To vote or not to vote?

November 1st, 2016

More than in any election in my lifetime, I’ve heard so many people say “I just can’t vote for Trump or Clinton.” Mind you, in 2012, 42% of Americans didn’t vote for Obama or Romney! And this figure is always worse in local elections. Do Christians have an obligation to vote?

What we have right now is not that people are too busy or too uncaring to vote. They are voters; they care deeply. But they cannot in good faith pull the lever for someone they loathe. The philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre argued for this kind of ethic: when we are given two bad options, we must choose neither.

This I understand. But something about it feels odd, even troubling to me — for three reasons.

  1. None of us has ever, ever voted for an un-flawed human being. Christians should know well that all of us are broken, fallen, sinful, confused people, with hidden turmoil and a string of botched decisions in our past. Is there some threshold of “good enough”? And if so, where would you draw it? And if you did, is that line where you happen to be, or are you above or below it? If I pass judgment on candidates (and in a way, we all must), is there simultaneously a huge log in my own eye?
  2. Maybe of more interest is this: if I just can’t cast my vote for either person, am I treating my vote as something sacred, or utterly holy? It is lovely and fitting to think of your vote as a huge deal, not to be squandered lightly. But is it so sacred, does it have a pristine history of purity, that it can’t be soiled? Or is my vote my best stab at doing my small part in helping the world to be less woeful than it would be if I withdrew?
  3. Almost every day, I find myself faced with some choice between bad options, and you do too, so we should be used to it. Some are little trifles, some are heart-wrenching; but the decisions we make in our working and personal lives (if we step back and ponder them from the perspective Jesus might have) in a fallen and constantly compromised world and culture are really in that “lesser of two evils” zone. You find each day that not to choose really is to choose, because something ugly steps into the vacuum where you were supposed to be. Not choosing is itself a choice that does impact the outcome.

But I am not at all sure about these things. They are just questions that surface in my gut when I think about just not voting at all. Though even if you can’t go for Hillary or Donald, there are other important elections at the state and local levels...

Read Rev. Howell's previous 'Tis the Season articles covering the 2016 election here. This article originally appeared on the author's blog. Reprinted with permission.

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