Tempted to blow off mid-term voting? Here’s why your vote counts more than you think.
In Jesus’ parable of the talents, a master gives a coin to each of his servants before leaving for a while. When he returns, he asks what profit each has made. Suffice it to say it doesn’t go well for the guy who hides the money and hands it back with no gain.
The moral is clear: God’s gifts come with a responsibility to use them in His service. And, for those of us who are American citizens and over 18, one of these gifts is your vote—a say in the largest political, military and economic power on earth.
Many younger Christians take a dim view of politics, oftentimes based on personal exposure to the missteps of a previous generation’s foray into governmental activism. In many ways, this represents a welcome shift toward a more holistic mission toward culture as a whole.
But the importance of government in Scripture should make us cautious about letting the pendulum swing away entirely from political engagement. Earthly citizenship—and, by implication, its most basic actions of voting and paying taxes—are upheld by the New Testament. Three decades after Jesus’ ascension, Paul wrote to the Roman Christians that even the officials of the pagan imperial “powers that be” were, literally, “ministers of God” for upholding good and punishing evil.
No country is a substitute for the Kingdom of God. But in Kingdom-seekers’ patient waiting for God’s completed rule, we are exhorted to see the hand of God in the righteous administration of human government. This truth endures even into our current system of a government of, by and for the people. The gift of modern democracy comes with a responsibility: if you want to find “the powers that be,” ordained by God for the good of all, just look in the mirror. We’re it.
With this kind of mandate, simply opting out is not an option. So why does it feel so tempting to blow off voting—especially in a distinctly un-glamorous midterm election?
One significant problem is that our culture is decreasingly suited to the act of voting. Our cultural obsession with individual customization means we live more and more in environments tailored to our specific preferences—and we demonstrate less and less patience with situations that don’t reflect our wishes. Voting doesn’t make much sense in this climate. After all, being a voter is the opposite of being at the center of the action. But this is also why, in our current social moment, voting is a profoundly countercultural act of loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Many younger Christians feel disillusioned with both parties—and maybe the state of candidates and government in general. That’s why it’s important to remember that elections are about people—and don’t let anyone get away with saying it doesn’t matter who wins. That’s always a cop-out. It may be that no candidate feels completely satisfying to vote for, but your satisfaction isn’t the point of voting. The point is making an informed decision about the person you think will best serve your neighbors.
Elections are going to happen whether or not Christians are ready to vote. And the people who are elected will make decisions on issues large and small. The same is true for the various referenda and regulations put forward by our states and municipalities. The vast majority of these decisions won’t affect the vast majority of us directly. But each affects somebody, and there’s the rub: Whether you’re personally motivated by a given issue or candidate, do you love your neighbor enough to learn what’s at stake in your community’s life, and then pull the lever?
Of course, there’s zero chance one person’s vote will sway an election either way, and if the results don’t go your way, you still have to live with them. But voting in spite of the seeming insignificance of individual action may be the most subtly redemptive aspect of punching the ballot. We don’t vote because it’s a guaranteed way to make a difference. We vote because it’s an act of fidelity to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, to which God has called us.
So how should you vote? It requires work: voting is just the tip of the iceberg of informed citizenship. Politically neutral websites like VoteSmart.org and FactCheck.org are a good source of information for national races. And you’ll find good information on more local issues in the endorsements from your local papers (whether or not you agree with them) and trusted regional nonprofits.
We can also all benefit from the advice of former Sen. Sam Nunn when asked what kind of candidates we should look for: Someone who lets facts determine their opinions and puts country above party.
As John Stott has quipped, you don’t blame a house for being dark at night—you blame the people who don’t turn on the lights. When Christians can’t be bothered to bring the light of neighbor-love to the ballot box, we shouldn’t be surprised—or look for anyone else to blame—when those with less noble aims bend the machinery of power to their purposes. If we don’t show up to represent a God whose common grace serves the common good—sun and rain that nourish the wicked and righteous alike—who will?
Tyler Wigg-Stevenson is the founding director of the Two Futures Project (Twitter @2FP) and author of Brand Jesus: Christianity in a Consumerist Age (Seabury Books).