The Choice to Not Vote (Oct 2012)

By Matt Dabbs

By Joshua Jeffery

For months upon months now, we have been barraged with political posturing, stump speeches, campaign ads, and now, debates. Both right and left have spent millions of dollars demonizing each other, in the ultimate quest for power. Believers on both sides of the aisle have been caught up defending their side and their own beliefs, and it’s easy to do. While I have no interest to support partisans of either side, I myself have been guilty of spouting off my opinion about the proposed policies of both sides.

Almost everyone will tell you to vote. Let your voice be heard. Weigh in on the issues. In our highly individualistic society, it is almost unthinkable to many to not cast a ballot and proclaim your own choice on Election Day. However, I want to take this opportunity to ask you to at least take a short moment to reflect on and consider whether or not voting is what you should do in this election. Many of my friends—okay, most—will disagree with me on this issue, and that is okay. However, whether I convince anyone to agree with me or not, I hope that the issues raised in this article will at least make one pause for a moment and consider the points raised here.

I refused to vote in the last election. This was a drastic change for me, as I had been raised in a very conservative household that considered the vote practically sacred. I had voted during the previous two elections, been a card carrying member of my party, gone to party rallies, and even been a member of the under 40 group for the party in my state. However, as I worked in government and saw (and participated in) many evils carried out in the name of law and order, and as I returned to college to study history and theology, I was struck by the ultimate sinfulness of human governments. It occurred to me that my party, while it stood up and trumpeted “family values” and “back to the bible government,” often failed to live up to the supposed standards that those statements imply. What’s more, it became painful apparent that while we demonized the other party for their “sins,” that they in fact in many ways were also attempting to thrust their own “biblical values” upon American politics as well. Ultimately, both parties embrace many biblical values, and embrace many sinful values as well. Neither side is pure when truly judged by God’s will for humanity, and I think that is exactly how Satan likes it.

A case in point. One side champions the right to life for the unborn, while at the same time continually pushing for the lethal use of force against foreign nations and their citizens to safeguard U.S. “interests,” most of which have little to do with freedom, and much to do about economics and power. This same side often idolizes the military and refuses to remove a dollar from their budget, but then decry “entitlement programs” that care for the poor. The other side champions settling issues by peaceful means (but certainly not always, as the current use of drones proves!), yet pushes for an individualized choice that kills untold thousands of unborn children every year, many of whom, if truth be told, are the children of minorities. Many of those pregnancies could be prevented in the first place, but this side of the coin continues to push for full sexual liberty regardless of the context and circumstances, and not just in law, but in culture. In short, neither side has a corner on morality, and both promote immorality in the name of power, money, or individual liberty, and often, by all three.

David Lipscomb and James Harding, the namesakes of two of our vaunted universities, believed that human government was under the general control of Satan.[1] They, and especially Lipscomb, believed that humans had created civil government as a direct rejection of the sovereignty of God over their own lives and communities.[2] Lipscomb taught that while God used governments to punish the wicked and keep order over sinful people [3], and that while God ordained that Christians were to obey governing authorities, pay taxes, and that God had direct control over who governed, that Christians should not participate in government because it corrupts the Christian and makes her complicit to the evil acts of governments, such as warfare, which Lipscomb and Harding abhorred.[4]

The Israelites had a similar but divergent view on civil government. The Deuteronomist, in the Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:8, [5] NRSV), tells us that when God divided the nations, he took Israel as his own portion and divided the rest of the nations up according to the number of elohim (gods, or divine beings created by Yahweh). We can read of God’s divine agents ruling the nations and doing God’s bidding at the beginning of Job, in Daniel 10, and we can see God sentencing those beings to death when they rule the nations unjustly in Psalm 82, which is a text urging God to rise up and judge the Earth. When these texts are linked to Paul’s thought about the powers in Ephesians 6, and are taken seriously, they create some serious questions about government, spiritual forces, and what Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God truly entails.

Finally, look at the story of Jesus himself. He was born a Jew, in a territory colonized by the Roman Empire, the most powerful empire of its time, which dominated the entire western world. He was not a Roman citizen. King Herod attempted to have him put to death as a small child, and his parents fled to Egypt until it was safe to return. When he entered into his ministry, the Pharisees and Sanhedrin sought many times to kill him because of his proclamation of the Kingdom of God and the claims he made about himself. Finally, he was executed by the Roman government, on behalf of the Jews, ultimately for his claim to Kingship (which was, as he told Pontius Pilate, not of this world). The story of Jesus is just as much one of political theology as it is anything else.

Ultimately, it appears that God decides who will lead the nations. Paul tells us in Romans 13 that ultimately, God establishes all authority. He orders us to submit and obey, to not rebel, and to pay taxes. But no where does Paul say anything about electing leaders, which is interesting, considering he is a Roman citizen, writing to people in Rome, who ostensibly would have the ability to vote for representatives in the Roman Senate. Democratic (direct choice in government) or Republican (choice of representatives in government) rule was not unknown to Paul, as he traveled both to Greece and throughout the Roman Empire. Yet, he says nothing about it. If voting is so important for the Christian, then why didn’t Paul have any wisdom to share?

Lipscomb thought it was because a Christian had no place sustaining government, which included voting or otherwise choosing the person who governs. But many Christians would object to this idea, and ask how we are to influence society, including government and the people, for good? Lipscomb’s answer to this question was the church. Lipscomb believed that the church and the Kingdom of God were synonymous [6], a conflation I disagree with. However, this strong identification that Lipscomb made of the Kingdom with the Church led Lipscomb to emphasize the role of the Church or the Kingdom of God in reforming and renewing the World. Lipscomb believed that eventually, the only institution that would survive on Earth was the church, and that God had ordained all others, including government, to eternal destruction.[7] He believed the church was the only institution that Christians were authorized to act through, and that if Christians put their energy into the church instead of into politics, that the church’s work, and societal improvement, would go hand in hand together.[8]

While I do not fully agree with all of Lipscomb’s conclusions, I think his theology, and our heritage in the Stone-Campbell Movement, should give us pause when we consider whom to vote for, or if we should vote at all. Ultimately, this question must be left to the conscience of individual Christians. However, a question that you should ask before going to the polls is this: “Which kingdom am I building up by casting this ballot?”

____________

1 – John Mark Hicks and Bobby Valentine, Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding (Abilene: Leafwood Publishers, 2006), 27-42.

2 – David Lipscomb, On Civil Government: Its Origin, Mission and Destiny and the Christian’s Relation to It (Indianapolis: Doulos Christou Press, 2006), 12.

3 – Ibid, 31.

4 – Ibid, 62-71.

5 – This text is what is called a “textual variant” by Old Testament scholars. Most scholars agree that the text that appears in the NRSV is the correct text that originally appeared in the OT. The other variant, which is found in other translations, is the old “received” text that has been handed down in English since at least the Authorized Version of 1611. For a full discussion of the textual variant and evidence that the NRSV version is the correct version, see Michael S. Heiser, “Deuteronomy 32: 8 and the Sons of God” (Logos Bible Software, n.d.), http://www.thedivinecouncil.com/DT32BibSac.pdf (accessed October 5, 2012).

6 – Lipscomb, 60.

7 – Ibid, 59, 83.

8 – Ibid, 85-6.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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