Is voting a Christian obligation?

Feb 21, 2018 by

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At the age of 18, with the upcoming 2000 U.S. presidential election between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore, I did not register to vote. To this day, I still haven’t registered, even with the “issues” becoming more heated and the political divide widening. In recent years, I’ve heard from more Christians considering what their role is in the political process, and for them I suggest another alternative. This alternative does not choose right or left, but a completely different view, one outside the system altogether. At first this may sound very peculiar, even un-American, but hear me out.

As I see it, political involvement holds the promise of accomplishing something, but I’m not sure that it delivers. It makes us feel good, like we’re doing something to make the world a better place. It feels like we’re doing our part to keep life liberty and the pursuit of happiness alive. It may seem like our American — and even Christian — obligation. I just wonder if God’s real expectation for our action and involvement is not so political, but in the hidden, mundane and thankless things like loving the unlovable, forgiving the unforgivable, and giving to the undeserving. In essence, doing to others what he has done more perfectly for us.

Sometimes I wonder if we would feel such strong loyalties to our country if we were born somewhere else? Like how good Russians feel passionate about Russia, or how good Chinese feel passionate about China, and so on. The men in Jesus’ time certainly felt that way about their own country of Israel. In fact, some of his own disciples were willing to fight and die for their country, or as we say, “make the ultimate sacrifice.” But in the end, most of the original apostles died not for their country, but for Jesus.

One of the things that is striking to me about Jesus’ ministry is that his disciples always have to unlearn their patriotic Israeli mindset. Of course they had the right to take pride in their nation; after all, they were God’s chosen people. But when Jesus steps onto the scene, he is troubling to them as the Messiah because he is so miraculous in all he says and does and yet so very un-King-like at the same time. In fact, he was a real political failure. Jesus made no attempt to create a political movement, or even to side with the current political entities of his time and place. He didn’t even side with the revolutionaries who were rebelling against the Romans who had forcefully taken over and were oppressing God’s chosen people. Instead, Jesus’ deliberate work on earth was love and compassion for individuals. His work was for the poor and for the broken and for the admittedly messed-up ragamuffins, so that each would be eternally healed and enter his eternal kingdom.

In the last chapter of the book of Matthew, Jesus gives the apostles, and us, a specific job to do. It is to make disciples from all the people groups of the world and to teach them the very things that Jesus taught. It’s the great commission, and it is the real objective to our being here — the true Christian obligation.

Ryan McKelvey lies in Salisbury, Md., and attends a Biblical Mennonite Alliance congregation. He blogs at They Were Strangers, where this post first appeared.

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