Why I'm not voting

Branson Parler

October 16, 2012

Great article, and I agree with many points. But voting is still a right and a privilege worldwide. So I'll exercise that right and privilege - even if I have to write in the name of the guy who I think is most qualified to run this nation and get us back on the right track.

Dan B.
October 16, 2012

I find this really an irresponsible position, despite all the fine-sounding words. You are a citizen of this country and have the God-given privilege to participate in it by voting. By not voting you surrender your positive potential influence to someone else who probably is less representative of God's values. I believe you have "unwittingly swallowed" an idolatrous drop-out attitude. I do not lift politics above the Kingdom. My priority is to be missional-minded and make disciples. I don't participate in campaigns or give money to them. But it also is my duty to do what I can to protect life and freedom so that the Gospel may run freely in this country and to defend the poor and needy and do what I can to help create an environment supportive of them. Therefore I'm voting for Romney, because taxation does not equal charity, in fact it works against it. Of course, it's all about lesser evils. Which human is perfect? But we have to use our intellect and rely on our foundational values and make the best choice we can.

October 16, 2012

While I applaud your defiance of dogma that equates voting with spiritual obligation (agree wholeheartedly there), I can't help but find your choice not to vote inconsistent with what Jesus instructed us to do: render unto Caesar what it Caesar's.

Part of Christianity's problem with political engagement is that we're all over things on the hot button issues (abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia, etc) and unbelievably silent on broader issues such as health care, education, taxation, and others.

I also question your assertion that Jesus left us with a kingdom-political mandate. Nowhere do we have marching orders in scripture to gain and hold control over government. What we have is direction to be Christ's living body on earth, the embodiment of God's love and priorities as they are in heaven, under whatever government exists.

I don't think you're failing God by voting or not voting, although there are certainly elements of Christianity that would make it seem like a vote for anything other than the GOP is a one way ticket to hell. To me the real discussion about Not voting means leaving critical issues in the hands of others, and these issues are ones we all have a stake in. I don't see how throwing away your vote represents good stewardship of the influence you have, even if that influence seems very small. Small isn't something to be scoffed at in the kingdom- mustard, seeds, five loaves and two fish- God has the power to make little more than enough to address a need.

Thanks for your thoughts on this- appreciate the post and opportunity to dialogue.

Jack Davis
October 17, 2012

Why not use your vote for another candidate that is not on one of the major tickets? Surely someone else can offer you something that will satisfy your faith. I hear that Ron Paul and Gary Johnson are still in the race in independent parties. Then there's the Tea Party. I don't know enough about these to speak intelligently, I just know that they are there.

Branson Parler
October 17, 2012

I am grateful for the thoughtful comments and feedback. Here are a few further thoughts in response.

Should we render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s? Certainly. But that phrase itself is telling: Jesus assumes that a Christian calling under a Caesar (what we’d call a dictator) is not to seek political liberty, the right to vote, violent revolution, etc., but to pay taxes, honor the king, and seek to further the kingdom of God. Caesar is going to do his thing; Jesus is calling his disciples to a different “game” than the game of thrones. So saying “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s” is a way of affirming that his disciples are called neither to violent revolution nor to a type of political activism that plays the political game by Caesar’s rules. Instead, he calls them to embody the kingdom, which is a way of confronting Caesar’s kingdom (Jesus ends up crucified, a death reserved for political insurrectionists) but refusing to play by Caesar’s rules (Jesus embodies suffering love rather than violence).

Does not voting leave the critical issues in the hands of others? This assumes an assumption I don’t buy; namely, that all critical issues are addressed via the state. James Davison Hunter’s "To Change the World" convincingly argues that most Americans, including most Christians, believe that the state and politics is the realm where important issues get decided. The result is a politicization of everything. Sex, gender, family, work, age, race, health, transportation, energy—all of these matters become ideological and politicized as Americans increasingly attempt to settle differences about these things via politics. But this ignores the basic sociological and political fact that there are real limits to what the state can and does do. The state can set regulations, but it can’t actually provide real and long-term solutions to these issues, which can only be done on the level of community public (but not political) involvement. In this light, Hunter argues that “political participation can and often does amount to the avoidance of responsibility” (173). Why? Because political structures set process but don’t actually solve problems. In my view, Christians need to be less concerned about who’s in power and more concerned about being a creative minority that seeks real, non-politicized solutions to issues like health care, abortion, poverty, etc. If you want to express your convictions at the ballot box, do so, by all means. But be sure that you are actively seeking practical ways to solve the issues that you care about within your community. I see Christians doing this all over the place. But I also see Christians who think of political involvement as listening to talking heads, posting on Facebook, and then going out on Election Day to vote. With Hunter, I would say that’s avoidance of real civic responsibility. It is that approach (not mine) that “leaves critical issues in the hands of others” by assuming that checking off a name on a ballot box is the definition of responsibility.

Thanks again for the interaction and dialogue on these issues.

October 17, 2012

Thanks for the post Dr. Parler. I appreciated you're brief summary of the heresy of Nationalism. I find that many Christians I engage with daily have this warped view of the nation and how they are to function with in it.
The fact of the matter is that earthly kingdoms will fall. Yes, even America will fall, but the Kingdom of Heaven remains.
I've heard many Christians say "If Obama gets re-elected, America is on its way to Hell." And even similar things about Romney (can you believe it?). Sometimes I think I should gently remind my brothers and sisters of the fact that salvation belongs to God, it does not rest on the values of a particular political party.

We must place our hope in the Kingdom of Heaven, we must make our goal to proclaim Christ's Sovereignty here on earth (even when it comes to politics), and sometimes, when the Kingdoms values can not be seen clearly in an individual running for office, it is appropriate to remove yourself from the political process and trust solely in Christ's sovereignty over all things. The fact of the matter is that in the end, God will have His way regardless of who gets elected. We must place our hope in that fact rather than in the temporary leader of a temporary nation.

This being said, I feel that my ability to vote is a means through which I can proclaim Christ's sovereignty and advocate for one of the Kingdom's values: justice. The biggest injustice that I see in our culture is abortion, therefor I'm voting solely on that issue.

October 17, 2012

I'd point out that the kingdom-political order established in Christ was not a mandate to take over and control the government. Neither was Dr. Parler's reference to this asserting the idea that Christians are mandated by Christ to control government. Rather the kingdom-political order referred to here is speaking on Christ calling us to participate in the advancing and proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven (at least that's how I understood it).

Also, I'd be interested the specific "elements of Christianity that would make it seem like a vote for anything other than the GOP is a one way ticket to hell." I'm not sure where in the Bible it says "Thou Shalt Vote GOP, if thou dost refuse thou wilst face eternal damnation."

Thomas Johnston
October 18, 2012

Branson Parler,

The conclusions in your article regarding the responsibility to vote are completely counter to our system of government and our obligation as Christians. Since we live in a Representative Republic, the people we send to govern speak for us. “The State” you refer to can only exist if we abdicate this responsibility.

Not to vote, is to vote.

In the parable of the talents, Jesus teaches to whom much is given much is expected. As Christians we are expected to vote for candidates who base their decisions on Biblical principals and support the State of Israel.

Steve Mvw
October 19, 2012

Thanks, Branson. I especially appreciate your distinction "that it is morally permissible for a Christian not to vote." You're not saying that all Christians should not vote, only that is an option. Strange how for many American Christians, voting takes on almost-sacramental overtones.
I was a non-voter for a long time, until moving to Iowa where the caucuses are just too fun and tempting not to participate. If I caucus, it seems I should later vote. Made my peace with Niebuhrian moral calculus.
I would add that non-voting is not an attempt to remain "pure" or "above the fray" as it sometimes is portrayed. As Christians, we're never pure or above the fray. I'd put non-voting more on par with the earliest Christians where a sort of benign neglect eventually changed the empire.

October 20, 2012

This seems to be something of a half-way position: can one opt in (and opt out) of participation in civic affairs? Considered as a matter of personal ethics or consumer choice, of course, however that raises the question whether such a choice is properly Christian.

The difficulty is that the option of occasional opt-out presumes something like adequate information, that one may properly determine when voting is possible or even more, Christian. And here's the difficulty: that is a position that inevitably thrusts us back into a private or self-oriented mode.

For that reason, I don't see an individual opt-out as being particularly useful. If one is to make the symbolic gesture, then it seems that is a stance that requires a more comprehensive position, i.e. opting out, period. This becomes a principle then of conscience and witness, and so rather useful.

The position taken of the individual opt-out, however, raises the question of justice. If voting is a matter of adiaphora, your choice, as it were, then measures to restrict voting would likewise also be in the same category. So the Christian becomes indifferent as to whether the franchise is protected or extended. After all, they all lie. As pointed out earlier, the Christian opt-out is an implicit sanctioning of the status quo and so also reflects the social standing (and security) of the one proposing the opting out.

Again, there's a place to accept the status quo for the sake of witness but this requires something more fully embodied. In short, be the Anabaptist. It's ok.

Branson Parler
October 20, 2012

Thanks for the feedback and thoughts, wmrharris. A few points in response: I would say that I’m not “opting in and out” of participation, but being a conscientious participator. To equate voting with “civic affairs” is to mistake one part for the whole. Just because I do not vote in the presidential election does not mean that I’m not involved in civic affairs. It’s not a “consumer choice” any more than my decision not to drink beer with alcoholic friends is a “consumer choice.” Far from being a private or self-oriented mode, it is driven by concern for others.

I think the language of opting-out is not very useful, and in particular the suggestion that “opting out” must be a comprehensive position. I don’t even know how one would possibly do so with respect to civic life. Going all the way back to Plato, a robust and comprehensive understanding of civic life would include education (as essential to forming good citizens) and vocation (as contributing to the common good). Should I as a Christian not participate in those arenas simply because I cannot in good conscience support one of the candidates? That doesn’t logically follow.

Further, logically speaking, my not voting in the presidential election does not preclude me being able to argue that a society that protects and extends the franchise is relatively better than one that doesn’t. My piece spoke to both (a) the candidates in question and (b) the particular character of civil religion in contemporary American life. To generalize this to a broad position regarding voting or political theory in general would overreach the points I made in the piece. Also, note that in this piece I was speaking only about the presidential election, not voting in general.

Again, I’ll say: refusing to vote does not sanction the status quo. Does refusal to actively seek governmental power implicitly endorse the status quo? If so, then most Christians in ancient Rome endorsed Caesar’s policies and most Christians in communist China endorse the communist government there.

Finally, perhaps being a good Anabaptist and being a good Augustinian Reformed thinker overlap here. I’m Calvinist enough to recognize that God’s sovereignty means I don’t have to try to seize the reins of power at every turn, and Kuyperian enough to recognize that God’s common grace will ensure that Christians don’t need to try to control history. When Jesus cries “Mine!” over every sphere, we should recognize that sometimes that’s a welcome mat, and sometimes it’s a “no trespassing” sign.

October 21, 2012

It might be that if you have the choice to run into a brick wall or to drive off of a 900 foot cliff, you ought to make some kind of choice. (This analogy reminds me very much of this election, with our President being the cliff and Gov. Romney being the brick wall.)

I would dispute one other point: Not Voting indicates that no presidential candidate should have millions and millions of dollars spent in order to get him elected. The problem here is that God sometimes has some shocking ideas that are not so different from this one that the candidates have.

In the book of Judges, God directs Israel to make war on the trible of Benjamin because of a murder committed in their territorry. And tens of thousands of lives were lost in that war--which was executed to avenge the death of one woman.

My point is that if God thinks it desirable that tens of thousands of lives be expended in this way, then He might also think it desirable that hundreds of millions be spent rather than have the worse of two candidates lead the free world for the next four years.

Denny Daugherty
October 22, 2012

One point I think being missed here in making a general case for not voting is that in the upcoming general election involves more than just the presidential election, and while the article makes valid points regarding our role as Christian citizens and of the issues with our political system, I feel it may be somewhat narrowly focused on the choice of president while ignoring other races for state and local government.

I participate in every election and give careful consideration to each candidate I vote for because their actions and decisions will affect me and my community, and ultimately may set them on the path for seeking higher office. I am grateful for the opportunity and freedom to have a voice in determining who will lead and represent us at any level.

I would point out that one can participate in an election but can freely abstain from choosing a candidate in specific races. In fact, I did not choose any candidate for president in this year's primary election. So I wonder if you are against voting for either presidential candidate, are you also in favor of not voting in general when taking into consideration all of the other options for elective office?

I understand most people (and the media) only care about the presidential race that occurs every four years (and that is an entirely separate debate), however the article seems to make a general case against voting based on a single race which is why I raise the question.

Branson Parler
October 25, 2012

Great question, Denny. I should have clarified this further in the article itself. This article was on in a series on voting in the presidential election, and so my focus was only on voting with respect to the presidential office. I do intend to vote on a number of issues in Michigan, including the ballot proposals and some local races. I think that it is harmful to focus so heavily on the presidential election. People are often woefully uninformed on local issues that may have far more of an impact on their community than the presidential election.

Michael Barrett
November 12, 2012

Next time, choose a candidate that shares your beliefs. The Christian Party puts God first and you'll never have to settle for second best again. Visit www.chrparty.org to join. It's new, it's free. God Bless.

August 2, 2016

I have to agree with you 100%. God has never encouraged anyone in the New Testament to get into politics to try to change things to a Christian view. Jesus did call us to pay our taxes. God is Sovereign. He ultimately lets things happen how He sees fit, not us. Another thing, are the candidates Born Again Believers? Are they walking out God's Holy Word? If not, how can you vote for someone who ultimately doesn't even believe in God?

October 14, 2016

Couldnt Moses have said that about Pharoah? Couldnt David have said that about Saul? Couldnt numerous other heros of the faith have ascribed to those things which you are speaking of? The real truth here isnt about ideology its about Gods heart involved in a faith obedience process. Look at some of the faith heros and what God asked them to do or better yet how he used them despite there failures.... First lets look at John the baptist, imagine using him as your welcome door as Jesus did. What about Jonah ? God sent him into paegan beheading territory.. You are running just as he did. Go uses people despite their weaknesses.. Look at Sampson and I could go on and on... I am to honor truth above judgemental character traits in others lest I fall into a pit like the Ox on the Sabbath. My brother, This is not Godly wisdom you are using .

Oliver Ronquillo
October 14, 2016

It is my civic duty and responsibility to vote. I vote out of obligation to do my part in making this country as good a place as it can be for my community, church, and family. Lastly, I owe it to myself to attempt to make an impact through my vote so that when things degrade further, I can lie awake at night and tell my heavenly father "thank you for giving me the opportunity to at least try to make a difference. " and I can sleep soundly knowing that I did just that.

October 14, 2016

Good points. However if you aren't sure where you stand on specific issues or how important they are to you then perhaps a little introspection is appropriate.

I suggest taking a personal survey like this:

You might be surprised with your answers and which of the next potential leaders you line up with.

Cornelia Cree
October 14, 2016

Sometime I make my living writing on religious and spiritual issues, the 1st amendment is of ultimate importance. Without it I have no hope of a future. Neither does America. So anyone in the Presidency who threatens my 10 Amendment rights is a no vote and I consider it a matter of the future for this nation that I vote that way. It can hardly be called some form of idolatry. I do have friends who have left the USA for New Zealand, Ecuador, and Belize, and I suppose that will work if needed. God does not call me to one thing and then expect me to remain in a nation that has morally collapsed and taken away my call.

Nanine Mattei
October 14, 2016

While I hear what you are saying, at the end I still think it is our God Given Right to Vote and we have a responsibility to do so. While we, as Christians, know that both candidates are not living the Christian life or by Christian principles, there is still a lot at stake here. We are not just talking about the next 4 years. We are literally talking about how the landscape of America will be formed for the next generation. We have 2 Supreme Court Justices that have to be selected. Based on who sits in the White House in January will determine where we go. I believe it is our God Given responsibility to be sure we vote for our children and our children's children. While these candidates may be only be a passing flame that will die out in 4 to 8 years, the future lays in the balance with that court if Jesus tarries. I believe that is our responsibility. I believe He wants us to do what we can, while we can & continue to pray for his guidance and for these ungodly leaders. Pray, Vote & continue to Pray!

October 14, 2016

It is your right to withhold your vote - and I will not argue against your reasoning - but I will offer a different vision:
I can not support your conclusion because Christians have always been placed in a position where civic duty called for responsible actions in the face of irresponsible possibilities.
Case in point: Hitler came to power through the Election process in Germany. I wonder how many Christians and Jews sat THAT one out.
Marxist Philosophy became popular through a process of division of "Classes" and by pointing out the corruption of the the political body of 1917 Russia. Once the mindset of "overthrow the corrupt government" gained popularity, an even MORE corrupt system of government was able to take over. (seems similar to the Democrats strategies of today.)
America was founded on principles that are worth fighting for - even if the options aren't good.

Steve Fenster
October 14, 2016

I think it is patently naive and irresponsible not to vote. While we may not agree with either party, candidate or the system in general the outcome of this election will determine supreme court justices and issues such as abortion will be addressed. NOT VOTING is tantamount to standing blind to the murder of millions of innocent unborn. Naive and perhaps false piety is not appropriate.

Charlie Kurkjian
October 14, 2016

I appreciate reading all the comments and responses.
My comment is short and hopefully reflects the thoughts of others.
First my Christian belief and faith centers around three issues. 1. God is in Control of everything. 2. We need to Trust God. 3. We need to Wait on the Lord.
Thanks to those that have served, fought and died for our Freedoms - I feel that it is very important that I vote. And I also feel that it is a citizen's responsibility to take these freedoms seriously. My grandparents did not have these freedoms until they came to this country over 100 years ago. Voting is very important.
My vote is not only for President but for several other people running for different positions in my local commnity.
God bless you. The Holy Spirit is with us all.

October 14, 2016

Thanks for the post Dr. Parler.

But I to disagree with your idea that we as Christians should not vote. If you consider that Darrell Castle is running a very "Christian like race" he would be an appropriate candidate to reset the government as we now know it. If enough Christens vote for those candidate that represent our values, we should a the very least raise some political eyebrows.

This idea is assuming that our votes even matter at this point in American history.

The current political system is a sad commentary for our nation and the future of our church body.

Paul Swindle
October 14, 2016

I will vote and have a very good reason to do so. ABORTION!!!
If Hilary Clinton becomes president there will be millions more innocent unborn babies murdered in the womb. Thi is America's greatest sin. The churches in these United States of America have looked the other way while 60,000,000 children have been killed. If believers in Jesus as the Christ cannot agree on such an agrecious sin then there is no hope for our Republic.

Barbara Roberts
October 14, 2016

Jesus said "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's." We Christians have a dual responsibility to do just that, and while I depend on God for everything I have, He depends on me to be a good steward of it. He blessed me to be an American and uphold the freedoms and privileges won by the blood of our patriots. and that means being active in this republic as long as I live. Thank God we have a voice in our nation, and I will vote while I HAVE that voice.

Donald McMahon
October 14, 2016

It was not until I was half-way down the comments that I realized that the article was from 2012. Very interesting that it is even MORE relevant today. I just wrote an article for our church bulletin about this election. I confess that I am conflicted. For me, it will come down to one issue: abortion. It is a plague upon our nation. Surely, God condemns us for it. Besides my vote, I am participating in the 40 Days For Life protest and prayer. I have never protested anything else in my life and I am 60. May God forgive us. How can we not vote for the only candidate that gives hope on this issue, even if they are TREMENDOUSLY flawed. Be with us Almighty.

October 15, 2016

Dr. Parler
Is there any Biblical support for your position? I think yes and no depending on the state of one's heart in this matter. First I think in the first sense you are addressing the position of "nationalism" as idolatry... i.e. "civil religion". I think it is true there are some Christians who stumble into this finding political conservatism ... (or liberal for that matter) becomes their religion , their passion, their worship. This is obviously idolatry and it can creep in slowly like any work of the devil in our Christian lives. So, if one falls in to this category, you may be right... abstinence is a good solution to an addiction or idolatry.
Second however is the "rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's" principle found in Mt 22:20-22 where Jesus is talking to the Pharisees and Herodian's about paying taxes(or tribute) and use of coin... coin of the realm if you will. I believe we could look at voting in the same way also utilizing Romans 13 as a guiding context as well. God has established all authority and government. It is in fact a NT ordination of God. We do not have or live within a theocracy as the Israelites did in the OT.
Therefore as long as we are not worshipping a political system or leader we are obligated to work within its order - and given some say as to what it looks like. So, I would cast my vote with the voters.
God Bless

Becky Haigler
October 15, 2016

Please consider the platform and candidates of the American Solidarity Party. I felt as you do until two days ago. Now I have a party I can vote for with a clear conscience and also feel I am making an important statement FOR many crucial issues instead of just voting AGAINST something or someone.

Ian Shaw
October 21, 2016

So are you refusing to vote entirely or just on the presidential portion of the ballot? Voting for local reps, propositions can definitely make more of an impact in your local community.

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