What are the dangers of not voting in 2020? Some will see such a query as a loaded question. In fact, the question is suffused with spiritual as well as temporal import.
First, for Christians not to vote is, I believe, to be disobedient to the command of Christ for Christians to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (see Matthew 5:13-16). When you couple the Bible’s teachings concerning our Christian citizenship duties and responsibilities to the government “for conscience’ sake” (Romans 13:5-7) with the salt and light passage, it is not possible for Christians to be obedient to God’s will and withdraw from the political and public policy arena.
At the very least, Christians are to be informed voters, and they are to vote their convictions, beliefs and values. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in the spring of 1963, Christians are supposed to be society’s thermostats, setting the moral and spiritual temperature, not thermometers merely reflecting it.
When Christians do not fulfill their duties as Christian citizens, the society is governed by weaker and often different moral values. Furthermore, Christians lose the spiritual blessing that always comes from personal obedience to our Lord’s commands.
In this election cycle, there is far more that may be “lost” by not voting than has been the case in most previous elections. Why?
In the last few months, Americans have experienced the most raucous national political campaign season in memory. In order to match the intensity, rancor and societal division of 2020, you have to go back to the autumn of 1860, when Abraham Lincoln won a four-way presidential race as the candidate of an upstart third political party (Republican) founded in 1854.
The reason the election of 1860 was so bitterly disputed is that the fate of the nation appeared to depend on the outcome. If Lincoln had lost, we would have ended up with at least three different English-speaking countries on the North American continent between Canada and Mexico (the minimal three being the U.S.A., the Confederacy and the Republic of Texas). That would have been an unspeakable tragedy for the people of America and for the cause of freedom around the world.
Similarly, great and historic decisions are in the balance in this year’s election cycle. And if 2020 has taught us anything, it is the importance of local and state elections as well as the national presidential campaign. After all, it has been liberal mayors, district attorneys and governors who have been far too lenient with rioters and anarchists in many cities across our country.
One of the great things about our constitutional system is that in the usual course of events, the results of any particular election are not final or indelibly written. (Our founders gave us a democratic republic that offers elected representative government, in contrast to a true democracy, where direct rule by a majority can lead to a “tyranny of the majority.”) In our system, a disappointing election result can be rectified in the next election. In other words, if you lose the argument this time, you can come back in two or four years with a better argument and reverse the previous election results.
However, there are some election cycles where the issues being decided are so momentous in impact that once the nation has chosen a particular course, it is virtually impossible to wind back the historical clock or retrace your steps and head in a different direction.
Many people, including me, believe that the 2020 election is just such a moment. We as a people will be making decisions for our children and our grandchildren this Nov. 3—and deciding what kind of country they will live and raise their children in for at least the next generation, and maybe the next half-century. The stakes are that high. And Americans intuitively sense that this is true.
A recent Harris poll found that 92% of voters think their constitutional rights “as Americans” are at risk—which means significant numbers of all political persuasions, left, right and center, believe this is a moment fraught with momentous change—and danger.
Our two major political parties have both left their moderate wings behind—the center has not held. When you read the Democrats’ and Republicans’ party platforms, there is a cavernous divide between their stated policy positions on a host of vitally important issues.
On the sanctity of human life, for example, the Democrats have adopted what can only be described as a radically pro-choice position. Repeatedly, congressional Democrats have defeated bills to protect infants born alive during abortion attempts, and have sought to expand government funding for abortions domestically and abroad.
The Republican platform calls for “a human life constitutional amendment protecting unborn life and the appointment of judges who will support the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death and at all points between those two dates.”
On marriage and the LGBTQ agenda, the Democratic platform in 2016 applauded the Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage, thus giving every American “the right to marry the person they love.”
In 2020, the DNC platform strongly supports the LGBTQ political agenda, promising to “fight to enact the Equality Act,” which would infringe on the religious beliefs and rights of conscience of millions of Americans, and “to ensure LGBTQ+ people are not discriminated against when seeking to adopt or foster children … and guarantee transgender students’ access to facilities based on their gender identity.” The Democrats “reject the Trump administration’s use of broad religious exemptions” to allow businesses, medical providers and social service agencies to obey their conscience in cases where LGBTQ demands conflict with religious beliefs.
The Republican platform vigorously supports Americans’ freedom to live out their religious convictions “not only in their houses of worship, but also in their everyday lives,” thus addressing the distinction between “freedom of religion” versus the far more restrictive “freedom of worship.” The Republican platform specifically supports “the rights of parents to determine the proper medical treatment and therapy for their minor children” (meant to include such things as birth control, abortions, gender therapies and sex change issues).
Our purpose here is not to support any particular candidate or party, but even a casual reading of the two parties’ platforms confirms that the two major parties are in stark, irreconcilable disagreement on many issues.
Consequently, although the 2020 election could end in a stalemate with divided government, it is much more likely that after November, one party will control all three branches of the federal government and America will move rapidly in a much more liberal or a much more conservative direction.
Such invaluable American freedoms as freedom of conscience, which theologian Roger Williams called “soul freedom” in the 17th century and became “free exercise of religion” in the Bill of Rights, are at stake.
Now is your time to choose, or, as they sometimes say in marriage ceremonies, “forever hold your peace.”
What should Christians do? Perhaps a word of advice from President Theodore Roosevelt is helpful. Speaking to his fellow Americans in a speech titled “Citizenship in a Republic,” Teddy spoke to the issue of participating in the process in words that have resounded down through the years for more than a century:
“It is not the critic who counts … The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly … who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
To be successful, you must enter the arena. Voting is surely the minimum entry level to President Roosevelt’s “arena.”
Vote. And when you do, vote your Biblical convictions and beliefs and your Christian values. When you have done that, you have done your duty, and the result is up to our Heavenly Father—to whom we should all be praying fervently for divine intervention. ©2020 Richard D. Land
Richard Land is president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was a commissioner for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom from 2001-2012.
The Scripture quotation is taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.
Above photo: A protestor burns an American flag in Portland, Oregon.
Photo: Alex Milan Tracy/Sipa via AP Images