Is it ever okay not to vote?

Liwhitehouse_historypgke many others,  I was brought up with a strong sense of my civic duty. When I turned 18 and was able to vote for the first time, it was exciting. However, I wonder whether our civic duty does always require us to vote?[1]

What do we do when we feel that we are struggling to choose between two options not because they seem equally good but because they seem equally bad?  The question is pertinent in a year full of elections.  Here in the UK, we’ve had the EU Referendum and leadership elections across different political parties culminating with the Labour Party making a choice between Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith.  There’s still the possibility of another Scottish Independence referendum and even an early General Election.Around the World, it’s been election year in a number of countries most notably with the presidential election in the USA. The noises we’re hearing suggest that many Christians in the States feel that they’ve been given a difficult dilemma. So what do you do?

Here are some responses that have been given

“Candidate x is the better of two evils.  Vote for them.”

“Candidate y may have said and done some questionable things but they’ve now become a Christian. We should treat them as “a baby Christian”. [2]

“The most important thing is that you vote, whatever your view/preference.  If you don’t vote, then you forfeit the right to have an opinion and complain about the result.”

I want to respond to those points in reverse order.

First of all, is the most important thing that I vote? There have been a lot of celebrity endorsed campaigns to that effect over the years.  It also seems to be the default position encouraged among church leaders.  But do I really believe that?  If I was a philosophical pluralist who didn’t believe in objective truth, then the answer would be “yes.” The important thing then is that everyone gets their say.

However, I don’t think that all views have the same value. I believe in objective truth. I think there’s such a thing as right and wrong.  So, I cannot really say that it is more important for everyone to have their say than for truth to be heard.  For example, I could not in all good conscience sleep peacefully at night knowing that I encouraged enough people to go out and vote in a racist thug as our local councillor.

Secondly, should we excuse the behaviour of candidates because of spiritual immaturity?  It’s fascinating that here in the UK with an established church that the religious faith of candidates is rarely discussed whereas in the States, with separation of church and State, the personal faith of candidates still seems to be very important.

I want to suggest that Common Grace and General Revelation means that we can and should expect certain standards of public leaders regardless of whether or not they are believers.  Governments are put there by God to uphold the law, punish bad and reward good.  In that context, saying that someone is “a baby Christian” is completely irrelevant to the conversation.  That might be important as we think about how to disciple the person but does not justify turning a blind eye to those faults we believe would make them unsuitable for public office.

Finally, do I have to accept the choice before me, hold my nose and vote for the lesser of two evils?  I want to say “No.”  If you put a plate of cabbage and a plate of broccoli in front of me and said “which one do you want to eat?”  I would probably say neither.  A light hearted illustration, I know, but what if you put two cups of poison in front of me and asked me to choose?

Now, this isn’t to say that we should expect perfection in the candidates.  We live in a fallen world and you are unlikely to get the all-round perfect leader. Nor should we make the mistake of assuming that a Christian leader will be infallible and completely suited to the role just because they are a believer. So we should not create a standard that all candidates always fall short of. However, I think there are thresh-holds at which point it is right to say “none of the options are suitable.” Our  responsibility as Christians, our civic duty even at that point is to say so. Our job is to speak truth.

It may even be appropriate to withhold your vote. Don’t just fail to vote out of laziness or apathy. In fact, I’d still encourage you to turn up at the polling station and cast a vote.  You may choose to spoil your paper or opt for a “write in candidate.”  That way, you are saying something, you are participating.

What will happen as a result? The answer is probably not a lot. It’s unlikely that you will get a mass movement of people who proactively don’t vote.  One of the candidates will still get in.  But that will have still happened if you had voted for either of them.  What you have done is spoken truthfully. You’ve said “I refuse the options put in front of me. We can do better than this.”

Oh …and what happens when the person is elected?  Simple, you respect them as God’s appointed government. You obey them in so far as they do not go against God’s Law and you continue to respectfully challenge them with God’s Word.

[1] Note, this is one of those articles intended to be a little provocative.  Usual disclaimers apply here! These are personal views not official Bearwood Chapel views. I am not stating support for an option,  candidate or party in any of the above elections etc.