Editor's note: This commentary originally aired November 2, 2004.
A few days ago, my wife, Patty, overheard a customer in the grocery store talking to one of the clerks. The clerk kept saying, "I'm not going to bother to vote. It doesn't make any difference. My vote doesn't count." But the customer kept trying to change her mind. As Patty walked up to join the conversation, she found that the customer was the young clerk's own high school civics teacher. She obviously had not taught her very well, but the teacher was making up for it that day, doing her job better than she ever had before.
Sadly, many Christians feel the same way that clerk did. One prominent scholar says we shouldn't vote because neither candidate represents everything we want. That's perfectionism. It's also a cop-out. It's saying that because neither candidate measures up to your own standards, you're just going to stand by and proclaim, "A plague on both your houses," as if that could possibly do anyone any good.
After weeks of hearing about the campaign nonstop, it's not surprising that some people suffer from election fatigue. I do. But it's the duty of every citizen to study the issues and cast an informed vote. Think of all the Americans today who are in harm's way right now, bringing freedom to the Iraqis so that they can vote for their own leaders. Think of the 10 million Afghans who just voted, some of them young women who had never had any rights before. If freedom is worth dying for, it is certainly worth voting for.
And Christians need to remember that voting is not only an act of good citizenship, but it's also our biblical duty. We all know that Christians are to submit themselves to the governing authorities (Romans 13). What we forget is that God uses His people as agents to help determine who the governing authorities will be. Just as in the Old Testament, He sent Samuel out to pick his leaders, so He calls us in a free democratic society to choose, by our votes, the leaders He then ordains.
But sometimes, you say, those leaders are corrupt. Well, that's our fault, not God's. Just because the democratic system doesn't always give you good rulers doesn't mean we do not keep trying. It matters who we support. Voting for pro-life leaders, for example, is very important. And our efforts make a difference. Look at what happened over the years with the ban on partial-birth abortion — defeated year after year, until President Bush was elected, and he signed it into law. And in the process of that debate the public was educated, thereby helping create a culture of life.
The same holds true for so many other issues. If we don't make ourselves heard, the consequences will be grave — not just for us, but also for our fellow citizens. Like it or not, in a free society, we're God's agents for picking righteous, able men and women.
And Christians, as St. Augustine said, are meant to be "the best of citizens." So this Election Day, you must prove those words true by doing what God has called us to do: vote.