As a Christian, there are good reasons for me not to vote in the upcoming presidential election. Let me be clear up front that I am not claiming that it is inherently morally wrong to vote (although it may be in some situations). I am claiming that it is morally permissible for a Christian not to vote. This claim needs to be made in our current context because voting is often seen as a civic, if not sacred, duty. Nevertheless, I offer a couple of basic reasons why I won’t vote.
First, I will not vote because the nature of the political system, especially surrounding presidential politics, is grounded on a different set of values than Scripture. Jesus commands truth-telling, but the candidates must be committed to distorting the truth in the interest of power. Jesus calls for humility and service, but candidates (at least those from the Republican and Democratic parties) must have the hubris to believe that their being president is worth the hundreds of millions of dollars spent in order to elect them. Jesus calls for loving our enemies, but the candidates are committed to policies that fly in the face not only of Christian pacifism but of Christian Just War theory.
I am not trying to be cynical here. I am trying to tell the truth about what is happening. To be a truly informed voter means you realize, as a recent Time magazine cover story and www.factcheck.org make clear, that lying is not the exception, but the rule for both candidates.
Second, I will not vote as a symbolic gesture regarding the relative importance of the political system. As Ross Douthat and James K. A. Smith argue, the heresy of nationalism or civil religion is not a fringe position, but a standard creed of American Christians, whether Democrats or Republicans, mainline or evangelical. American civil religion is dangerous precisely because it perpetually invokes Biblical language to give legitimacy to non-Biblical actions or policies. Nationalism in this sense is not simply an individual’s misguided view of the nation, but a structural feature of American political life. Thus, even well-intentioned individuals can end up participating in this problematic worldview.
If you have a strong reaction to my unwillingness to vote, then, it may be because you have legitimate political convictions on the relevant issues. But it also may be that you have unwittingly swallowed an idolatrous form of nationalism that ascribes ultimate importance to the state. Moreover, if passion, energy, loyalty and use of money are indications of one’s ultimate commitments, then it is clear that some Christians give precedence to the American kingdom over the kingdom of God. Not all Christians do this, but Paul recognized that if some Christians are taken in by something potentially good but turned idolatrous, then it is wise to refrain from that activity.
Christians are not forced to vote for a “lesser evil.” We are called to recognize that earthly kings have always played their game of thrones and that the Christian calling is to follow a king who was enthroned on a cross, raised from the dead and exalted to the right hand of the Father as confirmation of His kingship. We should bear witness to the kingdom-political order that was established in Christ rather than over-emphasizing how important it is to maintain the political order of “the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away.” Paradoxically, when we set our hopes on the city God has prepared for us, we become better citizens (measured Biblically) of whatever earthly city we happen to be in.