The Church teaches the importance of being good examples and good citizens, so why doesn’t it support voting? What is the biblical basis for the Church’s teaching?
The U.S. midterm elections will soon be here. On Nov. 7, an estimated 80 million Americans will cast their ballots for individuals seeking positions in the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives and state and local offices. Will you be among those casting a ballot?
The decision as to whether to participate in the governing process of our country by voting has been a puzzling question for some within the Church. After making the personal decision via baptism to put God and His coming Kingdom first in their lives (Matthew:6:33), some have wondered if they shouldn't also do what they can to help elect the most godly and moral candidates possible.
From school civics classes, we've all likely heard that voting is the right and duty of every citizen. Shouldn't we be responsible citizens? Shouldn't we show love to our neighbors by striving to keep our country as godly as possible?
As we approach this year's political season, it is a good time for us to review our teaching on voting for political candidates. It is also a good time to give thoughtful consideration to the reasons why we either vote or don't vote.
The Church of God in modern times has always striven to be apolitical—that is, we have no involvement in political matters. With only a few occasional exceptions concerning local issues, our advice to members has always been nonparticipation.
This stance has served the Church and its members well in several practical ways. First, not voting is consistent with our belief that we should not bear arms or be involved in military service.
Second, keeping politics out of our congregations has eliminated the potential for political fights and divisions.
Third, our commission to preach the gospel of the Kingdom is to be directed to all peoples—not just those of a political party we may choose to support.
Fourth, according to U.S. tax law, nonprofit organizations such as churches are not supposed to support political candidates or attempt to influence the outcome of political races (www.rutherford.org/PDF/rightsofchurches.pdf ).
Fifth, by an apolitical stance, the Church has been able to give greater clarity, focus and emphasis on preaching the gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew:10:7; 24:14) and to encourage everyone to seek the coming Kingdom of God (Matthew:6:10, 33; Mark:15:43). Members have likewise been able to give singular focus to the job of serving as ambassadors of that Kingdom (2 Corinthians:5:20).
While recognizing the value of placing our primary focus on the coming Kingdom of God, some have also noted that there is no specific scripture forbidding voting in an election. Additionally, some have seen that Paul cared deeply for his fellow countrymen (Romans:10:1), took advantage of his Roman citizenship (Acts:22:25) and advocated submission to civil authority (Romans:13:1-7). With these concepts in mind, some have felt that they should seek the Kingdom of God first and, secondarily, be good citizens by voting.
To address this issue, first let's consider some of the common reasons we are told we should vote.
The Case for Voting
As we grow up, most Americans (and citizens of other democracies around the world) are taught that we should vote in political elections. The implied perspective is that most everyone does. Yet this is far from the truth. Indeed, countries with totalitarian governments have much higher voter turnouts because people are afraid of retaliation if they don't vote for the government in power.
For the past three U.S. presidential elections, the percentage of voting-age citizens who actually voted hovered around 50 percent. And for the past three midterm elections (when there is no balloting for president), the percentage of voting-age Americans who voted has been around 37 percent (www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0781453.html ).
Why do so many not participate? According to Infoplease.com in its encyclopedia article on voting, "Also a subject for considerable study in the United States is that large segment of the population [approximately 50 percent] that refrains from voting. Research has shown that nonvoting is caused by factors that include social cross pressures, new residency in the community, and relative political ignorance or lack of interest" (www.infoplease.com/ce6/history/A0851178.html ).
"Lack of interest" is furthered by the common observation that it doesn't really matter who is elected because things stay pretty much the same. "Lack of interest" also develops as people become disgusted with the continual political bickering and fighting that goes on in Congress. Indeed, it is well known that the approval rating of Congress has recently been considerably lower than that of the U.S. president, who also has an extremely low rating. Poor conduct by congressional members may also lead many to distance themselves from politics.
On the surface, the strongest case for a Church member deciding to vote seems to be based on the motivation to show love to our neighbors by choosing the most godly and moral candidates. Buttressing this view is the historically adapted quote of Edmund Burke that says, "All that is needed for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing" (www.tartarus.org/martin/essays/burkequote2.html ). Yet as we endeavor to be "good" people, is voting in the upcoming elections the best way for us to show love? Let's consider a few more important questions.
If we choose to vote, how do we know which candidates God would endorse (if any)? In this country's representative form of governance, people generally get and deserve the candidates they place in office. Should we become part of the world in this process? If we decide that we should, does our vote really matter since God is the One who sets up and removes rulers (Daniel:2:21; Romans:13:1)?
With total control, God can allow a bad leader to take office to teach people lessons the hard way or He can see that a good leader is installed in office. If we decide to vote, how do we know which candidate God wants in office? Does God need our help in this area to accomplish His will? These are all serious questions not to be casually dismissed.
An Examination of Politics
To make a judgment, sometimes it is also helpful to step back and look at the big picture. Let's consider the fruits of the American political process. After all, Jesus instructed us to judge things by their fruits (Matthew:7:16, 20).
The longer one observes the political process in the United States (and other countries), the easier it is to determine its fruit. These political races with their campaigns and debates do not create national unity. Instead, candidates routinely make cutting accusations against their opponents. Elections seem to be open seasons for character assassination and incitement to anger. Each side believes it has the logical position and that the other side's platform is detrimental to the country.
And sadly, even after an election this anger doesn't seem to disappear; it just subsides until it is brought back to full intensity for the next election. Political elections do not unite, they divide.
As good as the American system is in comparison to other forms of governance, we have to remember that because it is of the people, it is still subject to all human weaknesses. American politics does not produce peace and feelings of harmony among all. Rather, it is an ongoing fight for values and the opportunity to shape laws and society as the victors please. The fruits of political voting—and every other form of human governance—are not good and that is why the Kingdom of God must come to this earth to replace all of man's governments.
The Two Trees
One of the great truths that God has revealed via His Holy Days is that He is working with humanity in different ages. God is calling firstfruits (James:1:18; Revelation:14:4) now who will be teachers of other humans in the coming Kingdom of God.
In short, God is not calling or working with everyone at this time. Of course, everyone will have an opportunity to understand God's truth and receive salvation, but that time lies ahead for the majority of the earth's inhabitants. The foundation of this understanding goes back to the Garden of Eden.
In working with Adam and Eve, God placed two trees within the garden. One was called "the tree of life" and the other, "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Genesis:2:9). God's instructions were: "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die" (Genesis:2:16-17).
These two trees represented two choices of how to live. The tree of life represented following God's instructions and would have led to eternal life. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil represented human beings making their own decisions about how to live rather than obeying God.
Sadly, Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In doing so, they chose to decide for themselves how they would live, and humanity has followed Adam and Eve's lead. Only those whom God calls out of this present evil world (John:6:44) currently have the opportunity to live under the tree of life and thereby receive eternal life.
In 2 Corinthians:6:17-18 the apostle Paul quoted God's words from the Old Testament to those privileged to live under the tree of life in this age: "Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty." Furthermore, Romans:12:2 tells those called at this time not to be conformed to this world.
God has called His people to come out of the world so we can prepare to be rulers in His coming Kingdom (Revelation:5:10). We can show love to God by following His instruction and love to our neighbors by preparing for our future service to them. Our time for direct civil service as rulers and teachers under Jesus Christ lies ahead in a much better world.
For more on this subject, see the study paper "Voting and Involvement in Politics" at www.ucg.org/papers . UN