I hear many voices these days dissatisfied with both major party Presidential nominees. I feel the same way. And I hear many saying, “I don’t want to be responsible for electing either one of these people, so I’m not voting.” Or, “I’m voting for a (name the fringe party) candidate.” It certainly is a tempting thought. But, as little as I like the two choices, I’m going to vote for one of them in November. I’m not saying you should, I’m not God–and not confused about it–and I cannot know everyone’s circumstances, but I believe every Christian has a duty to vote if they can, and yes, vote for one of the candidates actually likely to become President. And I will share my reasoning.
It is tempting to say, “I don’t like either of the candidates, so I will wash my hands of the whole mess.” But we should remember who first took that approach. Pontius Pilate found himself faced with two choices, neither of which he liked. As he himself said, he found no fault in Jesus. But he knew that if he declared Jesus not guilty and set him free, the Jewish authorities who brought the charges would be angry. In fact, they threatened him politically:
“If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
This was more serious than it sounds. In a Roman household, a “friend” was a trusted associate, with a relationship like one might have today with a counselor, doctor, or lawyer. They were saying that setting Jesus free would be an act of betrayal against Caesar.
When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
Pilate had the authority to condemn or release Jesus, but he delegated that authority. He chose to let the mob have their will. And as a result, his hands will never be clean.
I first voted in 1972. Neither candidate was my first choice. Neither candidate was truly worthy. But that was the choice available. Never, in the 40 years that followed, have I had a perfect or near perfect candidate to vote for. That’s the nature of the world we live in.
I’ve known people who never vote, and stand aloof, and complain about what ‘politicians’ do. Politicians are like all the rest of us. Their behavior is guided by how we, the voters, reward them with our votes. Jesus told us we are the salt. If there Christians take no part in politics, if we do not act as salt even in the political arena, we should not be surprised if corruption results. Salt prevents rot.
I know all the statements about “party politics.” We can participate in political parties without violating our conscience. No one demands that you must follow the party line in every detail. Even if they did, the secret ballot makes it impossible to enforce. Engaging in politics and being true to conscience may not be easy, but what part of true Christian life is easy?
Others say, and some prominently proclaim, that “If my vote determined the outcome, then I would vote for one of the candidates who will win, but it won’t, so if I want to throw my vote away on some fringe candidate, why not?” My answer to that is two fold: First, if a Christian is to vote at all, should they not vote as if their vote determined the outcome? It seems to me that that is precisely how I seriously I should take the notion of voting.
The Christian life is full of situations where, so far as we can tell, our action will not affect the most important thing, the salvation of someone. So should we then act–or refuse to act–as we please? In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus made it clear this is not an option. The righteous and the wicked are equally ignorant of having given or denied water, food, clothing, and company to Jesus, or to anyone. Yet every day of their lives they made choices to do the right thing or not, without any reason to believe these actions made a difference.
And they may not make the difference we expect. We may not be able to save the homeless man, or the alcoholic, or relieve the loneliness of the prisoner to the extent that they become saved. We may give money or a meal to a homeless person, only to see them return to drugs or alcohol or the streets. We may not be able to make a life changing difference for someone. Even Jesus couldn’t save all 12 of his disciples. But someone else, unnoticed by us, may see our example and be moved toward righteousness themselves. And just as important, doing these small, apparently inconsequential righteous acts changes us.
As C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:
Do not waste time bothering whether you “love”your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him . . . .
This same spiritual law works terribly in the opposite direction. The Germans, perhaps, at first ill-treated the Jews because they hated them: afterwards they hated them much more because they had ill-treated them. The more cruel you are, the more you will hate; and the more you hate, the more cruel you will become—and so on in a vicious circle for ever.
Those of us who lived in a democracy and refused to vote, at the last day may hear the words, “I ran for office, to make things better, and you did not vote for me.” There will be no need to ask, “When did we not vote for you?” because we will remember opportunities refused.
So, if I am alive and able on election day, I will make my way to the polling place, and I will cast my vote as if it would decide the election, as if the two major candidates had tied, and my vote would determine who would be President for the next four years.
I am almost certain that whichever one I vote for will not do everything as I would want them to even if they win office. None of them ever have. I will still, to some degree, be responsible for those actions if my candidate takes office. If the one I vote for does not win, I will not be responsible for the actions of the victor: I expressed myself in opposition to their policies by voting against them. But if I do not vote, I will still be responsible by having delegated the choice to others, I will by my silence have tacitly endorsed both candidates, and will be responsible to some degree for actions taken by whoever wins.