Voting is a civic duty. Is it also a spiritual imperative?

Early voting begins this month and culminates on Election Day, Nov. 3. In the 2016 general election, only six out of 10 eligible voters cast ballots, and COVID-19 could have a dampening effect on turnout. Texas is one of seven states that has rejected expansion of voting by mail for those concerned about exposure to the virus.

No one doubts that one person — one vote — is at the heart of democracy. To vote is to participate in an exercise that extends our democratic republic. But does faith add additional burden to vote in civil elections?

Cantor Shoshana Brown rightly writes: “As far as Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism go, none of these faiths have sacred scriptures that explicitly address the issue of voting — for the simple reason that all these faiths sprung up and developed in places and eras when people tended to be ruled by monarchs, emperors or other leaders who were not selected by the people at large.” 

The Constitution permits every citizen to vote, and the Bill of Rights ensures religious liberty. Perpetuating our historic experiment in freedom has religious implications even if our sacred texts lack explicit mandates about executing that democratic right.

Still, we can extrapolate from biblical texts. While Jews and Christians in different ways have understood themselves throughout history as resident aliens in the world, seeking their true homeland in the age to come, both texts and contexts have urged political participation.

While in captivity in Babylon, Israel was enjoined to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare, you will find your welfare.” Likewise, Christians were commanded to “pray for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

No perfect kings or people in high positions have ever existed, so faithful Americans shouldn’t claim conscientious objection to voting. We have always had only sinners on the ballot. If I were running for office, I would have holy reticence about voting for myself given what I know about my character. Even so-called value voters who rush to the polls to cast ballots for people they enthusiastically support should recognize that their candidates are only human and can never deliver on all they have promised.

One principle pervades all religious traditions: Love your neighbor as yourself. That means faith-based voting shouldn’t focus on self-interest or group interest. It should attend to what is good for all, crossing strata of race, religion class and culture.

In the end, we will have no one but ourselves to blame for the country or community we get if we fail to vote (assuming no foreign intervention). See you at the polls.

GEORGE MASON is pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church, president of Faith Commons and host of the “Good God” podcast. The Worship section is underwritten by Advocate Publishing and the neighborhood businesses and churches listed here. For information about helping support the Worship section, call 214.560.4202.