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).