As the 2016 election looms large this week, polls suggest that both candidates are considered two of the most unfavorable in history, even while simultaneously activating enormously enthusiastic constituencies.
It’s a real political fight, and the differences between the two are stark. Because of this some voters are threatening to stay home and not cast a vote at all, or even write in another candidate. I’m among those who believe that writing in a candidate is often—effectively—voting for the least desirable of the two main party options, but I have friends who disagree with me.
However, refusing to vote altogether is a serious mistake. I do not believe that’s an option for a Christian.
While the Bible does not explicitly mention voting (since our modern concept of the popular vote was practically unheard of when the Bible was written), it does stress our responsibility to seek the good of the government because governments have been instituted by God (Romans 13). Jeremiah challenged God’s people to seek the welfare of the city even though it was pagan (Jeremiah 29). Both Paul and Peter urged the early Christians to pray for and honor those in authority (1 Timothy 2; 1 Peter 2). Jesus himself, when questioned on whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Rome, said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matthew 22). These verses reveal a great deal about God’s high regard for governmental authority, and they underscore how grateful we should be for the role we get to play in our own political process.
Casting a vote might seem trivial or even mundane, but it is an opportunity to speak into our country’s future. We cannot in clear conscience keep quiet on issues as important as the sanctity of life, religious liberty and the kind of judges the next president will appoint on the Supreme Court. Whatever size, scope or sphere of influence we have been granted, we should use it to protect our constitution, preserve truth and guard righteousness.
These ideals are also deeply rooted in the American story.
From the revolutionaries’ chant, “No taxation without representation,” to Susan B. Anthony’s odyssey for women’s suffrage and the Civil Rights Movement, the right for every American citizen to vote has been fought for on all fronts. As Christians and as Americans we cannot take this lightly, especially when we look around the world and see just how rare this privilege truly is.
This year, the Economist Intelligence Unit released its “Democracy Index 2015,” revealing that only 20 countries in the world—or roughly 9 percent of the world’s population—qualify as “full democracies.” The remaining countries are either “flawed democracies,” “hybrid regimes,” or “authoritarian regimes.” Eritrea, as one example, hasn’t held an election in more than two decades.
The sad truth is that American Christians have a poor record when it comes to voting. In the 2012 election, 25 million evangelicals chose not to vote. The election was decided by less than 5 million votes.
Anecdotally, the most common excuse given to me by those who chose not to vote in previous elections is that they did not like the candidates. The truth is that the candidates will never measure up to our expectations, but this doesn’t mean staying home is the answer. We can still use our vote to defend the biblical values we believe in. This idea is as old as our democracy.
In an essay published in the Boston Gazette in August 1763, John Adams, who would later become our nation’s second president, explained how every American ought to approach an election:
“It becomes necessary to every subject then, to be in some degree a statesman, and to examine and judge for himself of the tendency of political principles and measures … let us believe no man to be infallible or impeccable in government, any more than in religion.”
Platforms and policies outweigh parties, personalities and politicians. It is much more important a candidate endorses the issues that are important to us, than for us to endorse them. I always vote for the sanctity of human life, religious liberty, the biblical definition of marriage and for those who promise to preserve and protect our constitution through their Supreme Court appointments.
America does not need to be redefined historically, but rediscovered.
For American Christians, this year’s election—perhaps, more than any other in my lifetime—demands our thinking, our prayers and especially our action.
Whatever we do this week, we must not stay at home. When Nov. 9 comes and the election is over, may it be declared that this was the year the greatest number of Christians voted in American history.
Let’s make this a November to remember.
Ronnie Floyd is senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention and founder of the Cross Church School of Ministry. This column first appeared on his blog at ronniefloyd.com.