a Christian Nation, Pastor Boyd irrefutably demonstrates that violence has NO place in the Christian life — including self-defense and national wars — and that violence is completely incompatible with the example of Yeshua (Jesus) and the teachings of the New Testament. Despite the widespread American Christian love-affair with both the Second Amendment "right" to bear arms (primarily for individual self-defense), and with a strong military to defend our nation and fight our wars "in the name of God", the foundational Biblical doctrine and practice of NONVIOLENCE is assumed as the norm in many of the following statements.
As commander in chief of the armed forces, the U.S. president is explicitly charged with the duty of maintaining the military, defending our borders, and preserving national interests through the use of violence if necessary or expedient. If I, as a follower of Christ, could not conscientiously serve in that role, then how can I in good conscience cast my support for someone else to do that in my stead?There is one last thought from this book, which I found very interesting, that I would like to share. In the last chapter of the book, the author, Ted Lewis, shares some insights from the letter which the Apostle Paul wrote to the followers of Yeshua (Jesus) in the city of Philippi.
Although we might feel a bit uncomfortable about stating it so bluntly, what we really mean is that people who believe as we do — Christians of our ilk — should be the ones holding political power and making decisions on behalf of the rest of society.
[We] could choose not to vote as a kind of "spiritual discipline" — a tangible reminder that our ultimate identity is not contingent upon the political process or dependent on the powers that be.
Voting, after all, is not just a "right." It is also a "rite" — a ritual of identity and loyalty binding the individual to the nation. Abstaining from presidential elections could signal to our children and to the global church that our first loyalty is to the worldwide fellowship of Christian believers, not to the nation-state.
In November 2000 fifteen Canadians hungry for democracy went into their polling booths, puréed their ballots in a blender, and ate them. "There are no people to vote for in this election, only people to vote against," explained Mike Hudema, one of the members of the Edible Ballot Society. Poll watchers went berserk, yelling "Call the police! They are eating their ballots!" Elections Canada was furious. They ensured that the hungry voters faced charges of "willfully altering, defacing or destroying a ballot" — a crime punishable by up to three years in jail and a five-thousand-dollar fine. The prosecutor justified the charges saying that the integrity of the electoral process was at stake. By consuming their ballots, the Edible Ballot Society unmasked the sacredness of voting in North America. This quintessential democratic ritual is so self-evident that any challenge to it invites accusations of irresponsibility, insanity, or criminality. For the "believers," the act of voting in a national election has intrinsic value as a "duty" and "obligation."
In light of rampant abuse, exclusion, and powerlessness in the system, perhaps it would be better to direct people's energies into a massive nationwide boycott of the elections.
Christians vote in secular elections to "become politically powerful and to use that power in the interest of one's own goals." Such a strategy is "hardly reconcilable with that of the New Testament church." In the New Testament church, minority voices are given an extraordinary weight so that the majority cannot simply tread over them.
"Abstention as a testimony against corrupt politicians who give the electors no tolerable options ... would in many cases be more responsible than casting a vote without conviction ... or for sentimental or selfish reasons." In the current American climate ... abstention should be the normal Christian stance rather than the exception.
When people see voting as the primary way to communicate their desire for justice to those in government, we hinder our political imaginations to our continued detriment. Instead, refusing to vote can liberate Christians from the American myth of voting-as-voice, can free us to speak in new ways, and can liberate us from seeing the ballot box as the most effective way to promote God's shalom in the world.
The 2006 election shows that citizens cannot direct the government's actions through elections — even when the voice of the people seems clear. Politicians choose how they respond to an election's results and, most important, retain the power to interpret what voters said in the first place.
Far from being an avenue for social change or a way to use one's political voice, "elections facilitate participation [in government] in much the same way that floodgates can be said to facilitate the flow of water ... diverting it from courses that may be hazardous to the established political order." ... those who remain outside the electoral process are more open to addressing their concerns in spontaneous, creative, and risky ways.
An "institutionalized and routinized form of mass political involvement," voting cannot replicate the creative and inclusive potential of citizen-driven political actions; voting can even make these activities seem undesirable."
Voting does not allow citizens to use their voices to elicit social change.... Nonvoting may be the first step for us to unlock our political imaginations and speak for justice with new voices.
When the mutual ambition of both political parties to dominate and marginalize the other has eliminated the possibility of honest self-criticism or of multipartisan efforts toward the common good, or when all viable candidates have become so beholden to wealthy and powerful supporters that on one is left to speak for the voiceless ... a sudden, widespread Christian abstention from the electoral process could serve to expose the hypocrisy that has seeped into it. Most of all, when partisan political animosity has infiltrated the congregation so as to divide the body, or when the cause of Christ has become conflated with the limited agenda of one particular political party, then the time has come for the church to withdraw from political activity for a season in order to listen again to the voice of the One in whose name we speak.
When Christians abstain from voting in order to expose the self-deification and inhumanity of the political process, or in order to examine their own distortion of the Word of God, their disengagement serves as a form of engagement. It is a testimony to a better way of doing politics and a rebuke against a system that has abandoned its high calling. As such, choosing not to vote should not be undertaken as a private matter of conscience but should be undertaken publicly and collectively as the church's witness to the world.
To vote or to participate in government identifies one with "this world," not with Jesus's kingdom.... Voting bring with it repercussions and responsibilities to which Christians adhering to the path of biblical nonconformity and nonresistance cannot in good conscience subscribe.... Christian are to submit to their government, as Romans 13 commands, but they are not called to participate in it because they may be required to use violence to defend it. They are to trust the Lord for their well-being.... If we are fully committed to nonresistance as commanded by Scripture, then we must be willing to accept the consequences that may come from refusing to take up arms and from refusing to have a say in who directs the armed forces.
When Christianity was adopted as the religion of State in Rome, the result was that Rome corrupted the Church instead of the Church purifying Rome.... The idea that the Christian can render substantial aid in the cause of righteousness by "mixing in politics" has often been proved a delusion.
We allow our political choices to become moral choices, even though they are, truth be told, self-serving in the end. We no longer see those on the other side are merely disagreeing with us over this or that issue. We see them as enemies who can have no good in them because they are not on our side.... the hostility, anger and hatred that motivates [elections] ... places voting at any level in the worldly realm, not the heavenly one.
Though many American politicians trip over each other to brandish their Christian credentials, they have everything to lose from a true Christian ethos that denies the self, loves the enemy, and prefers the poor to the powerful. The claims of some politicians notwithstanding, genuine Christian values of love, humility, and service are generally tossed aside when one steps into the political arena, whether to cast a vote or to receive it.
I have come to recognize that when I vote, I am staking a claim to a piece of the mammon. And no matter what kind of world I think I'm voting for, when I engage in politics, I am ultimately working for what is in my own self interest. In order to vote, I must decide who my enemy is. And I must work for my enemy's defeat. How can I love my enemy when I do that? I have not found a way to vote and to love my enemy at once. Nor have I found a way to respond with love to my enemy's attacks and still stay in the contest. Political operatives use the language of hate toward opponents because it works. As a disciple of Jesus, I choose to speak that language no longer.... I reject voting not because there is anything intrinsically wrong with it, but because of who I become in order to win. When I join in that contest, I can't help but succumb to the hatred.
The majority of early Pentecostals believed that "Christians' fundamental allegiance should never be lodged with the state since the state was an earthly fabrication. Like the Tower of Babel, the state signaled human presumption at best, the enthronement of godlessness, immorality, greed, and violence at worst." Pentecostals often argued that "the United States did not deserve Christians' allegiance," and that "no state, including the United States, has ever been Christian." Early Pentecostals preached that the greatest spiritual evil of the age was "immoderate patriotism" that led to "national sectarianism," and that Fourth-of-July celebrations were wastes of God's money.... First-generation Pentecostals ... critiqued voting as an unnecessary and unfaithful participation in the system.
Can we with clear consciences vote for any person who will do things that Jesus would not want us to do? If God has a body, and we are it, then my wish, my voice, my life, my vote has to be completely in line with God's will — and electing people who will ignore the way of Jesus, as best I understand it, would be less than total allegiance to the king of all kings, the president of all presidents.
Scripture encourages us to choose life; Scripture never tells us to choose the lesser of two evils. Maybe we should not vote when ours is a choice between the lesser of two bad choices. Nowhere in Scripture are we told to choose death or to choose the bad; we are to choose only life. If I do not have that option before me, then I choose life with my life. And that is certainly a vote.
The very phrase "Son of God, Lord and Savior" in reference to Jesus was in the first century an "in-your-face affront" to the Roman Empire. It was a bold declaration by our first-century forebears that it was Jesus who was their Lord, who was their Savior, who was the Son of God, and not Caesar.
Ultimately no one can claim a specific scriptural injunction to vote or not vote. However, the decision whether or not a Christian should vote is predicated upon our sense of identity and upon the focus of our hope.... We should abstain from voting not out of disdain either for the United States or for any particular candidate or even for the electoral process. We should abstain from voting as a protest, as a testament of our hope in the resurrection of the dead, and of the current presence of the new age of the kingdom of God. In our own historical context, we declare that the kingdom of God is present here and now, and that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and is our Lord and Savior. [Our president] is not our lord and savior, the United States of America is not our lord and savior, even liberal democracy is not our lord and savior.
Voting for political leaders, whether we think about it or not, establishes bonds between people and government in similar ways that religion establishes bonds between people and deities. The question I am raising, therefore, is whether such political bonds are warranted within the context of biblical faith. I will argue that such bonds of allegiance do not fit within the new vision of community set forth in the New Testament.... Just as we do not with our hands manufacture deities that help us to harness power for our own interests, so we do not with our hands manufacture political efforts that help us to secure power for our particular interest group.
Jesus set the mold for engaging the limited world of his day, and if the church finds a different mold, then it is working off a different gospel.... if voting had been part of the conventional landscape of his day, Jesus and his followers would have not participated in it. The politics of Jesus began with the rejection of conventional power and proceeded with the positive activity of bearing witness to God's core qualities: sacrificial love, covenantal faithfulness, and reconciling justice.... if among Roman citizens voting had been part of the framework, and if you had been a Roman Christian, would you have voted for a Caesar (given a situation of choosing between two or more candidates)?
I am suggesting that the very act of voting itself is problematic in the same way that participating in warfare or in retributive punishment would be problematic for Christians. Below the surface, voting implies a devotedness that cannot mix the politics of this world with the politics of Jesus.... in matters of politics we cannot serve two masters at once.... Do we want our political identity to be in conformity with national expectations, or do we want our political identity to be known for its association with a unique, living God? In the end, choosing not to vote becomes a confession of faith: we are proclaiming our bond to a different master (to a different king, lord, ruler, or president).
Our choice not to vote should always be driven by our deeper motivation to bear witness to the truth. The same motivation steers Christian pacifism. Christian nonparticipation is not simply a matter of refraining from an act, so that nonparticipation itself becomes the final mark.... Rather, Christian nonparticipation is a matter of living a higher calling, whereby our whole life — our whole conduct — is congruent with the peacemaking ways of God.... As Paul would possibly have said, If I refrain from voting and refrain from participation in war, but have not love, all my nonparticipation amounts to nothing.
Philippi was an important Roman colony, and the church there included a good part of Roman citizens who were also Jews. Twice Paul employs the word politeuma to show that the "citizenship" of the Philippian church members has a new, distinctive claim over them (Philippians 1:27; 3:20).... The church, then, becomes a new polis (city). In both Philippians 1:27 and Philippians 3:20, Paul focuses on conduct. In the first reference, the phrase that includes politeuma is best translated, "conduct your citizenship," but most versions simply have, "live your life" [or "conduct yourselves"]. But there's more to it. One's political conduct should be done in "a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ." What does this new conduct look like when one's citizenship has shifted from Rome to kingdom of God?When I looked up Philippians 1:27 in the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible, I didn't see any word that looked like "citizenship". So I turned to the Strong's Lexicon to dig a little deeper. The phrase that the NIV translates as "conduct yourselves" is the Greek word politeuomai (Strong's number 4176), which is a verbal form of the noun politeuma (Strong's number 4175) mentioned above. So, in reality, what the Mr. Lewis stated above is not totally accurate, because the noun politeuma is NOT used twice by Paul in Philippians, but is actually used only once (in Philippians 3:20) — in Philippians 1:27 the verbal form, politeuomai, is used. Because in English we do not have a verbal form of the noun "citizenship", this Greek verb is somewhat difficult to translate into English.
The Amplified Bible was pretty much the only translation which uses an English word related to citizenship — it translates Philippians 1:27 as: "Be sure as citizens so to conduct yourselves that your manner of life will be worthy of the good news (the Gospel) of Christ." I agree with Mr. Lewis that the best translation for the Greek verb politeuomai is "conduct your citizenship," because it incorporates the word, and idea of, "citizenship". In this verse, Paul does not specifically indicate whether he is referring to our earthly citizenship or our heavenly citizenship. Taken in context, I would lean toward understanding it as our earthly citizenship, which is to be conducted in a manner worthy of Yeshua.
So, taking all of these points together, and joining Philippians 3:20a with Philippians 1:27, I offer this new and improved translation:
Conduct your earthly citizenship in a manner worthy of the Good News of Yeshua the Messiah, because your true citizenship is actually in heaven.With that thought, I will leave you to ponder how YOU will express your heavenly citizenship when election time rolls around this coming November.
This article is 4th a series of articles on this Web site related to American Politics and Culture which also includes (scroll to see the entire list):
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