The case for not voting

I have a friend, a brother in Christ, who appears from his Facebook posts to be very much in favor of Hillary Clinton for president. I find that position appalling, astonishing, and completely irreconcilable with the life of a Christian. I thought about messaging him and asking him to explain it (that is to say, questioning his commitment to Jesus), but I knew what he would likely say — “What, so Donald Trump is any better?” And as far as non-answers go, I have to say that one is pretty good.

I won’t go into detail here about why I object so strongly to these sorry candidates. If you have been paying attention at all, you already know. Either you care or you don’t. I’m not likely to change you either way.

“The lesser of two evils” is a phrase I’ve heard thrown around a lot in recent months. I mean, A LOT. The theory is — and I know, because I have subscribed to it for my entire adult life, and voted that way for the majority of it — politicians are slimy pretty much by their nature, few if any of them are worthy of babysitting your children or watching your luggage, and we’re pretty much forced most election cycles to make the most of a bad situation.

But we’re not. This is America. We’re not “forced” to do much of anything. And that includes voting — as 40-50 percent of the nation will amply demonstrate in November.

I’ve always accepted the position that voting is somehow a Christian duty, besides being an American duty. We owe it to the country to do our part to put good people (or at least, again, somewhat less grotesque people) in office so as to promote noble causes such as the protection of life (including unborn life), the preservation of our rights (particularly those relating to our service to God), and our ability to provide for our families in the manner to which we would like to become accustomed. Perhaps not in that order, if we were to be honest.

Of course, the Bible says nothing about voting. “Rendering unto Caesar” (Matthew 22:21) in a Bible context is basically limited to paying your assigned taxes (not protesting or dodging them) and obeying the law (not engaging in “civil disobedience”). We submit to government, including one as tyrannical and corrupt as Rome’s (1 Peter 2:13), as an expression of our faith in the King of kings. So the quicker we quit deluding ourselves in this matter, the quicker we can wrap our mind around the truth. And the truth is, Christians vote for pretty much the same reasons others vote: to make life here on this earth a little more comfortable. That’s a fine goal in and of itself, to be sure. It’s just not a spiritual goal. In fact, comfort in this life is said, time and time again, to be an impediment to faith more than a boost (Amos 6:1, Matthew 6:19-21, Matthew 19:23-24, 1 John 2:15, etc.).

If I thought one vote would help secure my rights and the opposite vote would help erode them, I would vote accordingly. How could I not? But I see no evidence that either Mr. Trump or Ms. Clinton have any pressing interest in preserving the First Amendment — and ample evidence to the contrary. And be honest, those of you who support one or the other: your rights are not why you picked one over the other.

“No, abortion is why I’m supporting Trump,” many are saying these days. Mr. Trump claims to be pro-life (today), and Ms. Clinton is pro-choice. Particularly with Supreme Court nominations looming, surely that’s enough to tip the scales his way.

Not for me. In the first place, Mr. Trump has spent most of his life to the left of Ms. Clinton on this issue. He only converted to pro-life when he decided to run for president — much like Ms. Clinton abandoned the “safe, legal and rare” rhetoric to support late-term abortions on demand only when she decided to run. I’m not inclined to think either of them has any core beliefs on the issue, or on any issue.

Besides, Mr. Trump is a self-professed deal-maker. He won’t nominate anyone who can’t get through Congress. And all of this assumes a “conservative” appointee will vote the way we tell him to — er, will support conservative values. But the Court has been packed with “conservative” nominees for three decades. John Roberts was a George W. Bush appointee. David Souter was a George H.W. Bush appointee. For crying out loud, Anthony Kennedy was sent up by Ronald Reagan himself. Anti-abortion activists had all the chances in the world to provide a political solution to this national atrocity. They failed. We failed. Obviously we should keep praying for the lives of our children, and I cannot believe an atrocity this heinous, barbaric and self-destructive will endure indefinitely. But the time for obsessing over a political abortion solution in the short term clearly has passed.

If all this makes it sound like I am ready to write off the entire political process, you are not far wrong. I am not quite there yet; I may yet vote Trump, or (more likely) go third party or write in a name. But the circumstances of the last couple of years has caused me to massively rethink my role as a Christian in the democratic process. I have finally come to grips with a fundamental truth — a truth I have been resisting for years, but a truth nevertheless. And since you’ve stuck with me this far, you might as well hear it:

My vote doesn’t make a difference.

It doesn’t. Do the math. We will have close to 200 million voters in America this presidential election. I am legally limited to casting one vote. Even if, somehow, I could convince 5,000 of my neighbors (and I live in a swing state now) to leave Candidate X and join me in voting for Candidate Y, it would still be statistically insignificant. And yes, I know Florida went for Bush by 536 votes in 2000 and swung the election his way. That was an anomaly, and you all know it. Even so, if I had lived in Florida at the time, my vote still would have been insignificant.

This is where you say, “But Hal, what if everyone felt that way?” Everyone doesn’t. That’s why we’re having this imaginary argument. But even so, if somehow I were to keep hordes of people away from the polls, the results would be unchanged. In a population as large as Florida’s, the statistically valid sample size would be less than five percent. The people who stayed home would have voted like the people who didn’t stay home. If and when I vote for president again, it won’t be to “make sure” the right person gets elected. That is a preposterous and statistically insane thing to do.

I cannot explain how much better I felt after I accepted this. All this time I thought, against all rationality, that it was my job to elect a president (or whatever). But it’s not. It’s my job to be a Christian. God is the One who “is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows [leadership] on whom He wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Daniel 4:17). I can just relax and do my job, trusting in Him to do His.

So why vote then? Glad you asked.

My vote tells me who I am. It also tells those with whom I share my vote, naturally. But the main message is for me. I am telling myself who I wish were running the nation for the next four years. It tells me what I am willing to tolerate, and what I am not. By this simple standard — that I am freed up to follow without pangs of conscience, by the way, when I appreciate the previous point — I repent of at least one presidential ballot I’ve cast in previous years. I am not going to add to that list.

Remember, the nature of our political process demands we vote for a candidate, not against one. We can protest all we like to the contrary, but “Not Clinton” and “Not Trump” are not on the ballet. Check me on that; I feel you will find that I am right in 50 states, plus Puerto Rico and territories.

This is not a plea for a perfect candidate. I am not holding out hope for a perfect candidate any more than I am for a perfect film, dinner or vacation spot. But there are lines I will not cross. You may draw them in different places, but you should draw them. Jesus calls us out of the world by His gospel to His glory (2 Thessalonians 2:14). I cannot allow anything to keep that process from happening, including “exercising my Constitutional right” (as though the Constitution were the determining factor in my value as a creature of the Creator).

Compromise has its limits. I do not want to explain to my grandchildren years from now that I added fuel to the fire that burned our nation to the ground on the basis of “better than the alternative.” I intend to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. And for the life of me, I cannot find any part of the solution on the ballot this year.

So please, my Christian brethren, back off a bit about how it is my civic, moral and spiritual duty to vote for this person or write in this other person. Realize how polarizing your position is. Appreciate that we are drawing battle lines in the church of Jesus Christ over support for political candidates — none of which, in my personal opinion, could distinguish between Jesus Christ and a ham sandwich.

Our warfare is against the devil (Ephesians 6:12). Fight him how you will. But don’t think voting for the least devilish candidate is going to help.