Is Voting an Act of Violence? Reflections on Election Process

Yesterday I offered up some thoughts on the upcoming elections.  The day before that I offered up a review of a book entitled Split Ticket: Independent Faith in a Time of Partisan Politics.  I have always believed that voting is not just a right, but a sacred privilege to be taken very seriously.  I have tried to vote in every election and I make it a point to go to the polls to vote.  I have taken my lead in part from Romans 13, though my interpretation might not be standard issue. 

In Romans 13, Paul tells the people to be "subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God."  In our country, which is a democracy, the governing authority is the voter.  Thus, I am to be subject to the direction given by the voters, even if I don't always agree with the majority on every issue or candidate.  Now I don't follow this lead blindly, but I understand that in our system we have the right to resist through the vote.  Because I believe that voting is important it has been my belief that if you don't vote then don't complain.  That's the way I was raised.

With that as the background I find quite challenging the premise that voting could be an act of violence.  In an essay in Split Ticket John Edgerton and Vince Amlin make this very claim.

Most of us think about voting for a President as choosing between candidates, deciding who is best suited for the position.  This is only part of the story.  We are also voting to place someone in the office of President.  This office, like any, comes with a job description, part of which is the role of Commander in Chief of the armed forces.  When we vote, we collectively decide to give one person control over the deadliest weapon in the world, the U.S. military, and authorize him or her to use it whenever necessary.  Voting in a Presidential election does more than simply express a preference.  Voting also affirms the broader political order of our nation, and that political order is not peaceful.  (Split Ticket, p. 59). 
Although I don't find the argument convincing -- maybe that's because of my own upbringing -- I think it is appropriate to consider the kind of political order we've committed ourselves to.  Remember that Paul was writing to people living under Roman Rule.  He suggested that government provided structure and order, but he didn't give his imprimatur on any particular form of government. 

Although I'm not sure that voting is an act of violence, I have become more and more convinced that the act of campaigning is verging on becoming an act of violence.  I realize that nastiness has always been part of the campaign process, but with the multiple forms of media available, and the huge sums of money available due to corporate spending on elections, they have become more and more polarizing each time out.  It is rare to see a positive TV commercial, and if you're watching TV for a couple of hours in an evening you will be bombarded by commercial after commercial. 

Is voting an act of violence, I'm not convinced that it is, but the process has become increasingly violent.  And, to be honest I'm concerned about the kind of governance we will get if we continue down this road.  


Brian said…
I'm sure Bob already knows this, but I'll say it so people mistakenly think I'm smart.

The Discples have a history of pacifists who considered voting to be an act of violence. David Lipscomb did. I believe Tolbert Fanning did as well. I'm sure there were others, but Fanning & Lipscomb were big southern names of late 19th century.

The interesting thing (to me) is that it was the more conservative elements within the Restorationist Movement that were pacifist. Why? Because they believed the New Testament was the literal word of God.
David said…
No, it's not violence. It does incite blackmail-like threats of violence in some circles..i.e. we always have second amendment options to fall back on. Think of voting as prevention of violence. It's a choice.

Breaking News, FOX Spews finally admits liberals are more genetically evolved and open minded!
Brian said…
It occured to me that it is possible someone may think I'm suggesting that voting is an act of violence. I don't don't think this. That said, I have no beef with those who do. They are fascinating!

David - That's a cool story. I've shared before that in my heart of hearts I believe thoughts and religiousity are more genetically determined than we can know at this time. (Pure speculation on my part.)
micky said…
I am quite agree with you. Voting must be taken seriously. It seems that young generation, which is more aware and active about system, are less interested in Voting... Quite strange...
micky said…
Young generation, specially, should, consider Voting a sincere act...

Cafe Bruges
Brian said…
micky - You are right about young voters not being a reliable voting block. I believe the research shows that since lowering the age from 21 to 18, that demographic has not been very active.

They were actively engaged in 2010, and it made a meaningful difference.

Like you, I sure do hope the young folks vote this Tuesday!

Also, Cafe Bruges will soon be "liked" by me on facebook.
David said…
Let's not forget why 18 year old persons were given voting rights. It was a REWARD for mandated violence (the draft). Same for the drinking age, till I turned 21 that is!
John said…
Begin with the fact that I am a pacifist - I abhor violence and recoil from it when it happens in my presence. I feel guilty at my feelings of anger. But here is what I think:

Voting is an act of aggression. It involves asserting one's point of view, and in the process claiming the validity of that point of view as well as claiming the authority to express it. Aggression does not equal violence. Violence is action (or inaction) undertaken with the intention of inflicting or permitting the infliction of physical harm on another.

The destructive potential of violence is problematic, but there are those who argue from a purely pragmatic point of view, that violent responses are sometimes required to ward off greater violence. You do what you have to, you do what you can.

All that being said, the 'act' of not voting is no less violent than voting - either way, you belong to the process. Our government officials are our government officials until we step outside of the system, and declare ourselves no longer part of the American political covenant, and release whatever benefits we have gained from the American System.

As an American citizen, your president, whether you voted for, against, or abstained, is your agent, like it or not. The violence perpetrated by American armed forces is my personal responsibility regardless of whether I voted and regardless of who I voted for.

And just as important, the sacrifices made by those men and women were made for me as much as for any other American citizen.

As for the 19th Disciples pacifists, I cannot help but view their position as naive posturing. On the assumption they were I see their action in taking a very public stand as far more aggressive than participating in a secret ballot election. The publicity surrounding the position was sought for purposes no less political than the mere filling out of a ballot. And their very public refusal to participate in the political system is in fact a very public act of participation.

John said…

"On the assumption they were SINCERE, I see their action...."

David said…
I guess any choice is aggression then, even choosing against evil, or the greater evil. This is silly. I agree with John. Apathy is the ultimate aggression.

Church leaders that oppose democracy are doing it out of jealousy and are fantasizing theocracy.
John said…
How about apathy as a symptom of oppression?

Indifference can be aggressive, it says bluntly: I choose not to care.

David said…
Well, apathy can be a symptom, and cause, of depression. A vicious circle there.
David said…
You have to check this out to get a proper perspective maybe (you can choose HD)-
Brian said…
Wow, interesting thoughts!

I'm willing to give the benefit of a doubt to anyone regarding their heart (sincerity). We are fortunate to have really interesting stories within our tradition. I hope they are not forgotten.

CORRECTION: I made a mistake on an earlier post. I commented that younger voters were active and made a difference in the 2010 election. I meant 2008.

I'm "pro" voting to be sure. I'm one of the few people I know who gets excited about it. I was one year too young to vote for Mondale. The way my birthday fell, I ended up not being able to vote for a president until I was 21. I'm still hoping a re-count will show that Dukakis won.

Our system is flawed, but it is still a peaceful transition of leadership through citizen engagement. (Note that I did not say it is a transition of power.) As flawed as it is, I'm proud of our system. No blood on the streets. Peaceful engagement.
Brian said…
John - I happen to disagree with you that violence means physical violence. I believe words can be violent too. There's no "proof" one way or the other. There is, however, a difference in how I choose to use my words. (3rd chapter of James is a foundation stone for me.)
David said…
Well, things have gotten pretty weird lately. It appears the Democrats took a few pages from Bush/ Cheney.

Hellliberation, er, Halliburton is practically found guilty for selling cement that lacked cement-like properties, fake bombs on aircraft, candidates bedroom escapades exposed, the economy gurus claiming the economy bounced up...

I hope it works!..;)
David said…
correction? yikes...

...the East Midlands device was so sophisticated an initial examination by forensics experts initially suggested it did not contain explosives.
John said…

I couldn't agree with you more. Shall we agree that the purpose of violence is to inflict harm, physical or otherwise?

David said…
Brian said…
John - That definition sure does work for me. The tricky part about non-physical violence is that it is easy to commit violence against someone without being aware of it. That's the scary part for me.


Happy Halloween! I hope we don't get a "trick" this year by the name of Speaker of the House John Boehner!
John said…
Generally speaking, i would say that action or inaction which, without knowledge or intention on the part of the actor, causes harm is not violence. However, intentionally ignoring or hiding from the consequences of one's choice may result in violence and harm, and it is no defense to say 'i didn't know' when you should have known.

XYZ123 said…
Voting, in and of itself, is not an act of violence. However, voting within the context of national political elections can be associated with violence.

"All preparations for war, in this nation, are begun at the ballot-box. Voting is the first step; and every course of action begun there... A bullet is in every ballot; and when the ballot is cast into the box, the bullet goes in with it. They are inseparable, as the government is now constituted... Every ballot contains a threat of death; and he, who casts it, pledges himself to aid the government to execute it. The ballot-box is the first step, the gallows or battlefield the last; and whoever takes the first, must take the last. There is no consistent or honest stopping place between them."

(Above quote comes from the book "Blood Guilt: Christian Responses to America's War on Terror" (New Covenant Press, 2011), p. 252. See for more quotes in the spirit of the early pioneers, such as Lipscomb, Fanning, Campbell and Stone.

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