From working in politics for sixteen years I’ve heard a lot of people say, “I don’t care about politics.”
I love to respond by simply saying, “That’s too bad, because politics cares about you.” Any business, any family, any taxpayer is affected by “politics, ”which is really the constant tension over the policies that regulate the shared resources we all enjoy in America.
This year, the brand of not caring has changed.
“They are all terrible.”
“They are all liars.”
“Our choice is between being shot or stabbed. It’s a lose, lose.”
This is just a sampling of the comments I have heard or read about the 2016 election. The underlying principle, regardless of whatever “Never Whoever” camp people are in, is simply “Why bother?”
We’re All Unhappy
If you don’t like your candidate choices lately, you are not alone. The Pew Research Center found that just thirty-six percent of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters, and thirty-five percent of Democrats and Democrat-leaning voters report to be “satisfied” with their choices at the ballot this year. Pew says, “Just a third of registered voters say they are very or fairly satisfied with the choices, while 63 percent say they are not too or not at all satisfied.”
The fact is the majority of party voters are unhappy with their choices. And (bonus!) the majority of American voters are unhappy with the two major parties and have opted out of party affiliation altogether. The biggest group of voters in the country is now Independents or Non-Party Affiliated voters. Gallup’s 2014 survey found forty-three percent of Americans are independent of a political party, thirty percent are Democrat, and twenty-six percent Republican.
If voters in the two major parties are unhappy with their candidates and those voters outside the two parties are already, assumingly, unhappy with those same candidates, it’s no wonder everyone is ready to opt-out this year.
Let’s suspend your unhappiness for a minute. What happens if everyone who is unhappy decides, “Why bother?” What happens is someone still wins the election. Someone will still become president, or senator, or governor. They will still make policies and pass budgets and, yes, it will affect your life even in ways you might not be able to see outright. You will still pay taxes according to the policies they set. The alternative: don’t pay your taxes and sit in the prisons that they run.
Our governments set the stage for our lives— yours, your neighbor’s, your entire city, state, and nation. And the Bible cares an awful lot about how Christians treat those who makeup our cities, states, and nation. Jeremiah records the Lord’s stated direction regarding city-life involvement.
Seek the welfare of the city where [God] sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. —Jeremiah 29:7
We know from Jeremiah that we are to “seek the welfare” of the place where we live. Choosing to sit idle as an election comes and goes, to be apathetic, directly contradicts our call to “seek the welfare of the city.” Seeking the betterment of a place requires taking action.
Notice there aren’t any stipulations here. God doesn’t tell us that we should only pursue the welfare of our city when we’re sure our side will prevail. He doesn’t say, “Don’t waste your time or your energy unless you know things will change for the better.” In fact, the Bible tells us the stories of many people—Abraham, Sara, Jacob, Isaac, Moses, to name a few—who acted by faith because they “desire[d] a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16). The same chapter of the Bible tells us that they didn’t see it come to fruition in their lifetime, but it championed their faith.
Like the people of the Bible, we live in imperfect times with imperfect leaders, and all forms of evil seem to prevail. But, here we are. Surely we did not accidentally wind up here, and surely God’s calling is not for us to stick our head in the sand or take our ball and go home.
Apathy, while seemingly restful to the politically weary soul, will never create the welfare that we want for our cities, the welfare we should be trying to create. Sitting out politics or refusing to vote ignores both the obligation and the opportunity we have to do God’s will during our lifetime.
I’m not so narrowminded as to believe every Christian should vote for a certain candidate or even a certain party, but Christians are called to action. Prayer, voting, supporting candidates or causes, maybe even running for office (someone has to do it!) should all be part of our work in this land where God called us.
After all, the only thing less likely than having the worst voting choices possible to conquer the evil forces we see in the world today is doing nothing at all.
Cover image by Andrew Neel.