Convictional inaction

Choosing not to vote fits two-kingdom theology

Jan 1, 2018 by

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Since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump in 2016, the role white evangelical Christians played in his victory has been thoroughly analyzed — and puzzled over. Christians and non-Christians alike have questioned why so many evangelicals sided with a candidate who seemed the opposite of what a Christlike leader should be, particularly in light of his boasting about sexual assault.

This commentary intensified in the weeks leading up to the Alabama contest in December between Roy Moore and Doug Jones for a U.S. Senate seat. Moore faced accusations of sexual abuse against underage girls. Jones won, buoyed by a vast majority of black voters.

In both elections, many Christians felt tension over what they saw as a choice between a sexual abuser and a supporter of abortion. They had to decide which was the lesser evil. Either would stain their witness.

Writing days before the Alabama election, Joe Carter at advocated a solution he called “convictional inaction” — refusing to vote for any political candidate who supports or ignores injustice or immorality.

Consistently applying convictional inaction would put pacifist Christians in the company of many Anabaptists, particularly those in plain communities, who don’t vote at all.

The traditional Anabaptist doctrine of the two kingdoms (separate sets of ethics for the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world) has led many Mennonites to abstain from voting, citing scriptures such as “my kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36) and “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20).

In a speech in 2004 at Eastern Mennonite University, Goshen College professor John D. Roth critiqued the “Constantinian logic” of voting our faith to wield power over others.

“Our tradition has served the body politic best not as magistrates, but in a prophetic role — questioning, challenging, discomfiting and tweaking those holding power, reminding them that they are ultimately accountable to God for their actions,” he said, according to Roth spoke of abstaining from voting as a spiritual discipline, because our faith is not in the political process or in elected officials.

Echoing the early Christians, Roth suggested every kingdom-building action we do is political — whether peacemaking, service, becoming a foster parent or other good works. If we prioritize our witness as people of peace, abstaining from voting is one way to illustrate that.

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