Voting Your Conscience
None of the Above: When There is No Candidate You Want to Support
“What do you do when you cannot support either candidate in an election?”
This question came after a lecture I gave on the history of freedom of religion in Europe and the United States. It’s a question I’ve been asked many times in recent months. Of course, I’m sure the questioner was thinking of the presidential election, but his question also applies to other political races where we might be tempted to simply sit out the election and say, “No thanks. None of the above.”
This is not only a problem for the United States. Recently I was with a pastor from one of the eastern European countries where they have elections every few years and the incumbent always wins with a 95% landslide. His country had just had another mock election and he says, “I’m glad our incumbent won because he has already stolen enough for himself; if the opposition candidate would have won, he would have begun the stealing process all over again for himself and his cronies.” The problem these people faced came down to this: which crook do we vote for?
Here in the US, our challenge is not quite as bleak. Thankfully, our Founding Fathers had the foresight to organize a government with checks and balances so that no one person can legally become a dictator, and corruption at the highest levels can be investigated. So theoretically, no matter who wins, we still have some controls to keep us from totalitarianism and systemic corruption (we humbly pray that this is so).
I do not have to emphasize that this has been a chaotic political year. As I write, Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton are the presumptive nominees for president in their respective political parties. Some of us are dismayed by this choice; it is this state of affairs that prompted the question: should we just sit out this election and thereby vote, “None of the above”?
Here is my answer: I firmly believe we should vote, no matter how disappointing the choices might be. To bow out of the political process because we don’t like either candidate is to shirk our God-given duty as citizens, and to stand aside when we must continue to make our impact in the political process.
In studying the history of freedom of religion in Europe, I was surprised at how little freedom Europe had for most of its history. Europe did not have freedom of religion until after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Whether the pagans were in charge (as in the Roman Empire) or whether the so-called Christians were in charge after the time of Constantine (312-337), the true Christians still did not have freedom of conscience. Luther, standing as he did against 1,000 years of religious oppression, planted the seeds of freedom which eventually bore fruit. Religious freedom eventually brought with it political freedom.
The bottom line: freedom is precious and we ought to take advantage of every opportunity we have to be involved in the political process. To have a government responsive to the people is a phenomenon we can’t take for granted. Such freedom was won not just by speeches but by the shedding of blood.
About 12 years ago, I changed my citizenship from Canada to the United States. I, for one, plan to vote this fall even if it is with deep soul-searching and misgivings. Let every Christian in America vote this fall, and perhaps in the next political cycle God will give us more acceptable candidates.
VOTING YOUR CONSCIENCE
I believe the evangelical church has finally been forced to conclude that we cannot depend upon politics to turn this country around, to bring us back to biblical principles, and to reverse the anti-Christian bigotry we see developing in our courts, the media, and the wider culture. If ever there was a time for the Church to stand tall as the Church, it is today, with or without support from our political leaders. Only the Church, armed with the Gospel, is able to bring lasting change in the hearts and lives of people.
Why I Won’t Endorse
As you know, I refuse to endorse political candidates because (1) no one candidate is right on all the issues or, for that matter, wrong on all the issues, and (2) the Gospel should never be tied to a politician or a political party. We should never give the impression that one party or another is the “Christian party.” On the other hand, sometimes a pastor should oppose a politician (as pastors should have done in Nazi Germany).
Christians should be actively involved in politics but the Church must always maintain its independence. We must be able to say to Democrats, Republicans, and Independents—and everyone in between—that unless you believe in Jesus, you will be eternally separated from God.
I agree with Lyndon Johnson who said in his inaugural address, “Under this covenant of justice we have become a nation—prosperous, great, and mighty. And we have kept our freedom. But we have no promise from God that our greatness will endure. We have been allowed by Him to seek greatness with the sweat of our hands and the strength of our spirit…If we fail now, we shall have forgotten in abundance what we learned in hardship: that democracy rests on faith, that freedom asks more than it gives, and that the judgment of God is harshest on those who are most favored.”
Reread that last sentence, the judgment of God is harshest on those who are most favored. We must pray not only that our candidates believe in God, but that their belief means something to them and to their policies. At a minimum they ought to be convinced our laws are to be derived from God both through the writings of Scripture and natural law.
Our Constitution is not a perfect document, but it is perhaps one of the best political documents written. And as all of us know, the Declaration of Independence reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Ask God for Wisdom
Because candidates often hedge their convictions (or lack of them) for political reasons, your choice may be very difficult. But ask God for wisdom as you contemplate the importance of these issues.
Whether our preferred candidate wins or loses, we have a God-given responsibility to pray for our leaders and support them in whatever way we can. Paul, writing to the Romans when Nero was on the throne, said, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1 ESV).
Be assured I will vote with prayer, seeking wisdom from God. And I hope you will vote with the same values in mind.