I just want to say at the onset, that I am not really an evangelist about not voting. But I am tired of people telling me that I am immoral or unpatriotic for not voting. And given that some have spoken of the presidential election on this site, I figure I can give my “third way” point of view:
1. The system of choosing leaders requires the leaders to boast about themselves, to be self serving. But Jesus tells us to have our leaders be humble, to serve others, not themselves.
2. The only people who gain the highest offices are those of the rich elite. We do not live in a democracy, where the people have a voice, but a plutocracy, where only the wealthy have a real vote to change the country.
3. Voting is the least effective of all political action. Our ideas would be heard much more by the world if we act out the life of Jesus, or if we write people in the government, than if we vote.
4. There is not a single candidate that is concerned about the issues Jesus is concerned about. Not one has a platform about loving our enemies. Not one has a platform about giving to the poor. Not one is concerned about living out a radical life-transforming faith in God. Although some talk about health issues, no one is really concerned about healing the sick.
5. All the candidates are opposed to life. One candidate is a supporter of abortion, while another will increase war. There is no candidate that will support all life.
6. We are only allowed to vote FOR a candidate, not AGAINST one. If they’d let me vote “no” then I’d vote, because then I’d really be able to state my opinion.
7. I could, some say, write “Jesus” into the line. First of all, that’s just wasting a vote, and wasting my time. Secondly, Jesus isn’t running for president and he never will. He is running for absolute dictator of the world–and He would be the best thing for the world.
Because of my radical stance against voting, some think that I am immoral. But it is because of morality and my commitment to Jesus and refusal to compromise that I will not vote for a candidate that I believe will not lead the country into ethical purity.
Some think that I am rejecting my national and patriotic duty. Rather, I do a lot for both of my countries–the U.S. and the Kingdom of God. I help the homeless, I talk about issues, I contact the government about helping the poor. What I am rejecting is to compromise my moral stance by taking part in the least of all patriotic duties.
Some think that since I don’t vote, I have no right to say what goes on in the country. Rather, I say, my vote has been taken from me. The politically all-powerful parties have made the decision about who my choices really are, and all the choices are awful. If my rights have been taken away from me, then I have a GREATER responsibility to speak out, as do we all.
I understand if you disagree. No problem. But let me live out democracy in the best way I can as well, and all will be good.
I agree with you, but I think the language that your vote was “taken from you” is a bit strong. The vote has never been “taken” from white folks (I’m assuming your white, please forgive me if I am mistaken) and I feel that a lot of African Americans would laugh at your claim that the vote has been “taken” from you. Perhaps a better way to say it is that America really does not provide Americans with choice in their elections. Just a thought.
Plus our presidential vote is not really a vote after all. It’s a fake vote. The founders of this country established a republic, not a democracy. Popular vote doesn’t elect a president. It’s the Electoral College. The demos are not too be trusted with something so important as the election of the president. So, to back up SteveK, our vote was taken from us at the beginning.
I usually don’t vote for the president either. And one of my main reasons didn’t make it on your list: the president is the commander in chief of the armed forces. A vote for a president is a vote for someone to decide when to kill people. I care too much about these people to put them in a position that will damage their soul. This is especially the case if they are Christians. We should not put our brothers and sisters in positions that will tempt them with sin.
But I’m on the fence this time. One reason is because I read this article that John Howard Yoder wrote in 1977 and he said this: “To go to the polls is then not, as the Hutterite and the hippie on one side and the superpatriot on the other contend, a ritual affirmation of moral solidarity with the system. It is one way, one of the weaker and vaguer ways, to speak truth to power.” I didn’t expect him to say that. Makes me re-think some things…
I articulated the other reason in a different post on another blog:
If we vote our vote only goes to the winner of the state. I live in Maryland, if I vote here Obama will certainly win, Obama will win all electoral votes, and my vote will not count. Blah.
Last time I voted I wrote in fictious characters and super-heros.
I appreciate what you’re saying about African Americans and their viewpoint of the vote. This is one of the reasons why I am not an “evangelist” on my position, because I know that for our African American brothers and sisters, this is a dearly won right.
However, I feel that it is more of a perceived right than a real privilege, as it is for all of us. It is to give the perception of participation, but not the reality of it, that the vote is there at all. Not only does the electoral college actually vote for the president, but the candidates for president and congress are determined by higher ups in the parties, not by the people at all. Which is why only those in the rich elite club can participate.
I used to share your viewpoint, and I agree with each of your points individually. Our political system _is_ a broken plutocracy. None of the candidates represent what I believe in. There are many other more important and effective ways to speak truth to power.
But I can no longer see how that adds up to an argument for not voting. JHY has it right when he says that voting is “is one way, one of the weaker and vaguer ways, to speak truth to power.”
In the last five years I’ve gotten to know too many friends in Indian country whose health care, which is already the worst in the country (the US spends more per capita on prisoners’ health care than on Native Americans), correlates _directly_ with which major party controls the US federal government: Democrats fund the Indian Health Service, Republicans don’t.
I’m sure if Al Gore had become president in 2000 he would have done many things I’d find reprehensible. Nonetheless, there are a lot of Iraqis who don’t get to vote in the US who would quite likely still be alive today if we hadn’t gotten a President Bush bound and determined to have a war in Iraq.
I remember getting to know a very astute Brazilian young man a couple years ago. I particularly remember his outright anger at the idea that anyone in the US, whose foreign policy has such a huge impact on people all around the world, would voluntarily forgo even the smallest opportunity to make an impact on that policy.
If you or anyone else can make an argument to me how _not_ voting will do something positive for my brothers and sisters on Pine Ridge, in Iraq, in Brazil, I’m all ears. Until then, I’m not willing to betray them, even in the smallest way, for the sake of a false sense of personal moral purity.
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I’m with Carl on this one. I always find John Roth’s argument compelling, which if I am remembering correctly, says Mennonites should be working at the issues instead of merely pontificating about them. But most of the times I’ve been traveling out the U.S., someone has invariably said to me, “We don’t have a say in your government’s elections, but its policy affects us all the same” or “We don’t have a voice in this; please use yours!” Voting may minor in the grand scheme of things, but I do believe it matters.
I think this article from the Emergent Village is a must read for any white people planning to not vote tomorrow:
Not Voting as Violence Or Why I Get Suspicious When White Men Tell Me Not to Vote
Tim, I have read the article. It isn’t about the issues I raised, it is about people telling others not to vote. I believe that not voting is also a form of participating in democracy, especially if one is using it as an opportunity to talk about the issues, not to opt out of them.
You have echoed many of the reasons that I, too, have chosen not to vote, and I very much appreciate the post.
The one statement I find odd is: “I contact the government about helping the poor.”
If you mean by giving them other people’s resources, then I would remind you that those resources are taken under threat of theft and violence, which I cannot promote.
There are, of course, things that the State (or the Sword, as our theological ancestors once called it) can do to help the poor. They can remove the red tape that makes starting a business or hiring a worker difficult and expensive. They can stop devaluing the currency with deficit spending, especially military (as opposed to infrastructure) spending. They can remove regulations which are disproportionately difficult and expensive for independent and small businesses (who don’t have teams of lawyers, auditors, and lobbyists) to comply with. They can extort less money from taxpayers (especially for immoral purposes), such that those might have more money share with the poor or employ them.
There are a number of things the Sword can do to help the poor, but most–if not all–of them involve stopping something immoral they are currently doing, rather than enacting some new rule, program, or tax that is ultimately backed by a threat of violence.
As an Anabaptist, I believe we have a great tradition of understanding that the ends do not justify the means.
(how would one shorten your nickname, anyway?)
The specific action that I do with the gov’t is to help them allocate their resources that they are already obligated to give to specific individuals. I especially help in trying to keep those labeled “mentally ill” out of the hospital because they, of their own free will, choose a different lifestyle than social workers desire.
I decided more than a decade ago that as an Anabaptist I couldn’t in good conscience elect the commander-in-chief. I felt uncomfortable that my vote might be construed as affirming everything in the plank. I didn’t vote in the last two elections and didn’t really plan to for the rest of my life.
But after 9 months of discernment this year, I decided that it would be immoral for me not to vote in this particular election. That I’m willing to risk sullying myself in the process if voting helps the chance that the gap between rich and poor within the U.S. will be reduced, that everyone in the country may get some access to basic healthcare, that we might stop galavanting around the world and violently forcing ourselves on others so we can continue to consume at a ridiculous rate, that teens can have access to accurate sex education that covers all the options, that women may be honored as equal human beings–first by having the right to sue for equal pay. And, like Lora, I’ve heard sisters and brothers outside the U.S. highlight the changes that affect their lives depending on which U.S. political party is in power.
Often there doesn’t seem to be much real difference in the approaches the two candidates take. This year I think there’s a clear difference.
I’ve made it a several-times-a-year practice to write legislators. I figure if Obama wins, I’ll be able to write him and leverage the fact that I’m one of the Independents that helped him win the White House. I feel a little nervous about voting tomorrow, but I’ve decided I’ve got to do it.
Thanks Steve! As someone who has thus far in life not voted, I’m constantly barraged by attacks from all sides of the spectrum about my irresponsibility, stupidity, and just plain foolish stubborness of my choice. I, like you, am not a non-voting evangelist, although I have given an interesting article or two to a friend or engaged in debate about it. I resonate strongly with what you’ve said, and could add several more points.
I’m confused why most people seem to think this election is some kind of extra special election. Historical shortsightedness and mass hysteria have somehow ranked Bush and his ilk as the worst of all time (definetly bad to be sure, but worst?). There are also lot of things that could be said about our apparent savior-in-cheif, Obama. My friends in Afghanistan and Pakistan tell me they are confused why the rest of the world loves Obama. Why? Obama wants to extend the war in Afghanistan. Obama has spoken of bombing My friends in Pakistan. My friends in Korea tell me they would rather have Obama than Mccain because he seems less like Bush who they generally felt treated their nation like a pet dog. My friends in Japan tell me they like Obama because there is a town in Japan named Obama and they can say his name easily.
I don’t know how not voting in this specific election will help american indians, iraqis, or anyone really. But I do think that idea of devaluing an at best vague, simple, and uncommitted act, and valuing true measures of love, will in the long run have a real effect.
I do think that choosing to emphasize personal nonviolent ways of being together over systematized coercion (even benign coercion) will do something positive for all children of God.
Many people I know think that if they vote the right way then the government will become perfect and then everything will be solved and they won’t really have to do anything. I know that those YARites who choose to vote are commited individuals who do not share this lazy attitude. But I don’t think you are the majority.
The end of the infamous JHY quote says, “…but our discharge of this civil duty will be more morally serious if we take it less seriously.” In a church culture which lacks the imagination to see itself as God’s vehicle for action, and which takes elections (especially this election) all too seriously, choosing not to vote or at least attempting to downplay its value is, to my mind, a significant and important action. Of course It ought not be the end, but merely one valuable action in a life of many other more valuable ones.
Those who are familiar with Yoder’s work will know that he rarely made definitive statements, but rather spoke to particular times and places. Therefore while his quote may be true at this particular point in history, I believe it is equally fair to turn it around and say that choosing not to vote may also be “…one way, one of the weaker and vaguer ways, to speak truth to power.”
I agree with Carl that we ought not act according to vague principles or ideas of moral purity. Rather we ought to act according to the immediate presence of the loving God in our particular situations. Your’s may lead you to vote. Mine has led me to resist.
Here’s a poem I wrote about this very thing.
Celebrate the coming of the two-term king
who rides on wings not hooves.
Do not be distracted by the injustice next door;
look to the Maverick of Hope.
He will save you from this mire
of systemic iniquity around you.
You are his chosen race,
a royal nation,
a holy priesthood,
the middle class.
Focus your eyes on the ephemeral emperor;
listen as he lulls you to sleep.
“All is well.”
He has come to keep it so.
“All is not well.”
He has come to redeem,
and the suffering of the poor
will be the blood sacrifice for your depression.
Go! Earn your salvation
with your tithes to the alabaster abode,
and he will give you rest.
Cast your lot in the ballot box;
join as heirs to his oval throne.
He will universally heal the sick,
progressively reduce war to peace,
end infanticide with a word,
and pierce the seas to save sedans.
There is no resurrection for a messiah
who does not die, only re-elected.
His democracy shall last forever.
For all eternity, his grace,
liberty, and justice
will be for all who can pay the price
of their freedom.
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As I always say, God did not command the goverment to help the poor, He commanded the church to do it. It is the Christians duty to do help the widow, the poor, the needy and share the gospel of Christ.
Greetings: you are free to take the stance you have, just do not judge others in doing so!