The lesser of two evils?
Last year I wrote about those times when voting is difficult because it feels like a choice for the lesser of two evils. You may recall that I said at the time that it is okay to choose not to choose, in other words, not to vote for either option.
My reasoning was simple. So often, the message goes out at elections that it doesn’t matter who you vote for so long as you vote. That cannot be true, can it? All viewpoints are not equally valued or ethical. What about the person who goes and votes for a neo-fascist committed to racial supremacy? What about the person who opts for a hard-line Marxist committed to the elimination of all religion? Is the important thing that “at least they voted?”
I said in the article that when we do not feel that there is a suitable choice, then it is okay to say “I refuse the options put in front of me.” This is itself a choice.
A variety of options
Now I want to put some qualifiers on that because I think it is rare that we will find ourselves completely in that position. So, before you decide not to vote, here are some options to consider.
- In a British General Election, the choice is rarely a binary one between two candidates. There will be a variety of different candidates on the ballot paper. Have I considered all the options? Now, in many constituencies it is probably the case that there is at best only two potential winners (one in ultra-safe seats). That often leads people to talk about wasted votes where a candidate cannot win. However, I want to suggest that there is no such thing as a “wasted vote.” You see, whilst the primary purpose of voting is to choose your MP and help to choose the government, there are other implications. At the last General Election, Douglas Carswell was elected as the sole UKIP MP but the party got about 4 million votes. Were all those votes wasted? I would suggest not because they helped give the party a stronger voice. They were able to exercise significant influence on the political process far beyond the number of seats they held.
- I may not be happy with a specific Party’s manifesto for this election, however, I may align with their traditional, long held values. It is worth remembering that manifestos can change (sometimes in the space of a weekend!) and the specific emphasis and policies of a party will shift. It is worth looking at what a party does over the long term. This is true the other way around of course. I may be attracted to specific policies at the moment but do they fit with what the Party normally values. The likelihood is that whether it is over a single parliament or after several wins that a party will revert to type. So, sometimes the right decision may be to vote for the party even if I don’t like its current policies. Linked to that, I think there is something to be said for those who continue to vote for a party then when it is at its lowest ebb and looks like a lost cause.
- I may not be happy with the national leader or the party but I may be able to support a local candidate who demonstrates integrity and a commitment to public service. Indeed, although this is my third point perhaps it should be first given that in a parliamentary democracy, our first duty is to elect MPs to represent our constituencies.
- The reverse of point three may of course be true too.
- Where there is the risk that one party will win by an overwhelming landslide then it may well be right to vote for one of the opposition parties in order to see that majority limited. Our democracy relies on having a strong, credible opposition to hold the government to account and act as an alternative government in waiting. Therefore, I think that this type of vote is a positive choice. It is a vote to ensure that the democratic process itself works.
You may go through that list carefully and prayerfully but still find yourself in a position where you could not vote for any of the candidates with integrity and that’s okay but I would at least encourage you to consider that thought process.
Wisdom for God’s Glory
Okay now, this is all very interesting but why am I writing about these sorts of things on a Christian teaching site? What does all of this have to do with the sorts of things we normally talk about on faithroots? After all, we haven’t come up with specific Bible passages that support this argument, nor at this point have we talked about more general theological principles that might underpin this thought process. However, I do believe that these sorts of decisions are based upon what we believe. So, here’s the Public Theology behind the advice above.
- General Revelation and Common Grace play an important part in our decision making but must be subordinate to Special Revelation. God has given us intelligence and the ability to make sense of the World around us in order to make good practical decisions. Here is an example of where this comes into play.
- This is about wisdom. The Bible has much to say about wisdom – particularly in the book of Proverbs. When looking at this book on faithroots.net, we’ve seen that wisdom enables us to make godly decisions in a messy world. Often that is about applying principles to specific contexts. Principles at work when we go to the polling booth include respecting the healthy tension between 1 Peter/Romans and Revelation that this world’s governments are both beastly in their opposition to God and there as his servants. Our desire to see government honour the things that God honours also recognises that no human government will be perfect (or indeed anywhere close) but at specific times some people and some policies will come closer to doing what is right.
- “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.” This is the underlying principle. Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us that whatever we do, we are to do everything for God’s glory. This is the Biblical theology that underpins all of our everyday decisions. Over the next 48 hours take time to pray and to think carefully about how your vote on polling day will be towards God’s glory. Key to that I believe is that our vote should be not out of fear, envy and greed but with a desire to see the good of others provided for.
 For more on this see: https://faithroots.net/2014/09/16/how-does-god-speak-part-1-general-revelation/