18 November 2011

Open Thread: Do Christians Have A Moral Imperative to Vote?

The above question is very interesting to me since I am a Christian, but make a practice of not voting, for reasons that have been addressed before. However, in the most recent election cycle, I had a conservative friend, also a Christian, ask me who I voted for. I replied that I didn't vote, and was then treated to a mild harangue until I could explain that I wasn't eligible to vote in city elections since I don't technically live in the city.

Anyhow, my friend seemed to think that Christians had a moral imperative to vote, and I was wondering if any readers felt the same way, and why they felt thus. Please keep in mind that I'm using a rather strict definition of "moral imperative." By using this phrase, I mean that Christians will go to hell for failing to vote. If you believe thusly that Christians must vote as a matter of moral duty, please explain why in the comments below.

Alternatively, if you feel that Christians have a duty to vote, but not a morally binding one, I'm still interested in why you believe that. I'm very curious to understand why some Christians make such a big deal out of voting.


  1. This is an interesting question, Simon. Here is my opinion- I too am a Christian (and while I do vote) I often feel as I am voting that I am "rendering unto Ceasar...". Paradoxically, while I do support conservative causes I do not think any amount of voting is going to change society for the better. We live in a fallen world, and Jesus Himself told us that His Kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). As Christians, we are merely sojourners (1 Peter 2:11) in this world and as such it is my belief that Christians should live as quiet, decent citizens of whatever country they may find themselves in and looking toward that Heavenly house, not made with human hands.
    We can make a difference in this world (and lead others to Christ) by living as Jesus did and refraining from becoming embroiled too deeply in the transient troubles of this world.
    All of the above is simply my opinion; for all I know, I could be completely wrong. I hope this makes sense to you.

  2. Do Christians have a moral imperative to vote?

    In a word, no.

    I reason thusly wrt a Biblical imperative: in a similar vein as in render unto Caesar, voting is a temporal matter, not a spiritual one.

    Moreover, it strikes me as flinging mud on the image of God to dare to imply that Jesus supports "X" candidate.

    Is there any other imperative for a Christian to vote? From a Kantian perspective, I would also say no, as the political act of voting seeks to establish a world in which the principles one advances by voting would become a universal law.

    The problem here is that when one votes, it is not for a singular policy or a lone principle but for a representative who may or may not advance your principle(s)...or worse, advance some principles which should be universal laws while supporting still others which should not or cannot.

    Furthermore, voting as a political act seeks to influence the machinery of government, which is itself systematized and legalized coercion.

    So I would ask those who claim that Christians have a moral imperative to vote: "do they have Christian duty to put a gun against the head of another so that their vision is realized?"

  3. Due to some technical issues, Prof. Hale was unable to post here, so I'm reposting his comment here. You can find the whole post here. Professor Hale:

    Do Christians have a moral imperative to vote? Considering that for most of human history and in most of the Christian world, voting isn't possible, I would have to say "no".

    But even in the limited case of 21st century America, the answer is still "no". If you are completely satisfied in your Christian conscience that the patterns and direction of your government are acceptable, then there is no need to vote to change them. Further, being Christian does not mean you must be stupid or suicidal. If you reasonably conclude that your vote is irrelevant, then you are under no obligation to go through the motions. Further, if you rationally believe your vote will be penalized, you are free in Christianity to place the lives and safety of your family higher than the civil order of the larger society.

    For the Christian conservative who lives in a dominantly liberal district, his one conservative vote adds nothing. He is still going to get a liberal representative. Voting is futile and he has no obligation to participate in it. For the Christian liberal in a dominant liberal area, they are prayerfully thanking God for the election of their favored candidate and their one additional vote adds nothing. Thus, using their time more effectively supporting their family, supporting charitable works or even praying is more fruitful from a Christian POV than voting.

    It is only in the rare case where the difference between the candidates is starkly drawn Good vs Evil and your one vote might make the difference in a close margin where you can possibly make the claim that there is a Christian moral obligation to participate.

    But if you make the argument that you have a moral obligation to vote, then you also have the same moral obligation to support your favored candidate to the best of your ability, not limited to sacrificially giving them all of your wealth and extra time. A moral imperative is not limited to just doing those things that are easy.

  4. Christians often, IMO, have an obligation to NOT vote for a candidate, but never, in my experience, have an obligation to vote FOR a candidate. Reasonable Christians can and have disagreed sharply about the way an economy ought (or ought not) to be organized and regulated and on the shape and scale of governance in general. Because there's no clear answer Biblically, or from Christian tradition, it's silly and inappropriate to drag the name of the Almighty into it. However there are issues wherein a serious Christian can NOT, IMO (although the Catholic church, ironically, since I'm a Protestant, agrees officially with me) vote for a candidate that supports them. These are the issues where Scripture is clear and Christians of all stripes throughout history (up to the 60s, anyway) are pretty unanimous against them.

  5. Thanks everyone for your comments. I'm kind of surprised no one said we have a moral obligation to vote, since a good deal of my politically-minded friends would argue that we do. Of course, my real life experience is probably highly self-selective.

    @dave- I'm of the opinion that Christians who want to change society should do so by preaching, not voting.

    @EW- I like your observation that the main difference between politics and theft is of degree, not kind.

    @Jehu- I think you're correct in your assertion that voting has more of a negative imperative than a positive one.

  6. I have contemplated the same question and have sought Biblical direction. I am convicted of two verses, Dan. 4:17, and 2 Tim. 2:2-4. Neither encourages me that God needs or wants my voice. The meaning of Laodecia being the church of this age speaks to me that the church is too busy speaking and not listening. We are not progressing with democracy we are devolving. If I had a choice between voting for Hitler or Stalin, is it my Christian duty to vote and bring validation to demonic leadership? I believe not. This is my liberty of faith according to Romans 14.

  7. "If I had a choice between voting for Hitler or Stalin, is it my Christian duty to vote and bring validation to demonic leadership?"

    I've heard some (nominal) Christians argue that it's always better to pick the lesser of two evils when confronted. However, one is not forced to vote. By the same token, the lesser of two evils is still evil.