I generally try to keep reflections on my blog broad enough to retain the interest of a wide range of potential readers. While this is a three-part series, this first part is one that will primarily be of interest to Seventh-day Adventists, the community of faith of which I am a member. For those who may not be Adventist, I hope you still find this reflection accessible, and the next two relevant as well. I should also note, that these views are my own, and personal. I do not purport to speak for any other person or organization. These are but my own reflections and conclusions.
There is a common known social standard that dictates, in polite company, one should not discuss religion or politics. Which is particularly unfortunate for me as those are two topics I will gladly discuss with anyone, no matter their perspective, and find the conversation interesting and engaging. Small talk, particularly about the weather, really is overrated.
Yet there is a topic, that even among those with who I share a common faith, I hesitate to bring up if I am not well acquainted with them: the issue of voting. Voting, I believe, is different from (though highly correlated with) politics. And as I will share in my next post, voting is something I was raised to value. So it came as a surprise to me in my late teenage years to find Seventh-day Adventists who did not believe in voting.
Not only did they not believe in voting, they would cite SOP quotes supporting their position. But then there were other Adventists who believed we must vote, and too had textual support for their position. I heard people say “I vote for issues, not people,” and others who are absolutely comfortable with voting for the next President of the United States.
All of this talking back and forth had my head spinning, and left me deeply confused, not unlike the commercials for and against the ballot proposals in Michigan this year. So finally, I decided to look for myself. And I came to some personal conclusions, which I will briefly share. I don’t want this post to be an exegetical exposition of voting in the writings of EGW, but I have several of the quotes saved. If you are interested in checking my sources, feel free to contact me, and I can send them your way.
Voting for issues is allowed, and people should wield the power appropriately. Over and over again Adventists are encouraged to vote for prohibition and other temperance measures popular in the Gilded Age, even if that meant casting their votes on Sabbath. EGW also writes to vote against Sunday laws.
Voting on these issues is not unlike many of the ballot proposals that end up on state ballots in the U.S. today. While there are often various private interests at stake behind each proposal, they are largely detached from political parties and questions and really do boil down to a person’s conscience on the matter.
Voting for people is also permitted, but voters need to be cautious. People often quote SOP to say that we cannot vote for people. I was surprised to find that this is not exactly what she wrote. She was writing about not voting for men who specifically supported Sunday laws as a part of their platform for office–something quite popular during her lifetime (I know, I wrote a master’s thesis on the topic). In other places she writes that it is important to vote for people who are temperate and of good character because they will make proper decisions. She also warns that the people are responsible for those they vote into office–good reason to be cautious about one’s choice.
Voting on party lines is a no go. Things just get too complex, and it is impossible to know what exactly you are voting for. I take this to mean that casting a straight party ticket without investigating each candidate is an unwise approach, even if it may save you time at the polls. If I am going to exercise the vote, it is on me to research each of the candidates, each of the issues, to understand who and what I am voting for. If I do not think that I can vote for any of the options, then I shouldn’t.
Which leads me to my final conclusion: as a Seventh-day Adventist, voting is neither mandated nor prohibited. I have been blessed to live in a free country, where, unlike some other democratic republics, I have the choice of whether or not to exercise my right to vote. And in the same way, I serve a God who empowers people to exercise their will and make choices, including the choice to vote. If you are convicted not to vote, that’s fine, but that doesn’t mean that no one can vote. If you are convicted to vote, that’s great too, but again, that’s your choice and does not mean everyone has to do the same.
As a concluding addendum, it is also abundantly clear from the SOP that while people may vote, in the church we are to keep our opinions to ourselves, lest our political opinions cause division and strife within the church. I found these portions especially interesting. She does not say not to have an opinion on these matters. However, those in positions of influence and trust, teachers, pastors, church leaders, etc., especially are to refrain from expressing their political view points and causing possible rifts in the community. I am definitely not perfect at this (at all), but I think it is wise advice.