Am I Wrong For Being Upset With Coworkers Who Don’t Vote?

I came into the office and one of my coworkers asked if I voted.  I had.  So I repeated her question to her.  She said no, she hadn’t voted.  I started into a rant, a small one.  Then a second person came in while I was questioning the merits of the first coworker’s failure to vote.  The second person didn’t vote either.  I couldn’t take it.

I told them about a friend who wouldn’t let people she supervised come to work til they voted.  I started to say things about absentee ballots and early voting and the effectiveness of sitting out as opposed to actually doing the thing.  It’s sad to me that it’s too late for one of these ladies to vote.  She’s not driving to her home state to do it.  The other flat out said what she wasn’t going to do.  Both had their reasons, all of which I disagree with.

I told them I was going to my office to write a blog post.  I told them that I didn’t want to answer any of their questions.  Am I wrong to be upset?  Am I judging them when they’re able to say to me that if we had this conversation two months ago, maybe they would have voted? 

To vote is to exercise faith.  If Christians and people of other faiths do not vote, we miss one opportunity to live into what we believe.  I get that not all people of all faiths would agree that voting is a matter of faith, but go with me for a moment.  Faith is realized when we live it out.  Faith isn’t altogether interior but it pushes us out and makes us aware of the world around us.  A spiritual life that is Christian (and I’m talking specifically from my place in life) is concerned with the interal life and the external life.  And that external life is what we we see in our cities and counties, how budgets are passed or stalled, how legislators conduct themselves or fail to.  The spiritual life must be just as concerned in the political process because that’s a part of the world we live in and that’s one place people of faith can impact. 

When you vote, you say in the public sphere that you have beliefs about policy and how a city pursues peace and justice and well being.  When you vote, you say that you are choosing to support and elect a particular person for a specific role.  What you are doing is exercising your trust in that candidate, that jurist, or that politician, expressing your confidence in that person’s ability to execute the office or role to which they might be elected. 

It matters and it doesn’t matter whether they actually proceed in the way they said.  It matters and it doesn’t.  That’s why we vote: to hold people accountable, to change course, to remove leaders, to keep leaders.  We vote because we are discouraged or underwhelmed by the last two years or four years or eight years.  We don’t sit out.  We get up and go out to vote.

As a pastor, I think one of the best things I can do during election season is encourage people to vote.  Yes, to be informed about their voting and their values behind those votes, but to vote regardless.  If you believe that certain policies and certain legislative agendas can advance or get closer to what you believe the city, county, state, or country should be, wouldn’t restraining from a vote be contrary to your faith?  If you believe that your faith in meaningful for life now, wouldn’t it be fruitful for you to embody that faith in acts like praying for politicians, asking critical questions of judges, registering to vote, and following through during each election cycle by voting?  If you determine that a person’s values and commitments are similar to yours, particularly as a person of faith, or that a candidate’s spoken words accord with your own, wouldn’t it be a small failure of faith to not vote?  I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am.

I haven’t even started on the whole thing about the actual historical and contemporary significance of voting.  I’ll save that for the early conversations I’ll start with my coworkers in advance of Chicago’s February elections.  So expect a few posts in late December and early January to anticipate the deadlines for voter registration and early voting.

So, am I wrong for having an attitude?  Perhaps I’ll get to staff meeting and find out that more people didn’t vote.  If I do, I won’t write another post, I promise.

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16 thoughts on “Am I Wrong For Being Upset With Coworkers Who Don’t Vote?

  1. I believe that anyone who is capable and permitted to vote should do so.
    I believe that voting is both a duty and a right.
    I believe that voting is a civic duty that has moral implications.
    I believe that each individual should vote as their conscience permits or demands, in accordance with their faith and their beliefs about the proper governance of nation, state, and municipality.

    However, I do NOT believe that voting is a religious or spiritual duty.
    Here’s why:
    -God sets up kings and deposes them. The means by which he chooses to do so differ by place, and in the US, this may mean the electorate. But it is NOT us who chooses leaders, but God. This is especially important to recognize when a candidate with whom I disagree strongly is elected to office.
    -There are Christians of deep faith who live in places where voting is not part of the process of appointing leaders. These Christians express no less obedience through their inability to vote than I do when I exercise that ability.
    -“When you vote, you say in the public sphere that you have beliefs about policy and how a city pursues peace and justice and well being. ” This is true–and remains true–regardless of whether or not the person for whom I vote ends up winning. I can likewise proclaim beliefs in the public sphere without voting, and my lack of voting does not diminish the validity of those beliefs one iota (although it may diminish the effectiveness of the sway of those beliefs, as expressed publicly).
    -If a vote is primarily a spiritual action, it implies that there is spiritually a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ candidate to vote for. Further, if I disagree with you on the merits (or lack thereof) of a candidate or policy position, it implies that one of us is lacking in some spiritual measure. I find this abhorrent to the universal communion of Christianity–I stand as much with my Maoist Christian brothers as I do my liberal Democrat Christian brothers as I do my conservative Tea Partier Christian brothers. (brothers = brothers & sisters…I’m too lazy to write it all out a bunch of times. Sorry.) Whether or not those implications are false or proper, they exist, and it causes unnecessary divisions in the Body of Christ.

    To put it another way: My vote is irrelevant to my faith; but my faith remains incredibly relevant to my vote.

    My faith informs my life–all of it. This includes, in a very real and meaningful way, my discourse in the public sphere, how I understand policy, and the people for whom I vote. But ultimately, the choice to vote (or not) is a CIVIL expression primarily. While it has moral and religious implications, it is not primarily a moral or spiritual action.

    If a Muslim Fascist were (somehow) elected president of the USA (I’m not sure a fascist would actually wait around to be elected…), my faith would be unaltered. Likewise, if a lying scumbag of a pork-selling, bribe-taking, patronage-producing politician is elected (a fairly likely outcome in politics these days), my faith will be unaltered.

    I will continue to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God, so much as I am able. And I can do this whether or not I vote.

  2. PS. No, I don’t think you’re wrong for being upset with co-workers who don’t vote. But the anger/frustration should probably not be based on spiritual reasons, but rather civil ones…

    • Josh, you’ve given good things to think about. To be clear, I think you’re offering a split that I don’t accept, the common that’s leaking through when you talk about spiritual reasons and civil ones or civic duties and spiritual ones. I’m a bit more African with regard to those dichomoties. I tend to see the picture as integrated and not as fragmented which leaves me seeing life as spiritual and civic without splitting one category a part from the other. For ease of language, I think it’s helpful to focus on civic categories but because I think you are a spiritual person who does things for civic purposes, I can follow you. But I still think you acts are spiritual acts or spiritually related acts or spiritual relevant acts.

      Second, I completely agree that God sets up leaders, but I’d go on to say that God uses systems (albeit diverse ones across the world, yes, and not every system is like ours in Chicago, yes) that are populated by people, by registered voters, by votes who turn out, etc. God didn’t choose my alderman, in other words. The constituency did. Now, God may have used those citizens, etc. That’s the common way God does things, through people. Which is why what you do matters. I think we’re in the same chapter on that. Maybe not the first point so much.

      • I think the civil and religious are parts of a whole. It’s not separate so much as separate facets of the whole. So I think I agree with you.

        But while voting is a means of allowing faith to be enacted, it is not (in my opinion) a direct expression of faith. That is, if I do not vote, I do have not expressed faith less than someone who does. Perhaps even abstaining from a vote could be a way to act intentionally on what faith speaks to a conscience.

        Voting doesn’t give a person more faith–or less. It’s no more or less of a means of grace than tying my shoes in the morning; voting is no more a sacrament than riding my bike.

        If you’d like to consider voting a spiritual act, that’s fine–and certainly true. But then so is opting to eat at the Thai restaurant rather than cooking Italian food at home, etc. All of these things have spiritual implications, and are matters influenced by faith. But I think to suggest that voting is a special exercise of faith is to give that civil act more spiritual credit than it ought to rightly have…

        Just my $.02.

  3. 1.) I do vote. 2.) This may be a rambling and disjointed comment…

    If someone does some research on the candidates, listens to what they have to say, and decides that there is no one worth voting for then that’s ok in my book. What I don’t like is people who are to are too lazy to vote or people who throw out vague excuses (my vote doesn’t count, it’s rigged any way blah, blah, blah) to justify their inaction. Also, by refusing to answer your co-worker’s questions, I think you are missing out on a valuable opportunity to educate and inform.

    Also, how to change the mind of a person who optimistically votes in every election cycle only to be repeatedly let down by those he/she put their trust in? how do you keep someone from becoming jaded?

    And Josh, if God is the one choosing our leaders, wouldn’t that be more of a resaon not to vote? Especially of one were Christian?

    Lastly, I like to keep my faith and my politics separate. Politicians exploit the fathful every voting cycle. To me, a politician mentioning faith is an indication that there isn’t too much substance to him/her. I’ve witnessed too many Christians gushing about a politicians religious views, but have nothing to say about that candidate’s economic or domestic/foreign policy stance. Sometimes. I feel like Gospel is nothing more than blinders on the faces of the people in the pews.

    • Oh no, they’re asking me about unrelated things, and I’m just being difficult. I’m not avoiding conversations about the choice to or not to vote. I think there are good questions here about staying engaged in the sphere of politics, but I continue to think that faith sits under this. If we walk by faith (and I’m not assuming everyone does but for people who do), faith becomes a meaningful, practical vehicle as it relates to voting and politics and so on. I think staying engaged is a good reason to not separate faith and politics. I’m with you on what you’ve said about rhetoric and exploitation though. Politics is not about preaching but policy and leading and managing, and all that matters. My point would be that politics can be one opportunity for people of faith to put their best, critical instruments in place to try to live out what they believe, right where they are, no matter the political system.

    • God sets up kings and deposes them, but not in a vacuum. He does so via the means of people, whether through a democratic system of government or a Communist succession.

      I brought that up less as a reason to vote/not vote, but to point out that faith is in no way invalidated (or validated) by the election of this or that candidate. God is in control. And I do not have more (or less) faith if I vote for Candidate A, though Candidate B wins.
      ~~~
      Toward your next point, please do NOT divorce your faith from your politics. Allow your faith to inform your policy positions, through your conscience, through the Word, and through the right ordering of life. But you might not want to let it choose your party affiliation.

      And yes, politicians will attempt to co-opt your faith. Don’t let them do so. But don’t divorce faith from any aspect of your life. Please.

  4. I think that if someone sat down and researched the candidates, listened to their speeches, and decided that no one was worth voting for, I’d be perfectly fine with that. I don’t think we should have to vote for someone we really don’t trust in the name of civic duty.

    Going off on a rant, refusing to answer their questions, and leaving to go blog can’t help matters at all. I think that was a great opportunity to inform and educate your co-workers.

    As far as my faith is concerned, I don’t want to hear politicians or politics at church and I don’t want to hear politicians talking about their faith. In my experience with christians and politics, there has been an inability to take a nuanced approach – it’s always black and white. That frustrates me to no end! I have hade maybe 1 good conversation with a christian about politics. Ok, I’ll stop now because I feel an angry, rambling rant coming.

    In any case, I think it is perfectly possible be a “good” christian and not vote.

  5. It can be a faithful expression of a person’s faith to abstain from voting. I’m not talking about that at all. That’s another post. I think theologian’s like John Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas (maybe others) can provide hard, theological guidance along those lines. I respect that and am not attempting to engage that at all, by the way.

  6. I say this as someone who voted. Others fought for my right to vote, so I vote as a way of saying thanks.

    However, I don’t think it’s lazy to say you’re not voting because your vote doesn’t matter. It’s popular to say “every vote counts” but we all know that entire counties in this state can vote a certain way, and Cook County will still determine any state-wide election. In truth, the voters in those counties don’t count. They’ve learned that fact and chose to (not) vote accordingly. It’s realistic, not vague or lazy.

    In my opinion, it’s worse for someone to blindly follow party lines and vote based on the letter next to someone’s name, or to randomly pick people based on TV ads and name recognition, than to not vote at all. I’d prefer to have winners determined by researched opinions of a few of the electorate rather than the whims of a large number of people who voted just because they wanted a sticker or their boss made them.

  7. I appreciate and concur with your thought concerning voting, and the participation in the political process as an action of ones faith, Michael. I would also like to add that not 60 years ago, people lost their lives while pursuing this right to vote.

  8. If we can’t take a couple of hours to research the issue but spend all day tracking people of facebook…our future generation of leaders has a REAL issue

  9. Pingback: Lotteries, Sacraments, and Voting pt 1 | Intersections

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