To Vote Or Not To Vote, That is the Question: When Abstaining to Vote is Morally Necessary

The Christian Obligation

I have often argued that voting is a Christian obligation. I have even contended that in voting cycles, when the choices are less than ideal, we still have an obligation to exercise our right to vote. My premise has always been that voting is a requirement of being a good steward of God given liberty, it is an expression of gratefulness to God for the gift of liberty, and it is an easy way to exercise gospel influence in a society. All of these things remain true. However, the 2016 Presidential election cycle has caused me to provide nuance to my position. What if my vote actually harms liberty? What if my gratitude for liberty compels me to not vote? What if my vote ultimately hurts gospel influence?

The reality is that there has never been a perfect Presidential candidate. In fact, there has never been a perfect civil leader anywhere at anytime in the history of the world. Even the leaders that were directly anointed by a prophet of God given by direct revelation were far from perfect. King Saul was a rebellious idolator. King David was a murdering adulterer who concealed the rape of his own daughter. King Solomon was not exactly committed to the principle of marriage being “one man, one woman, for life.” These were the leaders that God directly picked! Surely we as fallen sinners can’t do any better. In fact, these examples only serve to remind us that all men are fallen and every leader - even the best ones - leave us unsatisfied and longing for the reign of the Prince of Peace. So, we should just hold our nose and vote knowing that there is no such thing as an ideal leader outside of Jesus Christ himself. Right?!

2016 is Different

I believe this year may be different. Why is that? What makes it different? Here are a couple reasons.

First, I believe this election presents Christians with an unusual dilemma. The two primary choices we have in front of us are two fundamentally immoral people. I have no desire to list the evidence of arguably disqualifying immoral behavior except to say that even supporters of the two primary candidates for President of the United States do not trumpet integrity as a primary “selling point” to voters.

Second, some have pointed to problems in years past, like the Republican candidate in 2012, who was a Mormon. They suggest that many evangelical Christians voted for him four years ago and there is no ultimate difference now. I would simply suggest that when we elect a President who is a secular person to the office, it is not the same thing as electing an immoral person to the office. I would not demand that a President must be a Christian, although I certainly prefer it, however I would always demand that a President be moral.

Here in lies the difference. The Republican Presidential nominee in 2012 was at least presumably a moral man. And so when voting, a person could choose someone who they felt was honorable, respectable, and who would not disgrace the office or the country, even if they could not vote for a Christian. I am not confident there is a person who would not bring dishonor to the office or our country as a nominee of a major party in this election cycle.

What are our options?

So what does someone like me do? I feel compelled to vote “for the lesser of two evils” like I usually do and yet I am convinced that neither candidate has earned my vote and both candidates are evil. Furthermore, I am bothered by the reality that voting for someone makes me responsible on some level for the consequences of that vote.

I know the argument: “But if you don’t vote for that candidate, you are voting for the other candidate!” I reject this notion. That’s like saying to me when I am on a diet and wanting to avoid ice cream, “You have to choose to eat vanilla because if you don’t that’s eating chocolate!” NO! I CAN REFUSE TO EAT ICE CREAM ALTOGETHER! I don’t have to eat it just because the rest of the world is. You eat all the ice cream of whatever flavor you want but as for me and my house we will eat rice cakes while the rest of the world slides into a diabetic coma! I’m sorry, I got a little carried away with that analogy there…

So here is the bottom line. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 tells Christians to “abstain from every form of evil.” If you feel convinced that by voting you are participating in evil - even if it is a “lesser evil” - you do not have to choose it simply because you should vote.

There are other options. First, you can find a third party, like the Constitution party, to support. Second, you could be instrumental in starting a new major third party, which is long overdue in our nation. Third you could simply refuse to participate as a statement of radical separation from society, which is a view not foreign to Baptists in our heritage.

It is at least possible, that while this election may be “lost” the greater long term direction of our nation may be saved because Bible-believing, Spirit-wrought, Christ-following Christians start taking living out the faith seriously. We should always remember that the Christian’s primary influence has never been nor ever will be the ballot box. Our influence comes from the gospel of Jesus Christ. And the choices that we have before us now are a testimony to how poorly we have done in exercising that influence in the society because Christians have largely been more concerned about voting for their President in Washington D.C. than sharing the gospel with their lost neighbor.

I am not attempting to tell you that you should not vote in 2016 for President of the United States. I am simply telling you to follow your prayer-saturated, Bible-informed, Holy Spirit led conscience. Don’t let me or anyone else for that matter guilt you into violating your conscience. You have to live with your vote or lack thereof. In fact, so will your children and grand children. Just make sure that you have thoroughly walked through these ideas and you are making your decision on what to do in this coming election based upon a world-view shaped by the gospel and not by a secular political ideology.

I know. I hear you. “What about the Supreme Court? We could lose our country for generations!” My concern is much deeper than that. I fear our country is already lost. If our hopes of “saving our nation for future generations” hangs on either of these two primary candidates, we are in far deeper trouble than anybody wants to actually admit.