Dear America: Why Vote?

We asked one of our American authors and esteemed bloggers, Mark Shea, to shed light on the election that has gripped the world, and the importance of voting on the 8th November 2016. You can find his other blogs here:

election-papersIt is extremely easy for Americans, especially in this weird tragicomedy of an election year–where neither of our choices are compelling — to ask “Why bother voting?
Even some bishops are saying, “If you want to take a pass, feel free.”

And I can certainly see the merits of that argument.
But I want to make a case for voting anyway.

I don’t mean I’m going to tell you who to vote for.  I assume you are an adult and can figure out which of these is the lesser threat–and that there are other people to vote for and other offices and issues on the ballot besides President. Rather, I want to simply make the case for voting in the abstract for a moment.

Saint Paul writing

St Paul tells us about the duties of the citizen to the state:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement.
For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.

Would you have no fear of him who is in authority?
Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.

marble bust of Nero

For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.
(Romans 13:1-7)

If you think our government is a joke, remember that Paul’s governing authority was Nero Caesar and that a few years after Paul wrote this, the governing authority instituted by God would use Paul’s fellow Christians to light his gardens and would chop Paul’s innocent head off. This makes clear that Paul realises instituted by God” does not mean “and therefore incapable of sin and evil.”

Paul knows what kind of human being Nero is. But he also recognised that, even so, it is better to have a state than to live in anarchy.

Now the thing is, these days Caesar is using his rightful authority from God to say, “You need to help me do my job by giving me input on what I should do and who should be in office to do it.” That’s a much better system than murdering Caligula to get his successor or mounting Spartacan slave revolts and lining the roads with thousands of crucified slaves when they fail.

vote-signYou and I have a chance to, at the very least, make sure that our vote is cast for the least harmful candidate. And, again, we have all those other candidates and issues at the state level that really need our input.

If Paul can say what he says about obeying the Caesar’s legitimate exercise of authority when the Caesar is Nero, we can certainly do our duty (and our privilege) of participating in ordering the common good when our choices are less than ideal.

If we don’t, we will have to live with the consequences forever. And unlike Paul, we will not be able to say, “There was nothing I could have done to change things.”

Mercy Works


Mark P. Shea is author of Mercy Worksdocat


DOCAT, What to do? The Social Teaching of the Catholic Church



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One comment on “Dear America: Why Vote?

  1. I’m curious as to a Christian justification for the American Revolution. According to St. Paul, we should have just quit throwing tea overboard and paid our taxes. George III was God’s anointed, Defender of the Faith, etc. Yet there were clergymen among the revolutionaries. How do Christians justify breaking off from Britain?

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