In 2005 I stepped into a voting booth for the first time.
I cast my ballot in favor of Proposition 2, an amendment to the Texas Constitution making same-sex marriage and similar legal arrangements illegal.
Then I stepped out of a voting booth for the last time.
Also on that ballot were things like county commissioner and treasurer and all sorts of titles and names I had never heard of, let alone had any business voting on. I realized I was terribly uninformed on the way the government I was trying to take part in worked, so I decided to find out more about it.
And here is what I learned. Proposition 2 was set up to keep the Texas Supreme Court from ever interpreting the state constitution in favor of same-sex marriage. I also found out that the Texas Supreme Court Justices are elected in a statewide election, not appointed like Federal Justices.
What does this mean? It meant that if there were ever a majority of Justices who interpreted marriage to include same-sex couples they would have been elected enough people who agreed with them that they would be able to overturn Prop 2 in a statewide vote.
In short, prop 2 was not a legal proceeding to “protect the sanctity of marriage.” It was a message to same sex couples across the state that they were not welcome here. The law didn’t change anything about what was already happening in the state, it just made sure it was clear. I, unwittingly and naively, took part in sending that hateful message.
I learned then that public opinion is more important than what happens in a voting booth and I haven’t voted since.
A few years later I would read On the Duty of Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau. His experience voting during a time of slavery resonated with my own experiences voting. He wrote:
All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men. When the majority shall at length vote for the abolition of slavery, it will be because they are indifferent to slavery, or because there is but little slavery left to be abolished by their vote. They will then be the only slaves. Only his vote can hasten the abolition of slavery who asserts his own freedom by his vote.
In essence, when you vote you are agreeing to play by the rules set out by democracy, that is, majority rules. But the majority is often wrong on matters of conscience and by the time they are right the matter of conscience would be settled. He uses slavery as an example. By the time men will vote to end slavery, slavery will have practically died out anyway.
What matters more then getting in the booth and voting to abolish slavery is speaking with your neighbor to change his mind and heart about owning slaves. If he frees his slaves it will do more good than if he votes and loses.
This thinking has biblical roots. In Acts 19, after seeing the power of God, the magicians in the city of Ephesus renounce their cultic practices, turn to God, and burn their books on magic.
Then a group of silversmiths who make their living constructing idols of Artemis get together and one of them, Demetrius, says “We make all our money from idols, and Paul has caused a lot of people not to buy them. This could really hurt us financially.” And then they riot. They rush through the city and grab Paul and some of his companions chanting and destroying things. They have a full blown riot because Paul is destroying their business.
An entire economy was turned upside down because of the gospel.
And not a single vote had been cast.
No constitutional amendments were proposed.
No hateful Facebook pictures were shared.
No demonization of those who believed differently.
Instead, Paul told them the gospel and let that do its work.
I think its imperative that Christians work where change is actually possible: on the individual level. For me that has meant not voting, but I don’t believe everyone has to respond to this the same way I do. If you do vote just keep a few things in mind.
- Vote your conscience above all else.
- Let your religion inform your politics and keep your politics from informing your religion.
- Do not demonize the candidate you oppose.
- Be careful to recognize that those on the other side are also trying their best to vote their conscience.
This election season, no matter who wins, remember the words of Jesus.
“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”
His kingdom will always win.