Voting is a privilege but it is not an obligation
I read a lot of statements from many sources about the obligation we have to vote. Some put it this way: if you don’t vote, you can’t complain. Others said: Voting is one of the most important things a Christian can do. Others whined: my vote doesn’t mean anything (because their candidate lost). Some opined that people weren’t smart enough to vote. Voting is either overblown or undervalued.
What you need to remember is that voting is a privilege and not an obligation. I mean that in two ways. First, if someone doesn’t vote, they remain a citizen, with all the rights of citizenship. They can still have an opinion and even express that opinion. They can still exercise their rights as citizens. Secondly, if you don’t like any of the candidates you are not obligated to mark a ballot. It is OK to leave it blank. If you are unfamiliar with the issues in a proposition, or never heard of any of the judges, it is not obligatory to vote for “anyone.” If the candidate you want to vote for doesn’t have a chance to win, you should still vote for him/her.
In the majority of elections, one vote is inconsequential. If I failed to vote yesterday, the outcome would have been exactly the same. But as in all corporate activities, to conclude that my vote is meaningless is to ignore the value of the corporate activity. The more people who vote, the better idea we have of the values in our nation. The fewer who vote, the more prognostication is necessary. In one of our local school board elections the margin between winner and loser was 7 votes. Our tendency is to conclude that in that particular instance any single vote was more important than if the margin was several hundred thousand. That tendency would be mistaken.
Elections are not Sporting Events
Last night was not Team Red vs. Team Blue. Elections are not Christians vs. non-Christians. In fact, many Christians find themselves with differing opinions on issues. I am surprised at how many people assume the how and who of my ballot. You might be surprised. Many evangelicals voted for Obama. You can’t fathom how that is possible, but it is true. Their vote was thoughtful and prayerful. Many unbelievers voted for Romney. Their vote was not driven by the same rationale as yours – but you see them as on your side because they root for the same team. The polarizing result from viewing elections as sporting events keeps us from healthy dialogue as a nation, a nation that is made up of different people. The longer we wag our fingers at others from an elevated posture of holiness the more peripheral we become in a pluralistic context; the more we resemble the mullahs and extremist elements in Islamic nations. So, on the one hand we view negatively extreme Islamic fundamentalism while practising our own version of “acceptable” Christian fundamentalism.
Theonomy, Christian America, Pluralism
Christians view politics differently. Some Christians want to restore the Law to government, that is, they want God’s laws to be the laws of the land. These Christians hold to what is called “theonomy.” Other Christians want to see a America return to its Christian roots and they see America slipping further and further away from those roots. In many ways this is a muted form of theonomy. Other Christians hold to a pluralistic view of government. Since our nation is made up of many groups of people who vary in their religious and moral outlook, government recognizes the existence of these differences and allows for tolerance in the system to accommodate the variation.
I find it obvious that America was not founded as a religious entity and that even if our founding fathers were devout believers, they recognized the inherent danger in the mixture of church and politics. They were running from that sort of tyranny, at least in part. Our nation’s growth has brought much diversity into the country, and the role of government is to govern the whole, not the part. People who disagree with us morally and theologically have rights and it is the government’s role to protect their rights. Christian citizens should be supportive of that posture, it benefits us as individuals, it benefits the status of the church, and more importantly it is right. A pluralistic perspective on government does not weaken the internal values and stances of a church or its membership.
The Church’s Role
“Reform is no answer for a culture like ours. Redemption is what is needed, and that occurs at the individual, not societal level. The church needs to get back to the real task to which we are called: evangelizing the lost. Only when multitudes of individuals in our society turn to Christ will society itself experience any significant transformation.”
– John MacArthur
I think that John McArthur is right here. His implication is that movements on the part of Christians aimed at reforming culture through means other than personal transformation fall outside the focus of the church. Our focus is gospel ministry, not political movements. Our hope is not in a particular candidate, our fear is not of a different candidate; our hope is placed in the power of the gospel to change the hearts and minds of culture.
If you believe that America is headed to hell in a hand-basket (which is debatable), then I challenge you to stop pointing fingers at the nation for acting according to its nature, rather we should be asking why the gospel (which is the power of God for salvation) and the church (against which the gates of hell shall not prevail) is ineffective at transforming culture. If we are not being salt and light then we need to spend some introspective reflection on the reasons for that failure.