Christians and Voting, A Non-Voting Manifesto?

I liked one of the articles, to which I put up a link in my last post, so much that I decided to provide the full text in this post. You can find the original text here.

A Non-Voting Manifesto?
By Tripp York, Visiting Prof. of Religious Studies, 
Elon UniversityNC

  There are few things imagined in this life more dutiful than the so called ‘responsibility’ of every American to vote. Despite the fact that many decide, for whatever reasons, not to vote, the very idea that voting is an indispensable requirement on each individual goes without question.

            Let me state at the very beginning that any qualms I may have with voting stem from neither apathy nor indifference. It simply makes little sense to me, given that we are as Aristotle claimed, “political animals,” that anyone would or should be indifferent to voting. Christians (whom I am addressing) should be concerned with the goods that constitute the temporal cities of this time between times, and voting is but one means of attempting to seek those goods.    Nevertheless, I often wonder if what has been passed down to us as an unquestioned duty is the only way, or even the best way, to be political? To be even more specific, is it possible that some form of conscientious objection to voting could be understood as an act of politics that is concerned with the good of the polis? Could it function as a witness to a different order, one not predicated on the enforcement of legislation, laws, and the lording of power over one another? If so, what would be the rationale for such an objection, or at least a hesitation, to the act of voting? What sort witness would this attempt to make? In order to answer these questions I have jotted down eight possible reasons why voting could be problematic for Christians. If nothing else, at least dealing with these possible objections should make us more conscientious voters, if we decide Christian civic responsibility entails voting.

I. Romans 13 demands subordination to the government.

Which government? All governments. Paul (while sitting in jail) demanded that Christians are to be submissive to all powers that be because, despite how fallen they are, they, nevertheless, are ordained by God. Rebellion against such powers is understood as rebellion against God and is, thus, not permitted. It makes little sense, therefore, to perpetuate any order that was founded on explicit disobedience to God. The United States of America only comes into being inasmuch as it rebelled against the God-ordained powers of the English monarchy (the irony of this is rich as the most patriotic of souls love to use this text to demand obedience to every whim of their beloved nation-state without recognizing the hypocrisy that made it possible for it to come into being in the first place). To vote for the maintenance of such an order seems to approve of this act of disobedience against God, or at least renders Paul’s command nonsensical as it can be disobeyed if enough time has elapsed from the inception of the said rebellion/revolution. 

II. Jesus requires that his disciples not be like those Gentiles who lord their power over others, even it is for some sort of ‘good’ (Mt 20:25).

Christians are, as Jesus says in Matthew 20:26, not to be power-hungry. Rather they are to be as slaves to one another. Perhaps it would be one thing if the elected officials of this nation were forced to take office; instead these are all individuals who desperately want to be in power and all of whom beg and plead with the common folk for their votes, all to the tune, at least in regards to the last election, of more than $1 billion—$1 billion spent to convince us that we should exalt those who would be like those Gentiles who lord their power over others. If we are forbidden to be like them, why would it be permissible to place them in the kind of posture that Jesus decries? 

III. Capitalism, the socio-economic order that underwrites this culture, is predicated on the seven deadly sins.

Without just one of these sins, it would fold and collapse on itself. For instance, if there was no greed this economy would be destroyed. We are taught to never be satisfied, to never have our fill, to never be satiated, to remain in a perpetual state of want, all in the name of the common good. How is this even remotely akin to the kind of desires that should be produced by ecclesial formation? Goods are only good if they are shared goods, at least according to scripture and early Christian history. Sharing goods in this culture would be a sin. An aside: Let it not be lost on us that immediately after September 11, 2001, the President of the U.S. demanded that the people of this commonwealth respond by neither prayer nor patience—rather he told the people that they should respond by . . . shopping! The saddest thing about this ‘command’ is that this was actually a morally legitimate response by the President (as it would have been for any president for that matter). Had people ceased spending money, the economy would have collapsed. Therefore, in such a culture one responds to terrorism via trips to the mall as well as supplying a lot of missiles and the youth of the country. This is our way of life? This is what Christians are willing to both die and kill for? How can we vote for any potential Caesar under this sort of politic?

IV. While we are on the subject of the seven deadly sins, let’s look at pride.

Outside of the word ‘freedom’—which is by far the most seductive god competing for our allegiance—there simply is no greater form of idolatry than the worship of, freedom. Pride is a term that is uttered again and again by this country’s leaders. For some reason I am reminded by both scripture and tradition that pride is purely representative of the fall of humanity. There is really nothing to be proud about, except as one can boast with St. Paul, our hope in Jesus. Pride has become the very means that Christians have co-opted to this culture, for it is because of pride that we seem to lack the ability or desire to practice repentance, confession, humility and servanthood—all of which are at the heart of Christian discipleship. Voting is, de facto, an exercise in pride. Especially if you find yourself on the winning side. 

V. The kingdoms of this world seem to be ruled by Satan.

Once Satan took Jesus to the mountain-top and offered worldly power: “The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written: Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’” (Lk 4:5-8).      Though the powers may be ordained by God, they are, nevertheless (as with all of creation), in rebellion against God. According to this passage it is Satan leading this rebellion. Satan offers the kingdoms to Jesus because they belong to Satan. He gives them, or at least offers them, to whom Satan pleases. All Jesus had to do in order to rule the world the way most of us imagine it is to be ruled, was to worship Satan. Thus it would appear that all of the kingdoms of the world, though rightly ordained for the maintenance of social harmony, are currently under satanic influence. One way to lead them is to worship Beelzebub, hence, my reluctance to vote for this sort of ruler. 

VI. Regardless of which leader wins, that ruler will expect my allegiance.

That is, of course, a problem in and of itself, as Christians are called to serve only one Master. One way this affects Christians is that leaders of empires simply cannot enact the radical kind of peace Christians are to offer their enemies. Rulers, history has shown, must take up arms against their enemies. They must engage in warring, or at least threats of warring, in order to secure certain goods. This is a far cry from the peacemaking and non-violence which Jesus calls from his disciples. Jesus demands that those who would follow him must turn the other cheek, pray for those who persecute us (ever heard a president pray for an enemy—except that they be destroyed?), and refuse to exercise vengeance, which  belongs only to God.

Yet any nation-state, not just this one but all of them, demands the exact opposite. The literal imitation of Jesus in non-violence must be rejected in order to exist and survive in the world. I would argue that any order that demands that a Christian not imitate Jesus is a demonic one indeed, a stumbling block for Christ-like discipleship. 

VII: The United States may (not) be the greatest Babylon on the planet, but she is still a Babylon.

As William Stringfellow astutely pointed out, if we are to read all nations biblically then we must recognize that they are all Babylons. No nation or culture is the Heavenly Jerusalem or the City of God. They are, therefore, parasitic on the good that is the heavenly city, and the church, as the image of this city on earth, is called to show the state that it is not the heavenly city. This is her task. It is not to buttress the powers that be, but to show them, through her witness that whatever the powers that be are, they are not the church. One way to resist being co-opted by the powers of this world, I imagine, might be to neither vote nor take office. 

VIII: Voting is an attempt to elect someone who will enact, legislate and enforce your political values upon others.

That is the point of voting—to elect someone who will legislate and enforce your convictions. If a candidate promises this, you will support her or him. That is, you expect your candidate to do what you want them to do for the betterment of how you envision the world and how you secure the peace of the city.

This process, in a sense, alleviates the burden of Christians to be the church because now Christians can ask the state require of others our Christian convictions. The church does not need to create an alternative community, does not need to be prophetic, does not need radical discipleship, because Christians now have become the very powers and principalities that Paul claims Jesus has defeated.

By the simple refusal to vote perhaps we can at least see how we have all become seduced by such a power in such a way that we can see how our faith has been compromised and domesticated in the name of something other than the Triune God. 

These simple musings are but a few reasons why I am currently hesitant to cast my vote for yet another Caesar.


   

 William Stringfellow, Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2004), 13.

This concisely articulates some of the reasons I wont be voting and adds a few more that I had not thought of until now. I hope it challenges you to rethink your convictions and introspectively look at what being a disciple of Christ means in your life, as it has done for me. I would love to hear your thoughts.

I thought it would also be pertinent to add some links to the my series of posts called, Would Jesus Vote?

One   Two    Three    Four

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19 Comments on “Christians and Voting, A Non-Voting Manifesto?”

  1. Clark Bunch Says:

    How can someone read so much scripture and land in the wrong place? I teach and preach the Word of God. I also teach American History. I think the founding fathers would pick up a Bible and beat you senseless with it. Read the Constitution again; read the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence.

    Pericles, leader of Athens (the birthplace of democracy) said “We do not say that a man not involved in politics minds his own business; we say that he has no business here.”

    The first century Jews that Jesus lived among were ruled over by a vast and powerful empire. We have the opportunity to select the leaders that will represent us, and to sit and home and do nothing that day is just plain irresponsible. That is not being a good steward.

    • Patti Says:

      …..”we say that he has no business here.” Exactly. We are aliens and strangers, who are looking for a city whose kingdom and maker is God.

  2. Preacherman Says:

    Thank you for sharing this article!
    I am in prayer about the elction and think that all believers should be in constant prayer about who to vote for and for McCain and Obama.
    God’s will be done!

  3. rogueminister Says:

    Brother I guess I would ask you the same question. It was the position of every Christian writer before the time of Augustine that Christians should not work in the government or the military. We are aliens and strangers here. Our job is to bear witness to the crucified and risen Messiah, not to further any empire’s agenda, or our own for that matter.

    I am quite sure that many of the founding fathers were Deists which is a far cry from a bible believing Christian. That is really besides the point anyway, government is government, and sure one may be less evil than the other and some certainly have godly people working in them, but they are still part of the corrupt system that is controlled by satan in this aeon.

    As someone who used to live in Athens, I am well aware of Pericles, but I would rather get my inspiration from Christ and his followers than a proponent of lording power over others.

    I too am a preacher of the Word, and no one has been able to give me any convincing argument from Scripture why Christians should stray from strictly Kingdom business, the business of living out the politics of Jesus, to lord power over others for some perceived good.

    I think you miss the point if you believe that I sit at home and do nothing. That would be plain irresponsible. I believe in what the anabaptists call the third way. The only two options are vote or do nothing in the world’s eyes, but for the Christ-follower there is a third option. That is live a sacrificial life of service like Jesus. That is teaching the Way in China, that is feeding Homeless, spending time with gang members, doing prison ministry and any other way that I can give testimony to the One who saved me.

    To quote the old song, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”

  4. rogueminister Says:

    Preacherman, how are things going with you and your family? Have you been able to get things in place to move yet?

  5. Clark Bunch Says:

    I follow the teachings of Christ, and exhort others to do the same. I also vote. Your claim is that the government is part of a corrupt system. So is every system in this world. If no Christians worked for any part of the government, that means not one singe public school teacher a child ever has would be a Christian. If you shop in the grocery store, buy things at Wal-Mart, or even purchase a box of Girl Scout cookies, your taking part in a corrput system. You obviously get your electricity from somewhere. We live in a corrupt world, and I will not be convinced that not voting is the way to do way I can to make it a better place. The Bible teaches that all kingdoms and thrones are established by God; it might be wise to reconsider every government being part of Satan’s evil empire.

  6. Karen Says:

    I look forward to reading this article today. Just wanted to give an update on my progression of thought, belief and now conviction. God has continued to grace us with understanding for our own path. My husband came to the conclusion that he would never be able to vote for any person running for office, nor vote against another candidate. As far as casting a vote on issues, such as a one-man/one-woman marriage amendment (something that is clearly an opportunity to stand for God’s will that is forever settled in heaven) he may decide to register and vote in the future. As far as my own decision, at present we are content to allow this woman to remain as the hidden woman, the woman who is to pray and give counsel to anyone who approaches me with a question. I have had more understanding granted me of my privileged station in life as my husband’s helpmeet, as a daughter of Sarah, and am more content and thankful for this place than I have ever been. Thanks be to God!

    Yesterday during a time of corporate worship, I believe the Lord brought a passage to my mind, something that took me down another path of pondering. I’m wondering about the biblical principles regarding what we do in secret. The very fact that ballots are cast in secret is presenting questions about this practice. Jesus did not speak a single word in secret (Jn. 18:19). I will search this out more diligently to know why this question came to my mind as I was singing praises to our King. Another question that came to my mind — when the Rwandan genocide occurred between the Hutus and Tutsis — weren’t their hit lists compiled from the voter registrations? I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ that clearly declares the coming, the SOON coming of His Kingdom. I am not ashamed to declare plainly that I am a citizen of His Kingdom, sent here as His ambassador. I am not sent to change earthly governments but to preach and prepare my heart for His government. I am not ashamed to declare plainly that I am seeking another city, another government, whose builder and maker is the Lord God. Back to you when I finish the article you shared. Blessings and peace in all your paths,

    • Patti Says:

      Hey, Karen. I am writing this in 2012, on voting day. I see many of the things that you see. Would like to know more about you. If interested, come to my blog and you can get my emai address under my profile, and email me. It is nice to find like-minded believers.

  7. rogueminister Says:

    Clark, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I certainly agree that the bible teaches that they are established by God, but that means that all governments are, even Kim Jong Il’s North Korean dictatorship. This in tandem with biblical passages about the powers and principalities lead me to believe that satan has some sort of temporary dominion here. In the temptation of Jesus satan says that he owns all the governments and offers them to Jesus. Jesus doesnt deny that satan owns them.

    There is a huge difference between systems like schools and those of government. Government is based on a fully power over others system. Power to take life, power to impose life changing laws etc.

    History shows us quite clearly that when Christians get involved in government it usually ends up badly for the state and always ends up badly for the church.

    Karen, thanks so much for your thoughts. I have never considered what you said, or rather what the bible says, about what we do in private. I will have to look into that. Im not sure I agree about the marriage amendment though. Its certainly fine to believe that marriage is only between a man and a woman, but to impose that on others, at least those outside the church, doesnt seem Christ-like.

    I would still like those articles you mentioned a while back. I realized your email address is listed on your comment. I am sending you an email right now, if you still have them I would love to read them.

    Shalom to you both.

  8. calelivingston Says:

    Well, I was thoroughly inspired to repost this article on some of the other sites I frequent. Thanks for sharing it. Also, don’t think that you’re alone with these kinds of stances. I’ve actually had many great conversations with people that feel the same way. I think it’s time we allow the Church to really stand as the light on the hill.

  9. rogueminister Says:

    Amen! We need to be the city on the hill not try to have the nation-state be that for us.

  10. Clark Bunch Says:

    Just one more thought: if no Christians voted at all, who would be choosing our nation’s leadership? If decent, God-fearing Christians stay home on election day, then only unbelievers, anti-religious, atheistic, etc persons will have a voice in our nation. I wrote a post on this subject tonight http://themasterstable.wordpress.com/2008/11/01/on-christians-and-voting/ and hope that your readers will view it and prayfully consider the logic. I’m not telling anyone who to vote for, but I do believe all Christians should vote.

    • Patti Says:

      I didn’t read your article, but I’m sure it is well written and makes perfectly good sense. I am to listen to my Shepherd’s voice above all voices, though, and He has told me not to vote, so I must obey God not man.

  11. rogueminister Says:

    Clark I understand that argument but I dont buy it because for much of the church’s history and even in the present in some places in the world the church is not under anything that one might consider a good or righteous government yet the church is growing rapidly and people are buying into authentic Christianity instead of a shallow civil religion that we are often deceived into believing.

    One major problem I have with your argument on your post is about what the forefathers et al of this nation have done to give us rights. I dont need those rights, and although I appreciate them very much, I live basically the same witness for Christ while I was in communist China as I do in this or any other country. The arguments that I generally hear about why I should vote are from American history instead of the text of the bible. It is difficult to construct a convincing argument from scripture or early church history for this case.

  12. John Says:

    Yes history does teach us that when a denomination such as the Roman CatholicChurch in Italy, the Lutheran Church in Germany, and the Orthodox Church in Russia get all tied up in with the government everyone looses. History also teaches us that there is no denominational or local church government that is completely moral or good. So, I assume your position on not voting in secular decisions would also apply to congregational or denominational decisions, i.e. real Christians in a church or denomination don’t vote. Do I presume too much?

  13. rogueminister Says:

    John, the issue isnt whether or not a democratic style is ok or not, I am saying we have a vested interest in the church and the Kingdom not in world governments. In the church we should all be a part of the governing because we are all priests and sons of God.

  14. Richie Says:

    As for “building a case” (for voting–specifically in this election), the first scripture that comes to mind is Exodus 20:13, “You shall not murder”. This is a commandment and part of the preceptive will of God. I agree whole-heartedly that we as Christians should not stray from Kingdom business. As Christians, Jesus said that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt 5:13-14). We are to influence the world for good and to let the light of Christ shine before men so that they will glorify our Father in heaven. Given the fact that Obama himself states that he will sign into law the Freedom of Choice Act, which will effectively reverse the ban on partial birth abortion and prevent states from enacting any—ANY–laws impinging on Roe vs. Wade, and given that McCain has a clearly consistent anti-abortion record, I submit that we Christians abrogate our witness by not casting a vote for McCain (obviously, I do realize that it is Nov 6th, but I put forth this argument nontheless). I can but be certain that it is an affront to God for us to withdraw ourselves from decrying this horrible practice upon those whom he “knit together” in the womb. Although we are strangers in this world, we are not to remove ourselves from it–on the contrary, we are to season the world by our witness of Christ, and be clearly seen as a city on a hill (see Matt 5:13-14 again). I am not a overzealous anti-abortionist, but I am most assuredly an over zealous sinner saved only and completely by the Grace of God through Christ Jesus. Could there ever be an instance (or an election) in which Christians should withhold their vote? Definitely. Was this past election such an instance? Definitely not. Counter-arguments (here I go setting up a straw man) to the effect that voting has little or nothing to do with our witness are flawed (especially given the circumstances outlined above). Can a true Christian compartmentalize their dedication to Christ as Lord and Savior, or, since that fact is their very reason for being (literally and figuratively), will it not permeate every aspect of life?

    In Christ

    Richie

    • Patti Says:

      I appreciate your zeal, and apparent love and responsibility before the Lord. One thing, though, I believe that all our activity be placed before the Lord for His counsel, for His thoughts are higher than ours, and He is the Potter, we the clay. So, the question is,”have you asked Him what He would have you do,” and then listen to His voice. Sometimes we think we know what the answer to things are already, but the Spirit blows like the wind wherever He will, and if we want to follow His lead, we must let Him blow us with Him. That may mean doing something one time differently than at another.


  15. […] concise non-voting manifesto by Professor Tripp York is also a useful resource, and generally sums up my […]


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