I have never voted in an election.
Not because I don’t care about my country. I care very much. I love this country where I live. I love its beauty; love the broad sweep of its land, the diversity of its people, its ideals of freedom and democracy.
My great-grandparents of 10 generations ago, Christian and Elizabeth Martin, emigrated here in 1732, in search of better opportunities and the freedom to live out their faith as their consciences dictated. They were Anabaptists — from the branch called Mennonites — a group which historically had been persecuted in Europe. Christian, at some point in his life, is believed to have spent time in a Swiss jail cell.
He and Elizabeth, and others like them, must have passed on to their descendants a deep gratitude for the religious freedom we enjoy in this country, because I heard it talked about all through my childhood.
It is such a blessing to be able worship God according to our own consciences, I was reminded again and again. Look, look at the people in that country, where they have to meet in secret to pray; look at our ancestors, how they were persecuted. We have so much to be thankful for.
Truly, we as Mennonites were given many privileges. My grandpa, along with many other young Anabaptist men during draft years, was exempted, for the sake of religious conviction, from serving in the military. They were given the freedom to serve the country in some peaceful role provided for them instead of going to war.
Some Mennonites had a religious conviction against taking government support of any kind, including social security, and were allowed exemption from social security tax on that grounds.
Mennonites were not made to take part in jury duty, for the sake of religious conviction.
Our parents, rather than running their children through the general educational mold, were free to run a small private school and hire a teacher of our own faith to teach us — even if that school only went through eighth grade and even if that teacher didn’t hold a degree.
We were all of us, as soon as we turned 18, permitted by our country’s laws to vote or not to vote, according to our own desires. My church took a stand against voting.
We choose not to vote for these reasons:
- We are part of Christ’s kingdom, and our first allegiance is to him, not to any earthly government. Jesus told Pilate, when he stood on trial, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 8:36 NIV).
- The kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of Christ don’t mix well. In almost any issue one could name, the stated goals and purposes of Christ stand in diametric opposition to the goals of any earthly nation or government.
- And so we choose not to become involved in the purposes and plans of any government even to the extent of voting. We would rather sway our nation through prayer than polls, and enact change by our own hard work and quiet service than in a voting booth.
This is not to say we don’t appreciate government, and democracy, and the voting process. We do. And it’s not to say we think badly of Christians who vote. We don’t.
We only make this choice for us, because we are blessed with the freedom to choose.
I’ve been saying “we” all this time, as though I was one of those silent, person-less mushrooms Sylvia Plath writes about, with no voice or thoughts of my own. Sometimes, honestly, that’s how not voting has been for me: just something I don’t do because my church says not to, and I am them, and they are me, and we are Mennonites.
But more lately, not voting has been less of a “we” thing, and more of a “me” thing.
Because I’ve been turned off by Christians who are heavy-deep in politics and by politicians who stand in the public view and say, “I am a Christian. I love God — you know, the big guy in the sky who loved the world so much he sent his Son to die — and now let’s go get ’em. We’ll bomb ’em and bar ’em and show ’em who’s boss.”
Something’s not working for me with that correlation. It feels like sliding backward up a cheese grater.
Not voting has become more of a “me” thing and less of a “we” thing because I can see the wisdom of it now. It sets a limit which is clear and simple and easy to follow. “I’m part of Christ’s kingdom,” I say. “I’m not going to vote because I don’t want to get caught up in following a political party instead of him.” And my choices are immediately simpler, less gray.
For instance, I’d look pretty stupid if, after making such a high-sounding profession, I threw nasty president slams around the internet. And so I don’t.
My non-voting stance reminds me to look for what I appreciate rather than to be always criticizing, reminds me to speak respectfully, reminds me to pray. It helps me to remember that I’m supposed to be living for God, not my pocketbook, and to put my mind and fingers to work on the things that will last an eternity.
Not voting is less of a “we” thing these days, and more of a “me” thing, because, in this wild and historic presidential election of 2016, I find myself largely disillusioned and vastly out of sympathy with either primary candidate. And I’m realizing that it’s not just this year and these candidates, but my values and way of life are vastly out of sympathy with the entire political system.
And so I will support with prayer and respect whichever candidate achieves the presidency. I will tell the world I am thankful to be an American, thankful to live in this broad and beautiful country which is far from perfect, but which endeavors to protect the individual freedoms of minorities. And this one freedom under the constitution my family and I hold more precious than any other: the right to follow God according to the dictates of our own consciences.
Lucinda Miller writes from rural Rusk County, Wis., and attends Sheldon Mennonite Church, an unaffiliated conservative Mennonite church, down the gravel road from her house. She blogs at Properties of Light, where this post first appeared.