Is Voting a Christian ‘Duty’?
I just returned not too long ago from our local polling place, where I exercised my right and privilege as a US citizen to vote. I am thankful to live in a country where I can exercise this right, and where I have a voice in civil affairs by means of my vote. But here is a question for the thoughtful Christian to consider: If I had chosen to stay home instead of voting, would I have been guilty of neglecting the responsibilities of Christian citizenship, perhaps even guilty of sinning against my God?
As the reader is probably aware, this has been a tremendously volatile and intense election season. Emotions have run high on both sides of the political spectrum. Shrill predictions of doom and gloom for our nation have been put forward by both sides if their candidate does not get elected. It seems to me that many Christians, whether on the left or the right or somewhere in between, have gotten caught up in the shrillness and the hype, and I suspect that numerous Christian pastors, celebrities and leaders can be found pressing upon their flocks the “duty” of voting. For example, on a local radio station I have been hearing ads recently featuring a well-known evangelical leader urging Christians to vote for a certain candidate, and urging them to do so by appealing (mistakenly, I believe) to our Lord’s statement that his disciples should render unto Caesar that which is Caesars. The emotional thrust of the ad is that Christians have a duty to vote, and by implication a duty to vote for this leader’s preferred candidate.
On this Election Day let me make what some Christians might regard as a controversial statement: Christians do not have a duty to vote.
Let not the reader misunderstand. Personally I believe that it is a good idea for informed Christians to vote, and for practical reasons I would urge thoughtful, well-informed Christians to seriously consider voting as an important way to exercise their Christian citizenship.
However, the Christian conscience is bound by the Word of God alone. The Bible alone lays out our Christian duty, and quite frankly the Bible nowhere commands Christians to vote.
Now, the Bible does command a number of duties when it comes to a believer’s relationship to the civil authorities. For example, the Bible commands the church to pray for our leaders in civil government (First Timothy 2:1-2). Prayer for our civil leaders is part and parcel of our duty and is a matter of Christian obedience.
Likewise, the Bible commands Christians to submit to, obey, honor and fear the civil authorities and the laws that they enact (Romans 13:1-5; First Peter 2:13-17). Scripture nowhere condones anarchy and lawlessness in Christ’s disciples, who are duty bound to obey the civil authorities unless those authorities seek to require that which God’s Law forbids (see, for example, Acts 4:19-20 and Daniel 6:6-10).
Futhermore, Scripture commands believers to pay their taxes as required by the civil authorities (Romans 13:6-7). Christians who cheat on their taxes or willfully and knowingly neglect to report taxable income on their tax returns are sinning against a clear command of God and neglecting to do their Christian duty in connection to the civil authorities.
But, again, nowhere do the Scriptures command Christians to vote. Voting may be a good idea, but it is not a requirement of God’s Word. Christian preachers and other believers who seek to pressure their fellow believers to vote out of a sense of duty and obedience to the Word of God are actually adding to the Word of God (something that Scripture solemnly warns us against – see, for example, Deuteronomy 4:2 and Revelation 9:18-19), and seeking to bind the Christian conscience of their brothers and sisters in Christ where God’s Word has left the conscience free.
Speaking for myself, while I hope every informed Christian would give serious consideration to exercising their right and privilege to vote, I will not tell you that it is your duty to vote, for I have no Divine warrant from Scripture to bind your conscience to vote. In fact, let me say that there are circumstances where it might actually be a good idea for certain citizens to choose not to exercise their legal right to vote. For example, if you are uninformed about the candidates and the issues, and if you are deeply ignorant of even basic civics, the most patriotic thing to do in your case might be to sit out this election. There is no shame in admitting ignorance and choosing not to cast an ignorant vote. Why not consider sitting out this election and determine to educate and inform yourself so you will be better equipped to vote in the next election? In my opinion that would be a respectable, perhaps even a patriotic, thing to do. But, again, I’m not going to tell you what to do, nor am I going to tell you that in your case it is your duty not to vote, just as I would not tell an informed Christian that he or she has a duty to vote, for I will not Lord it over your conscience.
God’s Word alone defines what is our duty, and it makes our duties toward the civil authorities pretty clear. Yes, let us seek to be responsible, law-abiding and informed citizens. But let us also be careful that we are not guilty of seeking to bind the conscience of fellow believers. God alone is Lord of the conscience, and when it comes to the question of voting God’s Word leaves the Christian conscience free to decide whether or not to vote. Let us not seek to bind that which God has left free.