Though millions of Americans will go to the polls today to vote, midterm elections generally draw only 30 percent of eligible voters to the polls. (Presidential races draw around 50 percent.) These numbers put the U.S. in 139th place among 194 nations in a ranking of voter turnouts. Numerous reasons are offered for this low number. One may be the partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts that mean most House seats are “safe.” Political scientist Michael McDonald says “Just as sports fans tend to turn off the game when it’s a blowout voters who already know the results of their local races have little reason to tune in. They believe their votes don’t count, and basically their right.”

Numerous Christians have argued, for some years now, that it is a sin to not vote in elections. I seriously doubt the logic of this conclusion. On what specific ethical basis do you argue this case? Surely not Romans 13:1-8, which is the most extensive biblical teaching we have on a Christian’s duty to their governing authorities. I suppose you can make a case for responsible citizenship requiring people to vote but then some people are not adequately informed to vote. I actually include myself in this observation. For example, in Illinois I am asked to vote for judges. I almost never know know if these judges are competent at all. In the past I have simply voted to “retain” the names listed on the ballot unless I knew otherwise. I refuse to do that now since I realize I know nothing about the person or their service. (Yes, there is the rare case where a very bad judge can be removed because word gets out!) I would suggest that you not vote for a person, or proposition, that you know nothing about or on an issue you do not understand. I agree that an uninformed democracy is not generally a healthy democracy. But an electorate that is ignorant of the issues, and/or the candidates, is not obligated to vote just because it is perceived as a Christian duty by some.

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  1. Gene Redlin November 7, 2006 at 7:29 am

    You are as good a Luther Scholar as am I. If you are looking for the apostle Paul to give you chapter and verse instruction on if voting is a requirement you aren’t going to find it.
    But Luther talked a great deal in his writing about the various “Beruf” we carry . Family, Church, Vocation and Community.
    I won’t do the whole teaching buy you have written on his nessesity to know who we work for. God according to Luther wears a mask to accomplish his will on the earth. YOU, ME, the guy who bags our groceries.
    He has no plan B.
    If we don’t act according to the call of God on our life we fail to fulfil the call of God in our community. If we know to do right and don’t do it, is it a sin? I think yes.
    So, when we vote, however we vote, we are part of the hand of God putting one up and taking one down.
    Let’s fulfil our beruf in our community and vote.
    Read more Luther.
    Dr. Gene Veith did a great series on this years ago.

  2. Steve Scott November 7, 2006 at 2:17 pm

    As a commenter on my blog noted, telling Christians that we have a duty to vote and that it’s a sin if we don’t is a guilt trip that he won’t be part of. I never thought of it that way, but I think he’s right. It’s a matter of authority. When Jesus was approached by the man who asked Him to make his brother divide the family inheritance with him, He replied, “Who appointed me judge over you?” Even thought He pointed to the man’s greed as a stumbling block, and even though He was Judge of the universe, he realized His humility in human terms and refused to make a judgement… even the right judgement. Jesus knew he had no earthly authority in the matter.
    In like manner, do I have the authority to tax oil companies, etc? Not taxing them in the first place would be the right thing to do, but is taking authority over them, even if I say no, always right? Maybe there are Christians out there whose consciences won’t allow them to exercise authority over others, even it they “do the right thing” with that vote.
    Unlike most Christians I know, I reject the [false] idea that Romans 13 instructs us to obey civil government. Instead, it tells us only to submit to godly decisions made by godly judges and only if their decisions are righteous. My paycheck is a private matter between me and my employer, and I strongly resent some yahoo 3000 miles away thinking he as a vote in deciding what (or even if) the state can do with it. If a Christian refuses to participate in unrighteousness, how can that be labeled as unrighteousness? Our seminaries and theologians have sold us a mighty good looking snake oil.

  3. Dave Moorhead November 8, 2006 at 8:46 am

    I beg your pardon and your patience, but if Romans 13 only calls us to follow “godly” judges who make “righteous” decisions, then who decides which judges are godly and which decisions are righteous. I’m sorry, but I must respectfully disagree with your hermeneutic here. Paul echoes Jesus’ “render unto Caesar” statement here and the context requires (in my humble opinion) an interpretation calling Christians to obey the governing authorities unles they contradict the law of God. Your interpretation was used by Cromwell 350 years ago as he decided who made righteous decisions and who didn’t.
    At the same time, I agree with your conclusion, that voting is a matter of personal conscience and cannot be construed to be a matter of either Christian duty or national law.

  4. John Armstrong November 8, 2006 at 9:53 am

    John Roth, an Anabaptist, writes: “Voting, after all, is not just a ‘right.’ It is also a ‘rite’—a ritual of identity and loyalty binding the individual to the nation. Abstaining from presidential elections could signal to our children and to the global church that our first loyalty is to the worldwide fellowhsip of Christian believers, not to the nation-state.”
    I do not agree with Roth’s conclusion but I deeply respect it. Are Chuck Colson, James Dobson and Richard Land, all of whom argued that it was a “sin” to note vote yesterday, prepared to say that Anabaptist Christians like John Roth are sinning by an argument of conscience such as that cited above? Ted Olsen adds, “A Christian journalist friend of mine refuses to vote because he wants to ‘avoid the appearance of evil’ and wants to ‘avoid taking sides’ with the candidates and political parties he covers. Is this motive and action sinful?”
    Ted Olsen rightly adds, “The ‘civic duty’ argument seems to fall apart since the U. S. government has not made voting a civic duty.” The government, as in Australia, has not made it mandatory, nor should it in my view.
    It is interesting that we had one U.S. state that considered a $1 million lotto for all who voted. Show up, vote no matter what you know or understand about the candidates or issues, and then you get your shot at a million bucks. Now there’s a way to get the old heart-pumping for an an election.
    Look folks, our laws allow us the freedom to vote, or not to vote. If you deny this distinction you have all kinds of problems. I simply think the passion of some fine Christians got them to make claims for “Christian duty” that are wrong.

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