Abstaining

I will not be casting a vote for president this year. I would not be surprised if I’m the only one among my family and friends to abstain. Every—and I mean every—four years we are told “This election is the most important of our lifetime.” It could be true this time, but I doubt it, for the same reason I doubt my four year old son when he says that this toy is the one he really wants and he will not ask for anything for Christmas if I buy it right now.

I don’t have any grand apologetic for abstaining. I don’t think it’s inherently noble. I know my abstention will not send anyone a “message.” No one important will know and nobody with power will care. My choice comes not from heroic vision or holy ambition for the country, but out of my own sense of futility. At this point in American history, for a variety of reasons unlikely to change anytime soon, only a candidate from the two major parties can win, and neither of the current major party candidates are people I want in power. I’ve come very close to convincing myself that one option is at least less undesirable than the other, and that moral triage justifies my support of a candidate whom on the balance I dread and dislike. I’ve come very close, but can’t close the deal. The country has been given two paths. In the mysterious providence of God and the authority of the Constitution it must choose one of them, but my conscience will not let me join a chorus of persuasion. I may only sit down and lament.

I don’t know what to say except, like Frodo, “I wish none of this had happened.” I wish abortion were outlawed in this country. I wish the poor and immigrant were treated more humanely. I wish Roe v Wade and Jim Crow had never stained history. More than that, I wish the American evangelical church, of which I am a member and, Lord wiling, will be for the rest of my life, were a cross-shaped shelter from the cruelties, outrage, and dehumanization of our sacrilegious technocracy. I wish Donald Trump had been born to a father who loved his wife, children, and God more than money, and had put into his son the same love. I wish Joe Biden were an orthodox Roman Catholic who believed with all his heart that the church’s teaching on the personhood of unborn children was true and worth defending. I wish this country were not beholden to two parties. I wish, I wish, I wish.

And now I hear the voice of Gandalf saying, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you.”

The time that is given to me. I cannot decide what to do with the time given to someone else, much less what’s given to an entire citizenry. That is not for me to decide. All I can do is make a choice with the time that the risen Christ has given to me. And this time is, I believe, a time to lament, to grieve, to pray. The sabbath was God’s reminder to his people that as valuable as human activity is, it is not the most valuable thing. God makes the universe run, and one day out of 7 he called his children to rest in his power instead of labor in their own. That’s how I’m interpreting this abstention in my own heart. I did not choose these circumstances. I did not choose this day. But I can only rest in his power, not mine.

I’m writing this for two reasons, neither of which is to recruit people to imitate me or shame those who don’t. First, I needed to talk myself through this moment. I’ve got more clarity now than I did when I sat down to write. Second, I do suspect that there are some who feel in their heart this is what they should do, but they can’t silence the talk-radio voices in their head. Maybe this will help. Maybe not.

Most who read this will probably disagree. God bless each and every one of you. You may very well may be right. I don’t know. We can’t always pick what we don’t know, but we can pick what we are comfortable knowing or not knowing. Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my end be like theirs (Num. 23:10).

Author: Samuel D. James

Believer, husband, father, acquisitions editor, writer.

19 thoughts on “Abstaining”

  1. Thank you for the boldness to share your thoughts. I am feeling very similar, though I am not as bold to share my thoughts publicly. I can’t vote for either one of these guys. A third party candidate doesn’t seem to cut it for me, either. I’m not squandering this moment because it is drawing me closer to Christ and the Word of God. Thank you, brother.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think you are taking the only spiritually valid option! Good for you! Praying for you and all brave genuine Evangelicals in the troubled days ahead! Christopher

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I did same in 2016., and I had people from both sides saying my vote (for their candidate) was important. Still haven’t decided what I’m going to do this year. May not decide until I’m At the election booth – um…I mean kiosk! Not mailing Ballot primarily because I don’t know show I’m voting.

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  4. I respect your position, but I’ve decided not to vote for the incumbent because I don’t think our country can survive another four years with him in power. I am a registered Republican but I don’t believe that Trump represents the party-only himself and his selfish ambitions. I don’t discuss my politics much with anyone anymore, One of my best friends of several decades yelled at me over the phone a couple of weeks ago when I casually mentioned I was not voting for Trump. My brother-in-law, up to visit last weekend, told me that COVID-19 would go away as soon as Trump was re-elected, and that we will find the death toll is almost non-existent (all 230,000 of them). I will give Trump points for some great Supreme Court picks, but past that, it’s all “that’ll be great” and mocking those he disagrees with without saying anything of substance. A sovereign God may have another idea for what our country needs and keep the incumbent in power, but he has also seen fit to place me in my country where I can choose, and I will.

    My biggest concern is the whole relationship that evangelical Christians have developed with politics. To keep our way of life, we are willing to vote for someone who is totally without morals and mocks the very people who form a significant part of his base. We have lost the ability to discern good from evil (think 545 children who may never be reunited with their parents, or the fact that people are dying because they think masks are anti-American and Satanic). We believe in conspiracy theories regarding anti-vaccination and QAnon. I may sound a bit jaded, but I’ve been voting since 1976, and I have never seen anything as scary as this election. If God has to judge the church of America for its idolization of politics to the neglect of loving justice and mercy and walking humbly with our God, we will need to receive it because I think we deserve it. I’ll continue to my keep politics to myself while acting as a private citizen for things that are important to me, like working with my immigrant neighbors to help them adjust to life in America and learn English. The pastor of. my church (it may become my former church) says that good Christians must vote for Republicans. It grieves my hear that we have fallen that low.

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    1. I’m very grateful for this comment. 

      I believe that the Christian nationalism that many Evangelicals espouse is idolatrous and anti-Christ; conserative Evangelicals are now aligning themselves with power to the detriment of both democracy and (more importantly) Christianity. 

      To abstain from voting because both sides are bad, or should not be in power, is a game of false equivalence that will allow Trump *to remain in power*, and authoritarianism to thrive, while the name of Christ is further sullied. Why not ensure that the flawed, but non-authoritarian, candidate is elected and then work within the intact democratic system to advocate for changes that are in line with your convictions? 

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  5. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. This about perfectly summarizes where I’ve been on all of this. I will be abstaining this election cycle. I also abstained in 2016. I’m not sure why my choice this election cycle has been giving me more angst, but it has. Your thoughts have really helped me to continue to process my decision.

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  6. I agree with much that you have said. How I wish things were different. As we are all well aware, we live in a world now capable of expressing its sin and fallenness in incredible ways. My overriding conviction on the matter of politics in such an environment is simply that God has us in this time and place (not another), in part, to do what we can to improve the lot of those around us. This conviction presses me to at least try – as futile as it seems – until such time as our right to try, or my life here, is no more. I have already voted and will continue to do so until I am no longer allowed or able, whichever comes first.

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  7. Samuel,

    Thank you much for sharing your heart and thinking out loud through this piece. I resonate much with what you have said.

    I find myself thinking most closely with Albert Mohler and his recent column about the conscience in the political situation today. I voted third-party in 2016 but will vote for Trump this year. He has been much more consistent and predictable in moral issues than I had expected. That being said, when I waited for an hour in line to vote early here in New York City, I did so with a heavy heart. The most fitting tone for our prayers and our thoughts is surely one of lament.

    We can vote one day every four years but we can pray 1,461 days over the next four years. Clearly our highest calling is to pray. And per 1 Timothy 2, our highest obligation is to pray for all men, particularly our governmental leaders.

    Thank you for your renewed commitment to continue writing in this blog. I find your thoughts to be clear, insightful, and enriching. God give you and your family great grace during this season!

    Andrew Snavely @ASnavely_NYC

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  8. This is not woke; it is awoken.
    If more of us would abstain from a great many things, saying “I don’t know” instead, more of us would hear the whisper of His voice telling us what we could know.

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  9. Pastor and Professor David C Inness:

    Here are my considered thoughts on our 2020 presidential choice.

    Evangelicals went hard for Donald Trump in 2016. I explain in the linked article how that was reasonable. With 4 years of Trump administration behind us, a Christian vote for Trump makes even more sense now. I did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016. I would walk through fire to support him in this election.

    In Christ & the Kingdoms of Men, I argue that the biblical purpose of government is to secure life and the conditions suitable for material, moral, and spiritual flourishing.

    DJT has stood against abortion, both legally and rhetorically. The monstrous crime against humanity that is abortion is by far the defining moral issue of our age. The Democratic Party LOVES abortion and equates it with liberty.

    DJT quickly turned the sluggish Obama recovery into an economic boom by his tax & trade policies and regulatory reform with incalculable benefits to working class and minority populations. Note: record low black unemployment! Biden-Harris will kill our Covid recovering economy and the hopes of vulnerable, ordinary people with their party’s massive “green” impositions.

    DJT at the very least halted the Democrat crusade to impose the most extreme advance of the sexual revolution, e.g., the right of gender-shifting men to use girls’ changing rooms. Joe Biden says he will make this advance his legislative priority.

    DJT has made it a point to protect religious liberty. The Democratic Party equates Christian orthodoxy with hatred, bigotry, and opposition to all things “progressive.”

    Covid? This was a Chinese-manufactured, global assault, a crime against humanity. DJT closed off China when we had just a few cases in the northwest and no deaths. He assembled a high level task force headed by VP Pence. 15, then 30, days to flatten the curve. Massive hospital assistance to NYC. National mobilization for mask and ventilator production. Etc. Democratic governors worked to kill seniors in nursing homes (NY, PA) and their state economies.

    Democrats refuse to condemn Antifa and Marxist BLM.

    On top of this, a rule of law judiciary and three (3!) Nobel Peace Prize nominations for actual accomplishments. What part of world peace don’t you like?

    And he has done all this (perhaps) spending most of his day watching TV and tweeting. I’ll take that. Sure, he has problems–he can be tactless, boorish, rhetorically self-defeating–but on balance (unless you are following an earthly savior, your political judgments are always “on balance”), he is far and away the clear choice for the compassionate, liberty-loving, Christian voter.

    Out of love for neighbor and with thanks to God who builds our habitable world with warped wood, I will cast my vote for Trump-Pence and pray for the Lord’s mercy in the coming days, and weeks, and years to come.

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    1. When this first reached my inbox, I was in disbelief that a comment with so many hasty generalizations, causal fallacies, xenophobia-laced conspiracy theories, and fragments of misinformation could be written by a professor.

      Too many half-truths to address, but wanted to at least say that being nominated for a Nobel is not a remarkable feat. All nominations from heads of state or politicians serving at a national level are received. Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin were all nominated (https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/facts/facts-on-the-nobel-peace-prize/). And I pray that Trump, like these other totalitarians, will eventually be left to the dustbin of history.

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  10. I was going to email you about this, but I just finished reading Deep Work, so now I understand why I couldn’t find your e-mail (ha!).

    A lot of this resonated with me though, so thanks for sharing. I’ve also been thinking about that quote from LOTR *a lot*!

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  11. We vote for a team, not a single individual and I’m not talking about the team of staffers chosen by a president I’m talking more broadly about the various congressmen, senators, judges, civilians who are on the team. Let’s use a football analogy. The fact that the quarterback is misbehaving badly doesn’t automatically require the entire team be punished. We may bemoan the fact that there are only two teams but as you stated in your post, “At this point in American history, for a variety of reasons unlikely to change anytime soon, only a candidate from the two major parties can win”. So like it or not, the choice is actually binary. One of two will win and will bring a new team with them.
    The values of each party are not hard to find, so you know which end zone each team is running towards. I personally don’t think it is difficult to see which party has stated values that accord more with Biblical moral principles, even if that party collectively or individually doesn’t consistently exemplify those principles in word or deed. Fact is, unless the opposing team intervenes, the other will reach their goal. This is certain.

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