Why Not Voting is Not an Option
As the political election approaches in America, many Christians boldly proclaim that Jesus is King. Such a statement is often coupled with a declaration that they will not be voting, especially given the apparent choices in the presidential election. For perhaps different reasons, Thabiti Anyabwile writes at The Gospel Coalition: “I’m ‘voting’ by not voting.” But is abstaining the obedience to which the Jesus of Scripture has called us? Does it honor him as the King he shows himself to be?
The Lord himself ordained that civil leaders govern (Romans 13:1-7). In Bible history, he specifically commanded people to choose their leaders and gave guidance in the process (Exodus 18:21, Numbers 1:16, Deuteronomy 16:18). Of course, he also calls us to submit to the leaders he has providentially placed over us (1 Peter 2:13-14), and to pray for them (1 Timothy 2:1-2). He is no deistic-mediator who remains aloof after demanding submission. Rather, he actively works in politics through the ordinary means of people rolling up their sleeves to work each day in this realm of life.
Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661), in his famous treatise on civil government, Lex, Rex, opens by observing in his first section that God has established civil powers by his word and by his laws of nature. He deals especially with the question of monarchical forms of government, since he lived in a monarchy, but he does say this of a republic in his third section: “that a republic appoint rulers is not an indifferent, but a moral action, because to set no ruler over themselves I conceive were a breach of the fifth commandment, which commandeth government to be one or other.” Rutherford’s fourth section goes on to argue extensively from Scripture that people, under God, are called to install their civil leaders.
The fifth commandment teaches: “Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 5:16). This commandment summarizes our duty with respect to all authority in life. The Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q. 64-65) expands on this command. It shows that we are required to perform the duties belonging to us in the various structures of authority in which God has placed us, whether we are over others, are equal to them, or are under others. This commandment affirms that God desires leaders and that they must exist in every sphere. Leaders in the civil sphere are not optional.
Jesus rules over and through civil magistrates. As King, he calls people to submit by being involved in appointing their rulers. He calls people to submit to their government, as they are conscientiously able. When their government lawfully calls for citizens to vote, it is Jesus (who has established that government) who calls them to this duty. Rutherford’s principle that we are morally obligated to set rulers over us applies not only generally in a republic, but also to you, the citizen of that republic. If you are not responsible before God to choose leaders in each political race, who is? For citizens of a republic not to vote is a moral choice and is, using the words of Rutherford, “a breach of the fifth commandment.” We deny that Jesus wants civil authority over us if we set no ruler over us. Ultimately, it is a practical denial of the Lordship of Jesus. Each citizen in a republic owes it to Jesus to elect representatives. Christians must avoid sins of omission in political elections just as rigorously as they avoid sins of commission.
This is why the denomination of which I am a member (The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America) confesses: “The Christian, when such action involves no disloyalty to Christ, ought to be involved in the selection of and to vote for civil rulers who fear God, love truth and justice, hate evil, and are publicly committed to scriptural principles of civil government” RP Testimony 23:15 (emphasis mine).
We are bound out of loyalty to Christ to participate. And we should expect him to be working as we seek godly candidates, campaign, vote, and serve in office or with those in office. He delights to work through ordinary means. If you cannot vote in good conscience for any of the candidates on the ballot for each office, you can always write-in a name. But, if you must, then it may also be time for self-examination. Have I done all I should have to honor Jesus in preparing for this vote? Have I sought out, supported, and encouraged those qualified to run? As I look at my budget, do I demonstrate that I believe Jesus is King in the process based on my giving to campaigns of prospective leaders? Or, does my budget show that I have valued entertainment, outings to sporting events, luxury foods, and technology more than sacrificing to invest in raising up God-fearing leaders over the land?
Certainly, individuals are called to varying levels of political participation, but if we have committed sins of omission, then the voting booth ought to become a prayer closet in which tears of confession are shed before King Jesus. Then, we must turn around, repent, and seek to see him honored more fully as King in the next election, because ordinary citizens, as well as kings and rulers of the earth, are called to “kiss the Son.” If you have not been faithful this year, what will you do next year, and the year after that, that will be visibly and tangibly different before the eyes of God and fellow man? As we strive to honor Christ in politics, let us pray, invest, work, live, campaign, write, and speak as those who expect to see Jesus at work through the ordinary means he has appointed!