The Most Important Vote I Will Cast this Year…
does not involve deciding between presidential candidates.
I want to begin this piece with two truths that seem obvious to me. I say the first one first because when you read the second one, you may be tempted to doubt that I am serious about the first one. So the first one is this: you should vote in the election. There are many reasons why this is true. We have the unique privilege as Americans, and as a result of our Constitution and the sacrifice of millions, to select those who would govern us. I don’t do a particularly good job of voting in local elections–and I really need to do better, though I often find it difficult to cast a knowledgeable vote in these–but I always vote in national elections. I have never failed to vote in a national election and I have no intention of beginning. I think it’s so important to vote that I would encourage you to write in a name, if there’s no one for whom you can vote, rather than simply ignore the privilege and responsibility. So vote. And because of what I am about to say in the next paragraph, I’m going to reiterate about 11 times: vote. Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote your conscience. Vote. Please vote. Vote knowledgeably. Vote this year. Vote. Vote, for goodness’ sake!
Second truth: your vote won’t make any practical difference. Let’s just be honest here and not pull any punches: the chance that your vote will actually decide an election is a lot less than the chance you’ll get hit by lightning. The larger the race, the truer that is. Oh, occasionally we hear about some local race in a very small municipality that is decided by a vote. Even that is rare…but on a statewide scale–much less a national–your vote isn’t likely to matter. Even the 2000 election “fiasco” between Bush and Gore in the state of Florida–which did decide the election–was settled by 537 votes…not by 1.
If you think I am “dissing” voting, I refer you back to paragraph one. Vote, in case it wasn’t clear.
The point of this piece isn’t to talk at all about who to vote for, but to talk about the most important “vote” that Christians will “cast” this fall. The chances are strong that this vote will matter very greatly. This vote very potentially has very real, eternal consequences. I am talking about “voting” to honor Jesus in every way possible in these times of dissension and discord. And I want to talk about how to do that, several suggestions about how to navigate these perilous and divisive times in a way that honors the Lord Jesus Christ.
First, make honoring Jesus your clear, number one priority. That should go without saying, but it very obviously needs to be said. I can’t help but wonder (I’m being very generous in my phraseology here) if that’s something which a lot of professing followers of Jesus are forgetting. I represent Jesus in the words I speak and write, in the attitudes in which I speak and act, in the motives behind all that I do. I fear that we have all too often sent mixed messages, given an unbelieving world plenty of ammo to persist in their unbelief. Next,
See the person who disagrees with you as a person for whom Jesus died. I don’t see other people as the “enemy”, regardless of their political beliefs, their disposition toward me or the gospel, their political party affiliation or lack thereof, or anything else. According to the apostle Paul, for the Christian, it’s not “flesh and blood” against whom we have our battles; it’s against Satan and his forces. Granted, people are often used by Satan; they often fall for his devices and lies; they often espouse beliefs that are harmful and detrimental to truth, freedom, and the well-being of people. Opposing bad ideas, lies, and systems of government that would wreak havoc and bring misery on people is a responsibility that we ought to take seriously. That said, the people who advocate such things are fellow human beings made in the image of God who often desperately need the gospel. In our urgency to argue our positions, we can often forget this critical truth.
Tell the truth at all times, and tell it in love, at all times. No one who knows me would ever suggest that I shrink back from calling things as I honestly see them, and I would never encourage you otherwise. Tell the truth; sometimes the truth is ugly, painful, convicting, contrary to established thinking, difficult to swallow, and any number of other descriptions. Tell it anyway (making sure of course that it is truth; if it’s opinion, please be careful to label it such, but don’t be afraid to share properly-labeled opinions either). But it’s not enough to simply tell the truth, according to the Bible, because the truth can be used in brutal, destructive fashion. The Bible says that without love, whatever we do is without value. Our words are like the annoying clanging of a single gong; without love, I am nothing. Couch the truth clearly in love.
Make honest arguments. All too often people, including professing followers of Jesus, present caricatures of their political opponents rather than honest portraits, and all too often, they do the same with the arguments that political opponents make. This takes actual work and actual thinking, which too many people seem unwilling to do. Ask yourself, “would my political opponent himself characterize his position as I have characterized it?” If not, you have (perhaps unwittingly) borne false witness. People who call themselves “pro-choice” don’t “love killing babies”, nor do people who call themselves “pro-life” love “controlling women”. Those are disingenuous arguments, but such are rife in the contemporary political landscape. They are not befitting Christians.
Be consistent. Don’t ignore (or worse, praise) in your favorite politician that which you would castigate were it done by your political opponent. This, sadly, happens all the time; partisans of one party will have a field day criticizing a political opponent for doing something, then look the other way at similar words or actions done by their guy (or gal). If it’s wrong for one party to do it, it’s wrong for all parties to do it. Period. End of story.
Finally, listen. We have gotten really good at talking past each other. It often seems that we are so concerned to get our points across–sometimes via whatever silly, half-truth meme or “gotcha” photograph–that we don’t care to even hear what other people are saying. Of course, sometimes that’s because their words drip with venom, we think, and so instead of defusing the situation, by listening, asking questions, considering the merits of their position (instead of only looking for the demerits and capitalizing on them), we fight fire with fire, forgetting that “a soft answer turns away wrath”. I don’t have to ultimately agree with a person to do her the courtesy of listening to her argument; I don’t have to adopt another person’s political solutions, but I can take the time to try to understand why he believes in them. To listen doesn’t mean we have to agree, in the end, but sometimes, if we’ll take the time to do that, we might just find that–horrors!–there is some common ground upon which we can build, and some respect that we can have for each other, even as we disagree.
I haven’t spent one word, in this election cycle, trying to convince others of how they should vote (well, OK, several months ago, I announced who I’d be voting for, and urged others to consider that candidate, whereupon he summarily left the presidential race only a few short weeks later). I do not intend to try to convince you for whom you ought to vote. I have, though, spent way too many words responding to well-meaning friends, people of sincere conviction, explaining why certain candidates will not receive my vote. I’m done with that; too much time and too many words spent, to my regret. Instead, my focus now will be to encourage believers in Jesus to be very careful to “vote” to honor Him in everything they do–including voting–for the sake of His name, for the glory of the gospel, and for the good of the world. Because unlike the votes you cast on November 3, which will not ultimately be difference-makers, the “vote” you cast to honor Jesus will almost certainly make a difference.
Oh, and for the love of all that is good and your responsibility as an American this November, vote.