Ten Reasons Why I’m Not Voting

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : January 8, 2008

This is the time of year that I get into all sorts of conversations about my non-voting. In early 2007, those that disagreed with my non-voting stance were polite. But with the primary electricity in the air, an increasing number of those formerly polite people have become irritated with me. Before, I was simply challenging an idea, now I’m challenging their favorite candidate (usually Barack Obama or Ron Paul).

I was planning on ignoring the issue this year, but my new friend Mike Cline recently left this comment at Political Action and the Kingdom of God:

Ok Mark, time to talk about voting.

Would Jesus vote?

Should we vote?

I’m particularly interested in the idea that a libertarian type candidate would be a possible good vote for the Christian community, in as much as he/she lets the “State be the state, and the Church be the Church.”

I can certainly see the appeal of Ron Paul. Libertarianism allows greater freedom for religious folks while, at the same time, keeping the State out of our business. This would certainly bring a much-needed corrective to the unholy union between conservative politics and the religious right.

But I can also see the appeal that Obama has–young, open-minded, willing to spend government money for the least-of-these. He has lived throughout the world and has, it seems, an objective view of the United States. And, of course, I find it exciting to have a black president.

As much as I like some of the candidates, I’m not voting. Here’s why:

  1. I don’t like being forced to choose the lesser of two evils. Voting is the biggest intentional way in which Americans affirm the current political system. To vote is to put faith in the change that can come through American Democracy.
  2. Voting is always exercising power over others. And voting for president is to bestow a power that carries coercive force. I know, I know: by my status in the world (especially my purchasing power) I already have power over others). Just because I’m already wielding my power consciously and unconsciously elsewhere, doesn’t mean that I should just acquiesce to vote now. THat is like saying it is ok for a professional thief to make that one, last, big score. It may make the act easier, but it doesn’t make it right.I think it is possible for a faithful Christian to vote. Whether we like it or not, we’re enmeshed within the system. We must make thoughtful attempts to live counter-culturally, thoughtful (and often strategic attempts) to extricate ourselves from the system, and thoughtful attempts to speak prophetically into the system. But must only do so AS Kingdom people. I think local-level voting is a good thing, because of the nature of political engagement at a local level, but it gets dicier the higher up the ladder you climb.
  3. Even if I felt like I could vote with a clear conscience, I would still consider not-voting as a prophetic act. Before you dismiss that stance as a stupid one, let me say this: because of my odd stance on voting, I’ve had dozens (perhaps hundreds) of conversations about this. And it always leads to the same place: people may disagree with my position on voting, but they almost always agree that the Church needs to be more involved in direct action and take a stronger role in bringing systematic change. As long as I see the Church predominately trusting in Consumer-Capitalism and Liberal Democracy as the primary systems of change in the world, I will opt out of voting as a prophetic challenge to the church. The last time I looked, Jesus commissioned the Church to be his agent in the world, not governments.
  4. It seems dishonest for me to vote for president. We get upset when immigrants vote. I am, fundamentally an expat. I wouldn’t vote if I lived in France either.
  5. Voting divides Christians. I know that my stance could be seen as divisive too, but you’d be surprised. I’ve only ever gotten into arguments over my position a few times, and I found that it brought me closer to my “opponent.” You reading this dlw?
  6. My candidate isn’t on the ballot. I suppose I could go to the polls and just write-in “Jesus of Nazareth.”
  7. Voting reinforces the current party system. Alasdair MacIntyre says it better than I can:Try to promote the pro-life case that we have described within the Democratic Party and you will at best go unheard and at worst be shouted down. Try to advance the case for economic justice as we have described it within the Republican Party and you will be laughed out of court. … In this situation a vote cast is not only a vote for a particular candidate, it is also a vote case for a system that presents us only with unacceptable alternatives. The way to vote against the system is not to vote.I like this argument. People usually challenge my non-voting by saying: a no-vote is still a vote. Indeed. Not voting is a vote against the system.
  8. Voting can indirectly support the killing of Christians by Christians. Related to #2 and #5: When you vote, you are electing a person who, as commander-in-chief, will use his military powers to kill others. In particular, it is likely that s/he will use military powers to send Christian troops to a place where Christian adversaries will be killed. I know that this argument doesn’t do it for everyone. But the truth that Christians have slaughtered other Christians for the past 2000 years because of their conflicting affiliations to different States is evil. And I, for one, would like to resist that as much as possible. Sure, one way of getting at this would be to vote for someone like Ron Paul, but another way would be fore all Christians to opt out of military service.
  9. Voting is often a waste of energy. And the amount of time and money that goes into campaigns is a waste that I wish Christians would forgo. We are ruled by an aristocracy. Since McCain–Feingold, it is even harder for an outsider to get elected. The presidential elections only give the appearance that we have a real choice. But the truth is, our choice is limited to the handful of candidates who make it to the primaries…and from there, our choices shrink. The alternative is, of course, to write-in your own candidate.
  10. I don’t believe in America or its constitution. Sure, we have a better system than most (if not all) other nations. But I don’t believe in the American Dream or that American makes the world a better place. All candidates will only expand the American Empire. And even Ron Paul is interested in expanding the Empire economically.

I know that I come off as an extremist. But the fact that I sound like an extremist to so many Christians simply proves out enmeshed we are in Americanism. 100 years ago, my position wouldn’t have sounded as extreme. Even Mennonites–those Anabaptists who have long resisted the political system–have become increasingly politically active.

In the end, however, I don’t want to known as that-guy-who-doesn’t-vote, but as that-guy-who-wants-the-church-to-embrace-her-birthright. Vote if you must, but please be a part of making the church an active people who confront the Powers and problems of this world head-on.

By the way, for those of you with ample time on your hands, I wrote a series on Church and State that provides a foundation for my perpective:

Church and State 1: Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s (but to God what is God’s)
Church and State 2: Subject to the Governing Authorities (a Christian Anarchist’s Look at Romans 13)
Church and State 3: Subject to the Governing Authorities (a Christian Anarchist’s Second Look at Romas 13)
Church and State 4: What Paul is Saying in Romans 13
To End All Wars: A Quick Thought about Church and State
Church and State 5: Transitioning to Practical Implications
Church and State 6: Initial Explorations of Practical Implications

Mark Van Steenwyk is the general editor of Jesus Manifesto. He is a Mennonite pastor (Missio Dei in Minneapolis), writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He lives in South Minneapolis with his wife (Amy), son (Jonas) and some of their friends.

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Viewing 27 Comments

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    What are your thoughts on submitting a blank ballot vs. not evening showing up at the polls?

    I've often thought that if a large amount of blank ballots were submitted this would communicate that folks are not satisfied with the choices, however if you just don't show up, this communicates a different message.
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    Russ, great question. I think submitting an actual "no vote" or submitting a vote with written-in candidates is probably better than not going to the polls at all.
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    I would launch an online campaign to write-in "Jesus Christ," but I'm not sure if that would be a good idea. It comes off as trite and cheesy. But maybe we could do something along those lines...does anyone want to weigh in on this?
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    Mark... I agree, for the most part, with all of your concerns about voting.

    But with that said, I still vote and stay active in the current US political system, and this is why.

    Regardless of all of my hesitations, the fact remains that elections matter. US elections impact me. US elections impact my church. US elections impact my community - the rich and the poor, the condo owners and the homeless. US elections impact the world.

    Whether you or I like that or not, we cannot avoid that fact.

    In turn, I vote. I involve myself politically. I choose between the lesser of two evils.

    I don't have any naive hopes that the political system will in some way advance the kingdom of God. I but I do still have hopes that that there are aspects of the political system that can make society better, that can look out for the common good. And in my voting, I aim to vote for the candidates whom I believe will do a better job in making society a better place.

    I don't believe that there is a right way for a Christian to vote (or not to vote). I do believe that there is a right way for a Christian to live. And I believe that individuals, in the context of their church communities, can determine who they should vote for (or whether or not they should vote) in the context of both their theological and political convictions.
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    Your logic only works to a's why.

    Unlike the last heist of a thief, you are still continually involved in the culture, politics and economics of your society. You still purchase items, presumably still pay taxes and purchase groceries. You are therefore guilty of funding war, corruptions of capitalism, injustice near and far from home, and supporting a far from righteous economic system.

    Your logic would only be valid with a complete withdrawal from American society, economics and politics, not a give-and-go compromise. If one compromise is acceptable, than so is another (voting).

    With that said I won't be voting because a) the state won't let me and b) I wouldn't want to if it did. I will resist the state in my own small, intellectually indefensible, hypocritical ways.
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    "I think local-level voting is a good thing, because of the nature of political engagement at a local level, but it gets dicier the higher up the ladder you climb.".

    That´s ok. At low scales (i. e. local level) the vote looks more like direct action. At higher scales is more like "Vote for your 4 (or 5? Here in Colombia is 4 - although our last guy goes for 8)-years oppressor". But, the presidentials are the most popular votations..., frightening?
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    I have been torn up on the issue of whether or not I should vote. I definitely see why voting for local issues may be important, but other than that, I'm not sure. I go back and forth. I think some candidates have a better chance of caring for the poor and getting us out of Iraq. That is very important to all of us here, so should I vote? I'm still not sure.
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    i have only told a few people this, so dont tell anyone. but i would vote for ron paul or no one at all. yet, i have been torn about whether or not i should be voting. my vote endorses policies and legislature that may not represent me or God's kingdom. as an anabaptist and a recovering conservative republican, i have seen too much to think there is hope on capitol hill.
    also, we are voting for people in govt to do the work of the church at times. it is the church's responsibility to take care of the "least of these". while govt's should act just and take care of its citizen's. i wonder if we dont rely on it too much to take care of those we are to be taking care. maybe that is not an either/or issue though.
    i cant wait to read through your series. thanks mark.
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    I agree with Mark's reasons for not voting and would add one more for me: Voting is more rite than right. I see it as a participation in the cult of the empire, a symbolic bowing to the State's claims of sovereignty over this land.

    I think when the Apostle Paul wrote to the "ekklesia" (a politically charged word) of such and such a city, he was making a claim that this new group of people was, in all actuality, the new governing body of that city under its newly enthroned king, Jesus. Thus I read his instructions as the church's way to "do" politics, as well as Jesus own teachings. When we pray in the way Jesus taught us, we exercise our position as sons and fellow heirs of the land, not servants, and we can hear the echo of Moses' command, "Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will accomplish for you today." (Exodus 14:13) as we watch God bring down one kingdom after another while we seek to live the alternative community Jesus and Paul envisioned.
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    Hi Mark:

    I am definitely voting, but of the ten reasons you listed for NOT, I think your reason #3--not voting as a prophetic act--is a very good one (not silly at all).

    I guess my disagreement with you has to with our differing beliefs about the State. From what I can gather, you and most Christian anarchists object to the State because the State uses force. The way of Christ precludes us from using force, so it precludes us from participating in the State. But the private sector also uses force, it counts on the State to protect the property it claims, and if there were no government it would use private force to protect the property it claims. The way of Christ is love, not power, but as long as a Christian actually interacts with the society not based on Christ's way, if you buy or sell, or live off the land that outsiders might eventually claim, you are participating in a system that depends on power instead of love.

    IMO it's not that we Christians ought not participate in power systems, because it isn't possible for us to do that. What we have an obligation to do is to love God and love our neighbor--even our enemy-as we love ourselves. To me this means a Christian ought not wage war, since it doesn't seem to me possible to wage war while practicing the universal love Christ commanded. But voting isn't waging war, even voting for a non-pacifist isn't supporting war. You are right that the best candidate--Jesus of Nazareth--isn't on the ballot. But it seems to me there is nothing wrong with choosing the best AVAILABLE candidate. You object to this "choosing the lesser of two evils" idea; I ask what's wrong with choosing the lesser of tow evils? It seems to me that when faced with a choice between alternatives, one should ALWAYS choose the least evil (which is to say, the MOST good).

    your friend
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    Charles Featherstone 10 months ago
    Sara is quite correct. Voting is the central liturgical ritual of the false and idolatrous religion known as liberal democratic governance. In fact, voting is sacramental. The purpose of voting is not to choose government or alter policy (in liberal/industrial democratic government, that has already been done), but to mystically link those governed to those who govern, to make them one body, the body of the nation-state.

    I don't believe it is possible to understand the nation-state, and modern liberal/social democratic governance, without understanding how religious and theological it is. The secular West may not speak of church or God anymore, but political activity is all about salvation. The state, since the Enlightenment, has become the agent of God's redeeming action in the world. Sin has become something that human beings can fix through political action. To vote in modern democratic politics is to participate in this process and acknowledge its moral legitimacy. It is not about human self-government, but rather is about human self-sovereignty and self-sufficiency, which is another matter entirely.

    I have come to agree with positions articulated by both Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder -- we, as followers of Christ and as the church, have nothing to say or show the world unless we first come out of it.
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    Hi Charles:

    I don't agree that voting implies endorsing the idea that government can fix sin. Government is a tool, just like a computer, just like the internet, or any of the institutions that make the internet and computers possible. It seems to me that voting is no more an idolotrous religious practice than writing on the internet about how wrong voting is. If voting is worshiping at the alter of the State, then buying a computer is worshipping at the alter of Private Property.

    Or so it seems to me.

    your friend
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    Mark, I wrote a response at mine's ( I really disagree with that one but then I'm a pol sci major :-)
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    • v
    I'd love it if someone would submit a counter-argument through the "submit article" link above. I know that there is some validity to the use of voting as a prophetic act. I, however, tend to see organizing and lobbying as better uses of our time.
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    • v
    You seem to be saying government involves power and power is wrong (ergo governments are wrong)... I think it is the abuse of power that is wrong. It is the love of money that is wrong. As mentioned above, all these things are just tools, and it is the intent that creates issues. Paul said all things are permissible, but not all are beneficial.

    From what I read, it is the ethics of voting and government that you disagree with - it has nothing to do with your spirituality. Voting or non-voting isn't about what Jesus would do, it is about where right and wrong lay for you.

    Jesus has called us to be involved in the world around us, and part of that for some of us is certainly politics. We are called to be more like Jesus, but that is done in the context of the work and ministry He has called us to. We always carry the principles and ethics of our faith, and that applies whether we are a teacher or a governor, or a student. We all need to flesh out the love of Jesus in the context and talents He graced us with.

    It is good that you know you are not to be involved in government voting, etc. By your non-vote you escape responsibility of any association with the bad American system. As for the best political system - I have to laugh. A 2 party system, with millions upon millions of dollars spent one year to elect a candidate for each party and then another year of $ spent to try to win the vote for one of them? I am Canadian. You could start your own No-vote party and sell it on whatever "platform" you want. check out this link for political parties just in Ontario: - they even had an Unparty! The American brand of democrasy is a joke to people looking at it from the outside, especially with the advent of the Patriot act.

    The fact is no human government can do it. Man's heart is too corrupt and easily distracted from focusing on Jesus. Many Christians are successfully having a ministry and positive effects on and in governements around the world, but it will never be enough to overcome the world's system. We are not called to bring in a theocracy. It doesn't work. Look at Pat Robertson and his comments with Chavez. Look back at history as the Roman empire turned Christian, the power of the church, and the resulting dark ages. Vote or don't vote, but let's all just get on with the ministry God has called us to.

    Oh, and Jesus wasn't interested on being on the ballot anyways, even though the people wanted Him to be and tried to make Him. A week later He would be crucified - such a fickle public!
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    • v
    I will likely vote again this election as I have in most since I first cast my ballot for Jimmy Carter back in 76. I voted for Reagan in 84, but became thoroughly disillusioned after the Iran/Contra affair and the discovery that Nancy Reagan consulted astrological charts to schedule Ronnie's important meetings. Since then I have either voted for quixotic third party candidates, written somebody in, or left parts of the ballot blank.

    Why do I vote? Clearly the exercise of my franchise has had zero affect on the nation over the last 20 years. Still, it is my ritual to show up (albeit with less enthusiasm) every two years to go into the booth and mark my ballot. For those of you struggling for an excuse to vote after reading Mark's convincing arguments (which I don't totally disagree with, by the way), here are my top ten reasons to vote this coming November 4th.

    10. If you don't vote you'll likely have to explain to friends and relatives ( quickly summarizing Mark's convincing arguments above) why you didn't vote. No matter how eloquent you are they will not understand and will probably think you a slacker, or worse.

    9. Failure to vote will be particularly hard to explain to recent citizens coming from places like China, Somalia, or Pakistan, who are ecstatic about their newly acquired rights. Frankly, it's just easier to go in and write Pedro on the ballot than it is to swim upstream on Election Day. This may be a lame reason, but I had to come up with ten so be patient.

    8. Voting is a constitutionally guaranteed right and responsibility. Like free speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom to assemble, freedom to petition and the right to bear arms (I don't own a firearm, but support the right to do so), voting is a right that should be exercised and supported. Our responsibility is to do what we morally, ethically and peacefully, can and leave the results to God.

    7. You can vote and still be prophetic. You can vote and still be a witness against the system. Imagine if 100 people in your precinct voted for, say, a pastor of a particular small submergent church in Minneapolis. The ballot counters might end up doing a Google search and who knows where that might lead?

    6. We owe it (the exercise of our vote) to our ancestors who left the tyranny of their homelands across the sea, or who struggled out of slavery and oppression here. When I think about the Freedom Riders of the 60's who peacefully fought for voting rights in the Jim Crow South, often sacrificing their lives and livelihoods, I'm humbled and convicted by their courage. Voting to honor the memory of these heroes is sufficient reason for me.

    5. Voting can divide Christians, but so can not voting. Does it cause more division among our Christian brethren to vote our conscience, or refrain from voting? I think this is a toss up.

    4. Yes, voting is part of the world's system, but so are many other things we do (like paying taxes, a far more coercive thing than voting). Unlike paying taxes, however, it is possible to vote and still prophetically challenge the system; voting for Pedro is always an option, not filing by April 15th is not. I think we would all agree it is not a sin to vote, (yet).

    3. The Constitution is law written by flawed men for the purpose of establishing peace, security and prosperity for the people of the United States. It is not a perfect document, but in as much as it aligns with God's Word we support it and abide by it. I don't see the Constitution as the problem, but rather men and women who have co-opted or usurped it for their own greedy and immoral purposes: another reason for the proclamation of the Gospel. Regardless, we always remember our allegiance is first and foremost to Jesus Christ and His Kingdom.

    2. Voting is a community undertaking and as people who are called to be salt and light our participation in this community activity can be Kingdom and community-building. Waiting in the voting line is a great way to meet your neighbors (and maybe find a date?).

    1. When you vote you get a nifty sticker.

    I completely understand and sympathize with Mark's arguments above. There are good reasons for not voting and good reasons for doing so. We need to express grace and mercy, however we believe on this issue, even towards our brethren who have staked Huckabee signs in their front lawn.

    Thanks Mark for another thought-provoking essay.

    • ^
    • v
    I, however, tend to see organizing and lobbying as better uses of our time.

    What if organized around a candidate?
    • ^
    • v
    hey mark, where did you get the MacIntyre quote?
    • ^
    • v
    Here it is:
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    • v
    Great list. It definitely helps me better articulate my reservations with voting. Allow me to add one more point:

    I dislike the individual and private nature of American representative democracy. Instead I believe Christian witness, or perhaps more accurately, Christian politics, is a public activity articulated through a distinct community called church, where acts of generosity, hospitality, and forgiveness confess the Kingdom of God rather than a partisan agenda.
    • ^
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    meh, Paul didn't have a problem with his Roman Citizenship and it certainly helped him stay kicking so he cd write more of his letters that helped the Church grow.

    The violence inherent in the system is still gonna be there regardless of who one votes for. Voting is merely a part of our participating in the systems of gov't that we are hooked up to, regardless.

    To vote or not to vote is not about choosing which pill one swallows.
    • ^
    • v
    For the past 2-3 elections, I have felt lead to write in THE LORD'S NAME for PRESIDENT as a prophetic act ,of our DESPORATE need and deep longing and desire for HIS KINGSHIP over us all . FOR DESPORATE TIMES TAKES DESPORATE MEASURE! Maybe it is the appointed time for those of us likeminded, to RALLY togather in Washington,DC before the elections ,to drive this very point home. JESUS CHRIST OF NAZERATH FOR PRESIDENT OF USA AND KING OF ALL NATIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If this is of THE LORDS DOING nothing will be able to stop this from taking place. THY KINGDOM COME IN ALL IT'S GLORY AND RESURRECTION POWER ,THY WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IS IN HEAVEN!!!!!!!!! In HIS KINGDOM SERVICE, Tina.
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    I have been trying to explain this to people as well. I have written four posts on the topic of Christians and voting recently.
    • ^
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    Father Robert Lyons 2 months ago
    I am thrilled to find a website online that seems to have a similar conviction to me on civil involvement. As a Primitive Catholic (think Restoration Movement retaining Catholic/Orthodox liturgy, sacraments, and episcopal governance while rejecting patriarchs and popes, ceasaro-papism, etc.) I find myself on the outside of most debates, so I am very pleased to see that this site exists! Love the article, and even put a link to it on my site as I have commented recently on some political things that I think this really dovetails well with.
    • ^
    • v
    What a kook you are. Actually, we the voters could care less if you don't vote. By not voting you are a nothing, a zero, a "not there" and a "no one is home". Your opinion means nothing if you don't vote. So don't vote. It will make you feel better, I'm sure, and I probabaly wouldn't like the way you vote anyway. So just stay home and curse at the TV an whoever does win the election.
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    Tell me how you really feel. :)
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    • v
    I decided not to vote before I read this. I just wanted to verify my position, it truly is a shame that Christains put their faith and trust in a system that fails them every time. 4 years go by and not a worry for the poor Baby's who are ripped apart in the womb, nor for the Mothers but come election time you hear who to vote for, who is pro-life and who is not. It's actually nausiating to me after spending a few years pleading for the life of a child outside the Murderous clinics while the Christian voters sit comfy in the church pews with their fingers in their ears refusing to hear the screams of the unborn. We cannot rely on broken promises, eloquent speeches and lies. America wake up and come out of her as the Bible says! My people are destroyed for lack of knowlege.


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