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How now shall we vote?

Christians should take the responsibility seriously but bear the burden lightly


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How now shall we vote?
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With every passing week, the election we face this fall seems more surreal. One major candidate is now a convicted felon while the other appears to be in cognitive decline and struggles to complete a sentence. With the stakes so high, Christian voters find themselves inundated with impassioned warnings on how they must vote, and some find themselves tempted to sit this one out and hope for better nominees in 2028.

Is such an abstention a sinful abdication? The short answer is not necessarily. Voting is a blessing and a privilege, an opportunity to use the gift of citizenship to register our views about what our nation needs. We should not scorn this privilege, but we should not construe it as a compulsion. Anyone who has the right to vote (whether on a church committee or a legislature) also has the right to abstain if there is no good option or they cannot determine which option is best. If some Christians honestly feel too conflicted to vote, there is no sense in guilt-tripping them into recklessly pulling the lever. The decision not to vote, after all, is still a way of making your voice heard: “Give me better candidates next time.”

That said, we ought not simply throw up our hands in resignation without an earnest effort to vote wisely. What, then, does it mean to vote?

Our metaphor of “pulling the lever” points to one common understanding: voting as a form of utilitarian policy calculus. On the understanding, every vote is simply an attempt to maximize the chances of relatively better policy outcomes for the country. Advocates of this approach often use the language of “choosing the lesser evil” and are particularly withering in their critique of third-party voting, which is just “throwing away your vote” since it has no chance of affecting policy in our current electoral system.

If some Christians honestly feel too conflicted to vote, there is no sense in guilt-tripping them into recklessly pulling the lever.

Given that policy outcomes are very hard to predict, and that it is difficult to know whether a candidate will actually enact the policies promised, this utilitarian calculus is always something of a gamble. In any case, unless you happen to live in a swing state, such estimation is largely irrelevant—if voting third-party is “throwing away your vote,” so is voting Republican in California or Democratic in South Dakota. For voters in states likely to be decided by a razor-thin margin, the “lever” analysis cannot be ignored, but we should also be realistic about how little we can predict the effects of our actions, especially actions as indirect as voting in a presidential election.

Another metaphor we often use is that of “making your voice heard.” In a democratic system, voting is one way that all citizens, however inarticulate, can register their views about the essential moral and political questions of the day. Of course, here, too, we must quickly temper the metaphor with realism: The difference between 1,321,546 and 1,321,547 votes for a candidate is hardly a deafening public statement, and those counting and reporting the votes may have little idea of why you voted for that candidate. It is here, though, that the argument for a third-party vote becomes more powerful. The American Solidarity Party, for instance, founded on Christian democratic principles, received only 40,000 votes in 2020. If that doubled to 80,000 in 2024, it would send a noteworthy message. Or consider the candidacy of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. A vote for him is not so much an endorsement of his policies as it is a message to the two main parties that they need to work on their candidate selection process.

But there is a third and final way of thinking about voting that we ignore at our peril. When we vote, we select a representative—someone who symbolically stands in for us, someone of whom we can say, “That’s my guy, he speaks for me.” It is here that the moral weight of voting comes into clearest focus. In selecting someone to stand for me, it is hard to resist the sense that I have established some moral connection with him, some kind of identification. Henceforward, his actions are in some sense my actions, and if his behavior, words, or policies are morally odious, I may find my conscience becoming slowly dulled as I seek to make excuses for him. However, from a Biblical standpoint, this danger remains whether or not I vote for the leader. Merely by virtue of his position, a king or president is my representative. He acts on behalf of the nation and he may shape the morality of the nation.

Voting, then, is weighted down with moral significance—but then, so is life in society at every moment. We must learn to take the responsibility seriously but bear the burden lightly—and avoid burdening the consciences of others.


Brad Littlejohn

Brad (Ph.D., University of Edinburgh) is a fellow in the Evangelicals and Civic Life program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He founded and served for 10 years as president of The Davenant Institute and has taught for several institutions, including Moody Bible Institute–Spokane, Bethlehem College and Seminary, and Patrick Henry College. He is recognized as a leading scholar of the English theologian Richard Hooker and has published and lectured extensively in the fields of Reformation history, Christian ethics, and political theology. He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, Rachel, and four children.


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