Is it OK for Christians not to vote?

Rich Hefty

Freedom is a funny thing. When it benefits us, we staunchly defend it. When it benefits someone who holds opposing views, it’s suddenly less attractive.

In an election year like this, volatile topics like religion, abortion, economics, and Supreme Court appointments are all framed as expressions of liberty. Safe to say, freedom is a big deal.

As citizens of the United States, we enjoy political freedom. As Christians, we walk in spiritual freedom. From time to time, situations arise that seem to put our political liberty at odds with our spiritual convictions.

When it comes to voting, followers of Jesus must weigh the moral responsibility of their choice against the political implications. Because of the divisiveness of the 2016 election, one question is being asked with increasing frequency: Is it OK for Christians not to vote?

To Vote or Not To Vote?

A quick poll of your friends, fellow church members, co-workers, or social media followers would most likely reveal a number of stances. They include unwavering support for a particular candidate, voting along party lines, checking the box for third (or fourth) party candidates, and staying home on election day.

Choosing not to act is different than simply doing nothing.

Maybe you’re one of those wrestling with the principles and policies put forth by all of the current presidential candidates. If so, you may be tempted not to vote at all.

Though it’s certainly within your rights, it’s good to ask yourself whether not voting is a constructive expression of your freedom. As Paul advised fellow believers, we have the right to do anything we please, but just because we can, it doesn’t mean we should (1 Corinthians 10:23-24). When it comes to deciding whether to cast or withhold a vote, the motivation behind the decision is as important as the decision itself.

There’s No Such Thing as a Wasted Vote

Among passionate voters, there’s a prevailing sentiment that there are only two viable candidates: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Many argue that a vote for anyone else is a wasted vote. That logic presents a political myth that assumes voting is only about victory or defeat. 

South Carolina will have seven candidates on the ballot in 2016, and most states include a write-in option. If the purpose of voting is to determine the will of the people, there’s a good chance more than two candidates will have support. However, in a political arena that has twisted elections into a zero-sum circus solely focused on winning or losing, it’s easy to fall for the binary rhetoric.

The right to vote is one of the most fundamental American privileges. From a political standpoint, it is your voice. It can be used to express your opinion, approval, or disdain. And as with a physical voice, purposeful silence can also speak volumes. Sometimes refusing to participate in a flawed system is a frightening act that plants the seeds for future change.

But whether you throw your support behind a specific candidate or intentionally choose to withhold your vote, your choice should be made from an informed viewpoint.

Do your homework. Pray for guidance. Let your decision come from your convictions (Romans 14:5), and ask God for the courage to graciously deal with the consequences, whether they’re easy or challenging.  But most importantly, understand your work is not finished when you leave the voting booth. As Christ followers, we’re called to so much more.

Beyond the Booth

Voting is an enormous privilege, not to be taken lightly. However, it's not the only or even the most powerful way to live a life worthy of our calling.

Presidential races take place every four years, which means there are more than 1,400 days between elections. That’s more than 1,400 opportunities to pray for our leaders, to help the hurting, to befriend the broken, and to work to bring peace and reconciliation to the communities around us.

In this way, we can live out our convictions every single day, rather than depending on elected officials or public policy to do it for us.

As Christians, our directive remains the same regardless of who holds the nation’s top office. In the Old Testament, God’s people are instructed “to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God" (Micah 6:8). In the New Testament, Jesus teaches His followers to love God and love others (Matthew 22:37-39).

If we live by those commands, we will make a lasting impact every single day, not just once every four years.

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