How Should We Vote?

Body: 

November 2, 2012

By Paul Brink

First of all, we should vote.  I join others in saying that to vote is actually part of our Christian calling. Given the responsibility of the state to pursue justice, the chief goal of democracy is not to give citizens the right to determine the state’s purpose, as secular justifications for democracy might suggest.  Rather, when citizens vote, they share with their fellow citizens the duty to discern and pursue together justice and the common good. This is a responsibility we may not ignore. It’s a remarkable privilege—and a daunting one.

Second, we should vote biblically. We should work to consider how biblical givens can be brought to bear on some of the most controversial issues we face in American society.  This is really hard work, particularly when people we respect come to conclusions with which we disagree, but who are evidently seeking the same goals as we are.  Clearly, this is a matter that which will always require more conversation and even more prayer. 

Third, we should vote politically.  Political morality is only one dimension of morality. Not all moral questions properly belong to the political—not all moral questions require a legislated response.  This means, among other things, that we should resist the temptation to see our principal task to be one of judging the personal morality of candidates. Personal morality can shed some light on questions of character, but it pales in significance compared to the task of determining candidates’ political morality. We need to consider programs, policy positions and political principles as a way to gauge how candidates see the role of government in the various questions we face as a nation.  This, too, is a lot of work. No one said that citizenship is easy!

Fourth, we should vote to pursue public justice. This means, for one thing, that our vote cannot be determined by calculations of self-interest (lower taxes for me, lower fuel prices for me, preserving my favorite tax credit).  So, for example, if we believe that justice requires that all members of society have an opportunity to participate in our common life, this will imply that in our efforts to confront our coming fiscal crisis, the burden should not be borne by the most vulnerable members of our society. I believe that we need a more progressive tax system than we have currently, but regardless, a commitment to shield the most vulnerable may mean that I have to pay more taxes in the not-too-distant future. I don’t relish paying taxes, but I must love my neighbor in that way, if that is what justice requires.

Finally, we should vote in hope.  Many Americans remain unenthused about the options before them in November.  Over the long run, I’d love to consider how structural changes to our electoral system might provide better choices. Yet I know in politics what I also know to be true in the rest of life: that Christ is risen. A politics of the resurrection means that the long, slow work of pursuing justice is not a work in vain, and that even a choice between two less-than-sterling candidates is still a choice that has kingdom significance. Politics is messy, and American politics is particularly so, but the kingdom hope that is found in the resurrection can carry Christians through the messiness of campaigns, into the voting booth, and on into the rest of their political lives.

—Paul Brink is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts.

To respond to the author of this Commentary: capcomm@cpjustice.org

Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion.