Is It Your Christian Duty to Vote?

by Mary E. Stephens
Oct. 2016; updated Sept. 2020

Micah 6:8 He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good;
and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly,
and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

This was an article that I wasn't sure I wanted to write this year (2016). There has been so much said by so many that I hesitated to add my thoughts as it seemed like there was too much already. The thing that made me reconsider is all the drama I've seen and heard about how it is supposedly the American Christians' duty before God to vote. The misuse of scripture in some instances has bothered me. Added to this is the overwhelming pressure that various Christian people and groups are putting on others to try to force them to vote for the person they deem to be "the right one." In the hopes of helping a few people get a little peace about this, I decided to venture forth into a topic that is generally odious to me. So, here we go.

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American Christians have been told for years that it is their "duty to vote." The preachers, pastors, and evangelists have stomped up and down this country in and out of election years, telling people that if they don't vote for  the "right" candidate (meaning the one of that man's choice) or for a specific issue then it will be their fault when this country goes to the devil. Prohibition was passed largely based on this type of pulpit politics, and after some years and total failure, it was repealed and, strangely enough, we are not all drunkards now. (Yeah, the nation is a mess, but you can't honestly blame all of this on alcohol.)

The false "responsibility" to "influence America for God" has been shouted long and loud from the pulpits in the U.S.A., until a lot of Christians can no longer believe anything else. Voting is our "duty" to our nation, our pastor, and God (often in that order). Because of this, the suggestion of another option - in this case, not voting at all - is heresy or treason to some and gross irresponsibility to others.

But, if it is our duty before God to vote in government elections, why didn't He clearly say so in New Testament teaching? Where is the command? We are told to do and not do a lot of things, but the command to vote is absent, and voting certainly existed in the Roman Empire at that time.

Does the Bible Say That?

The idea has been presented by some that we owe our vote to the government because Romans 13:1 says that "...the powers that be are ordained of God." This may be combined with misinterpreting Romans 13:7, Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Consequently, they see voting as a duty, both to God and country. The problem is that too often their position is "proven" by taking verses out of context or forcing scripture to agree with their presupposition. "I believe it is our duty to vote so I looked in the Bible and found this verse that proves I'm right, blah, blah, blah." This is something we all need to be careful not to do in relation to our own pet ideas, by the way.

One blogger wrote,

"Not only is voting the right thing to do, it is also what Jesus advises. In Matthew 22:21, despite the brutal and pagan ways of the Roman Empire, Jesus encouraged his followers to do everything they could to support their government." 

The author conveniently left out the previous verses in this passage that explain that this conversation was about taxes - tribute money - not "supporting your government" through voting. Jesus was not talking about voting, and He was not telling His disciples to do "everything they could" to support the Roman Empire. The very idea of that is repulsive and odious beyond polite description. If you know anything about the Roman Empire and the depths to which they sank, you can see this. I can't discuss it further because it makes me so angry that a follower of Jesus Christ would boldly put such words into His mouth and would twist what He did say so dreadfully.

Let's look at what He did say instead.

Matthew 22:17-21 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.

In the U.S. "Caesar," or the government, doesn't "own" your vote.  Rendering to Caesar what is Caesar's was about tax money, money that was minted by the authority of the government. God doesn't need money and He operates outside of its confines. Caesar, or the government, cannot do that.

There are places in the world where the government does believe they own the vote of all citizens. One of the disturbing aspects of the "American Christian duty to vote" is that it tends to ignore all the believers in other countries who don't live under our specific system and therefore it comes across as very arrogant at times. What about those who were in Communist countries in the past? Were they obligated to "vote their conscience" for the candidate they were offered? Were they even allowed to vote? What about countries where there is only one candidate and he is an exceedingly evil man? If they have a choice not to vote at all, wouldn't it be better not to?

In some situations Christians must register as conscientious objectors if they don't want to vote, but because of the socialist and other anti-Christ attitudes of their country, they feel compelled to do this in order to have a clear conscience before God. The idea that they could rescue their country by "voting their conscience" when there is no one they can vote for with a clear conscience is preposterous.  

If this standard does not apply equally across all countries where Christians live (and it doesn't), then why is it our duty to "rescue America" as if it were the last righteous nation on earth? In fact, it is painfully clear that this nation is not righteous and is ripe for the just judgment of God.

Romans 13:1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

Romans 13:1-7 is sometimes referred to in arguing that Christians have a "duty" to vote. This is rather awkward since voting is not mentioned in the passage. Yet, it would have been a good place to mention voting if it was a "Christian duty." We know that there were believers in the household of Caesar, Philippians 4:22 All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar's household. Doubtless some of those in the church at Rome were Roman citizens and possibly some of them had the right to vote (not all Roman citizens did). If they had the right to vote, you would think that the Apostle Paul would mention that duty in this passage if it was something the Holy Spirit wanted them (and us) to do.

Romans 13:7 is the closest we can get to needing to vote, but it still isn't a clear statement that we are to participate in the election of government leaders if we have that right. Romans 13:7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Please notice that in the context the the dues that we are to render relate to money - tribute and custom - and respect - fear and honor. Our vote, or hand of approval, is not due to the government, but we must pay the taxes and fees and fines that we owe, and we must respect those in positions of governance.

By the way, did you know that regardless of your agenda or the agenda of the "Christian right," God will make sure that the person He wants in office gets elected? All the angst and drama are really pointless in the big picture, because the final decision is up to the Lord. If "the wrong person" is elected then it was because God wanted it that way. He doesn't need me to vote against my conscience to fix a mess over which He has full control.

In fact, maybe the nation deserves the person they get. Maybe He has a plan bigger than our little, puny view of this country. Maybe? No, in very fact He does have a bigger plan, and regardless of how it looks from down here in the middle of it, it will work together for our good (Rom. 8:28). Isaiah 55:8-9 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Colossians 1:16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:

Another passage that might be referred to as a reason to vote is 1 Timothy 2:1-4: I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

While praying and giving thanks for our leaders is a Christian duty to God, notice that voting was not mentioned here. If it was a "Christian duty" something would have been said somewhere to that effect, and this is another prime passage for that. But, God didn't say it. 

On the other hand, we are told to pray for those in authority so that we can live a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. It doesn't say that we are to vote to make that happen. It doesn't say that it is our job to actively make that happen through politics, protests, or even war. It says prayer, intercession, and supplication are our means of asking God to grant us this desirable situation. And, the ultimate reason is because it is God's will for all men to be saved, and come to a knowledge of the truth! It is not about making our nation a "righteous nation" or "great again," it is about saving individuals.  Ultimately, you will never have a righteous nation through voting because voting does not change the heart of man.  Only salvation through Jesus Christ and knowledge of the truth will do that. 

John 17:17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.
John 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

Which brings us to our next point.

What on Earth Should We Be Doing?

Jeremiah and Elijah both lived during troubled times when their nation was being judged. God did not blame them for not trying harder. He did not blame them for the people not listening. But, He did give them a message and send them to preach it.

We also have a message. In this church era we are told to preach the gospel - not political parties or platforms.

Mark 16:15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

We are to be good soldiers of Jesus Christ.

2 Timothy 2:3-4 Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.

2 Corinthians 10:3-4 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)

A good soldier does not entangle himself with the affairs of this life. If you think that politics are not an entanglement, you have missed something somewhere. Also, the weapons of our warfare are not carnal. A vote in a human election is carnal. It is not a God-given weapon for fighting the good fight of faith (1 Tim. 6:12). While it may be appropriate to avail yourself of such human rights in some situations, do not make the mistake of thinking you are winning a spiritual battle by casting your vote. We cannot win spiritual battles with carnal weapons. Human lives may be saved or made more comfortable, but you will find in the end that the spiritual issues at stake have been untouched. Souls will still be in bondage to sin and need a Savior.

And we are to be ambassadors for Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:18-20 And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.

A good ambassador does not get himself embroiled in the politics of the nation where he is sent. His job is to represent his own government, not to "fix" or overthrow the politics or leaders of the nation to which he was sent. As ambassadors of Jesus Christ, our job is to give the message of reconciliation towards God.

1 Corinthians 2:2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

We are not here to save the world or to save nations. We are here to point souls to the salvation that only Jesus Christ can give. He is our King, no matter who is in charge of the nation where we live. We respect the laws of the land where we reside, in as much as they do not command us to disobey the word of God. But our nation of residence is not our country. We are strangers and pilgrims on earth (1 Peter 2:11) and should be looking for a better country (Heb. 11:16).

Furthermore, the offence of the gospel is quite enough for us to take on. There is no cause to be taking up the offences of politics, which are many and varied. Revelation 1:9 I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. John was on Patmos for two things only. Political activities was not one of them. God grant that when we suffer persecution it will be for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Not because we were obnoxious and demanding about our favorite candidate, not because we so vigorously defended some fault-filled human, and not because we sided with someone who turned out to be a traitor and thief.

Politics are generally such a temporary thing for us to spend our time, money, efforts, and emotions on anyway. It is usually a foolish thing on which to waste our zeal. Did you ever stop to think about how much your voting will matter in eternity?

1 Corinthians 3:11-15 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

If all your voting and political activities go up in smoke at the judgment seat of Christ, then the less time you spend on it the better. Vote if you feel you need to, but don't waste too much time on it. 

This is a verse that I admit bothers me sometimes on different levels:  Isaiah 65:17 For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.

How very different our lives would be if we lived with this thought in mind. There is very little of this life that we can carry with us into that eternal future. Who you voted for in any given election is one of those things that you won't remember. It will not even cross your mind. So, why make such a big deal out of it? Why spend so much time trying to convince others to vote for the "right" candidate? Does it really matter in the economy of God? It's something to think and pray about.

1 John 2:16-17 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

In addition to that, all this drama, name-calling, intimidation, and wasting of time is a poor testimony to the unbelievers. I know it is very tempting to put in our two cents sometimes when we read certain things. But, when Christians are fighting like this among themselves and ripping and tearing at the unbelievers over their voting choices, how does that glorify the Lord Jesus Christ? How does that bring people to a knowledge of God's truth?

Philippians 4:5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.

Colossians 4:5-6 Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.

The Threats

Romans 14:12-13 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.

One of the very disturbing aspects of all the turmoil over voting among Christians is the threats and fault-finding. Some of the things that are said to those who choose not to vote, or to vote for an "independent" candidate, are unacceptable. While we do have a certain level of accountability to each other, ultimately, we give account of ourselves to God. We each answer to our own conscience before Him.

Let's look at a few of the accusations that are given.

"It will be your fault if _____________ gets elected." The idea behind this is that whatever bad things happen, they will somehow be the fault of those of us who didn't vote because if we had voted the "right" candidate would have gotten into office and this wouldn't have happened. Therefore, it's our fault. 

First of all, this argument can be equally applied by both parties in this country, so it seems rather ridiculous to me on that basis. According to one side if you don't vote for H. and D. gets in, then it's your fault. But, if you don't vote for D. and H. gets in, it would be equally your fault from the opposite perspective. That doesn't make good sense. Furthermore, if I refuse to participate because I don't see a candidate for whom I can vote with a clear conscience before God, then the fault goes to those who put up the candidates. Wait...doesn't that include those who demand I participate if voting? If our voices are as strong as they would like us to imagine, then where are the truly godly candidates worthy of our votes? But, then too, if God is in control and ordains the powers that be - and He does - then maybe it is His fault. Which brings us back to something that we all should have learned early in life and that is that fault finding usually leads to a mixed up mess and a lot of false accusations.

Ultimately, it is up to God who ordains the powers, as we saw in Romans 13. So, whatever bad happens is not our fault. It is allowed by God for a purpose. If we can't vote for either candidate with a clear conscience, then we can let God decide and accept His plan. He's going to have His way anyway, right?

"A vote for (a third or fourth party candidate) is a vote for the "wrong" candidate." This accusation is nothing but raw fear tactics to make voters think that if they vote for someone outside of the two main parties in the U.S. that they are really casting a vote in favor of whoever the "worst" candidate is.

Again, this accusation can be cast from both of the mainline parties equally well. Plus, as someone has aptly pointed out, if all the voters who don't vote did go vote for an independent they would probably be elected instead of the mainline ones. This isn't a good enough reason to vote for an independent if there isn't one you can vote for with a clear conscience, but it certainly is interesting to think about. Sometimes I wonder if a coalition government would help clear up some of this nonsense among the voters at least.

"If you don't vote, you are not a patriotic American." (Or whatever other country you may be in.) This accusation is more about guilt and ideology than any real concern. The implication is that you should be a good patriot.

As it turns out, we are not commanded anywhere in the teachings to the New Testament church to be patriots or support the nation in which we live. Thank God for that, because some of us live in places where to be patriotic would be sinful against the clear commands of scripture. In fact, we read this in Revelation 5:9-10, And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. We're redeemed out of out nations, not called to restore, fix, save, or be patriotic to an earthly nation. While we may be blessed to live in a specific nation, our allegiance is supposed to be God first and foremost in all things. National patriotism should never be at the top of our list of loyalties.

Sadly, in this day, patriotism has become a cheap way for scoundrels to gain support and allegiance. Pastors who are doing evil in secret or covering evil in their churches, men who abuse their wives and/or children, every sort of perverted and wicked person who wants a following - they all can get attention and support by spouting patriotic rhetoric and waving the flag. Yet, we are told that if we don't vote for some of these deceivers in the political realm that we are the ones who are unpatriotic.

"Oh, you're not voting for the Republican then you must be voting for the Democrat!" This comment is based upon the weird either/or vision with which many American voters are afflicted. The idea is that there are only two valid options, so if you aren't voting for this one then you must be voting for that one, all others need not apply. If you say you aren't voting for this person, they automatically assume you are voting for the other and may tell other people so, never bothering to ask if that is true or not.

The problem with this is simply that it isn't true. There are other candidates. Not voting for the R. does not equal voting for the D. or vice versa. And, then too, not voting is still a valid choice in the U.S.

Empty Advice

Then we have the empty advice. It is given as if it meant something, but in reality it generally is only meant as a way to coerce you into voting, and voting the way they think you should.

"Vote your conscience." But, they don't really mean that, so don't take it too seriously. It probably should be "Vote the conscience of the Christian community, your pastor, Franklin Graham, or other various and sundry." 

For many years this one has been primarily applied to the abortion issue. Abortion is a serious issue and there may be specific times when a vote may be a good idea, but it is an unjust measure to make it the one-and-only issue of importance when voting in national elections. Plus, there have been a number of candidates who were held up as the "pro-life" choice who turned out to not be so very "pro-life" after all. This fact is usually ignored when the advice is offered.

I personally find it odious that abortion is often the touchstone for "voting your conscience" but we hear little to nothing from the same people about sex trafficking, pedophilia, and other heinous crimes - thing equally valid for the basis of our vote. It's a sad fact that some of the very people who will bludgeon others about "voting against abortion" will cover up molestation and abuse in their own churches, thus proving that they themselves are gross hypocrites. They don't really love children's lives, they only love having a cause that makes them look more spiritual than others. Sad, sad, sad.

Some people try to make this mean that you should vote for the person who is "closest to the Bible" in their beliefs. In a culture where mouthing "Christian" phrases and saying "the right things" will get the support of Christendom at large, this is a pretty empty piece of advice. Honestly, the gullibility of many Christians is discouraging at times. When the "closest person to the Bible" is so very, very far from the righteousness of God, how can we be expected to vote on this basis? Some of us believe we cannot.

This time around (2016) we are told that we need to vote based on the needs of the Supreme Court and the future of the country. I won't elaborate on that, but if we still say that our conscience won't allow us to vote for either of the mainline candidates, or any candidate at all, we will still be maligned and slandered.

"Choose the lesser or two evils." This means, choose "our candidate" because he/she is less evil than the other. This is not complimentary and is a problematic admission in and of itself. Ultimately, you're still voting for evil.

Have you considered what you would say to the Lord Jesus when you stand before Him someday at the judgment of our works and He asks you why you voted for ____________?  What do you think He will say? Will He believe the rhetoric that it was "necessary" to "save America"? Do you really think that He will be impressed with your choice of the lesser, but still evil, candidate? We are talking about the sinless, holy Son of God who died to save us from evil. And, He was never limited by your voting or not voting for _____________. How will you explain that it was OK in this situation to ignore Psalm 1 and Romans 1 and give your vote - your word of commendation - to an evil man or woman?

Yes, I know all people are fallen and there are no perfect candidates. But, truthfully, if this nation had more fear of God, there would have been better choices in this election. Maybe God has a different plan for this country than to "save the Supreme Court" or whatever other reason people come up with to vote for the person they think is the lesser evil.

Don't choose any evil. If you are not forced to make a choice, just don't do it. Leave it with God. A popular saying these days is, "Let go and let God," but when the elections roll around many Christians prove that they don't know about either letting go or letting God.

Sometimes when it comes to voting it almost feels like some Christians have a seared conscience. They can't seem to get past the patriotic lie of "need" and "duty" no matter how evil the choices they are given. It is very frustrating when you feel like you can't reason with them or even talk with them about it. It's very frustrating and disappointing to be attacked and lied about by people who profess to love Christ when we are just trying to have a good conscience before God. It's frankly ungodly when Christians cut off friendships over this.

Romans 12:9-10 Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;

If you have to say, "But..." then you didn't really listen to those verses. Read it again.

By Our Love

John 13:35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Psalms 120:7 I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war.

When politics incite such hate, the defaming of each other, and violent emotions Christians should step away. We serve the Prince of Peace and we should be for peace, though not at the price of compromise. We cannot exhibit the love of Christ when we are biting and devouring one another. It should make us sad when we see this. We should take heed to ourselves lest we fall into the same temptations.

Galatians 5:13-16 For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.

1 Corinthians 10:12 Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.

When we need to disagree, we need to speak the truth in love with the object of seeing others grow in Christ, not become what we think they should be. Voting is neither commanded nor forbidden in the New Testament. It is a choice that each one makes in their own conscience before God.

Ephesians 4:14-15 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:

We are called to a more excellent way - the way of charity. I find it hard to reconcile this passage with many of the things that I see going on around politics and voting.

1 Corinthians 12:31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.
1 Corinthians 13:1-7 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

What are we doing now, today, that glorifies God? What good thing is left undone while we play the political game and harass people about voting? What if all your involvement in political stuff, even your vote, turns out to be so much wood, hay, and stubble to burn before the judgment seat of Christ?

 If you vote, vote, but don't mistake it for an act of Christian duty that will count for eternity; and don't condemn other Christians who choose to refrain. All this world is going to pass away, including your vote, and likely who you voted for. 

1 Corinthians 7:31 And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.

Let's strive for the more excellent way, the way of God honoring charity. Let's be about our Father's business.

Philippians 4:6-7 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

 

graphics and backgrounds by Mary Stephens
Oct. 2016, updated 2020.