A couple weeks out from Election Day, the pundits and professional guessers are having a moment. Which issue will motivate voters? Which demographics will be most motivated? Which constituencies will abandon their party because they feel ignored?
It gets so that I know the questions and the answers offered before the discussion begins. It sounds as if our participation in our nation’s governance is fragile, contingent on everything from the weather to our mood to what TV ad enrages us the morning of the event. Christians should have a more stable motivation for voting than those governed by their feelings and tribal memberships.
Voting is a way that we can affect the implementation of neighborly love. One item on my ballot in Arkansas will be legalization of recreational marijuana. The well-funded ad campaign for this effort touts tax-funded cancer research, more money for law enforcement (which will be needed), and thousands of jobs. Maybe these positive things would occur, though they have been far less than promised in other boondoggles (gambling and lotteries come to mind), but my vote will have less to do with what’s promised to me than it will with the negative effects on my community—the individuals ruined by yet another state-sponsored bad habit.
And of course, there are positive things you might vote for, and leaders who you believe will stand for those positive things. You pay taxes and you pay the salaries of those who make decisions large and small. Voting is the best way to influence how that money is used.
Voting is a rare privilege in the history of the world. Factor in thousands of years of recorded history and then remove all the nations run by monarchs, tyrants, corrupt cabals, and tribal chaos. Now mark through every “democratic election” where the incumbent won by a nearly unanimous vote. What you have left shows grassroots ownership of government as a mostly modern phenomenon. And here we are, placed by God in this moment. If you have any sense that government, however limited, can benefit the common good, this is your shot. Many of us who came from another country came here for this. It’s a rare gift to be able to affirm or fire your leaders.
Voting can be, therefore, an act of optimism. Listen, I know that these guys will disappoint me in some way—they or I will be wrong on many occasions. I also believe that no leader except the Lord will “turn things around” in any lasting way. But our leaders have the power to occasionally help people who need it. They have the power to provide for public safety and justice. It is cynical and useless to say that your voice doesn’t matter because “they are all crooks.” It’s also not true. Steer between the delusion that a leader can return us to the good old days (which weren’t really), and the cynicism of believing that the game is so rigged that your participation doesn’t matter.
The vote of biblical Christians especially matters. You and I live in a culture in which the ascending worldview is as scientifically and spiritually false as that of our Druid ancestors. You know something else about the nature of truth and the significance of human life, something that can only be revealed by the one God who made everyone and everything. Our nation’s founding documents assume some Judeo-Christian truths that are necessary for our survival as a nation. So yes, it becomes very important for those who believe in the significance of marriage, of children, of gender, of life, and of the freedom of every person’s conscience, to speak into every public decision. You can consider your participation part of being salt—a healing, preservative influence—in an ailing and corrupt society.
I don’t believe this world is my eternal home—it is not all we have. I also don’t believe that we, who are limited and mortal, will turn this present darkness into the kingdom of God. But we do live here for now. We do know some important things because our lives are being transformed by God’s Spirit. And we are motivated by something far better than self-interest.
That’s why I’m going to vote for the best choices, as informed by my relationship with the God of everything, offered on my ballot this November.