There is nothing quite like the American Declaration of Independence. It was a reasoned response to the tyranny of the British crown. The Colonists had experienced the growing reach of a government that prioritized serving itself. You need only read their list of grievances to see how far reaching was that tyranny. Intrusion after intrusion into the private affairs of the people of the American Colonies was no longer tolerable. Rather than accept that such a government had rights over the people, the Colonies rather claimed that government is to be the servant of the people; deriving its powers from the consent of the governed. Here is a quote from the Declaration of Independence…
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.“
Whether in Washington D.C or in the state houses, the representatives who serve the interests of this nation do so because we consent for them to do so. Our consent is never clearer than when we cast our votes. Though we are not always pleased with our limited choices after the nomination process runs its course, we nonetheless consent in each election to another round of representatives to secure life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Given the polarized political climate of our country, one half of the voters are usually displeased with the results of our elections. Accusations of voter fraud will follow. Frankly, there is little doubt that there will be fraud attempts in every election cycle, but they would be of little consequence if there were a better election turnout. For instance, 50% to 60% of eligible voters actually cast ballots in presidential elections. Midterm turnouts are even lower – in the mid 30%s. So from 50% to 70% of eligible voters are silent. And we think we have a fraud problem?
It is hard for me to believe that anyone for whom the privilege has been granted would not vote, especially since a non-vote is also a form of consent. Non-voters are consenting to let a minority of eligible voters determine the course of the country in which they live. I wonder what changes we might see if they did not self-suppress their votes. Abraham Lincoln understood the power of the vote, “This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their Constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.” That kind of power demands a greater responsibility. I thank God that we are given a voice in this nation.
There are not only non-voters, but also low-information voters. Such people do not take their consent seriously enough to understand the implications of their vote. Very bad leaders can take advantage of such voters by appealing to emotion when the facts do not support their claims. This is true of candidates in both major parties. It was Adolph Hitler who said, “I use emotion for the many and reserve reason for the few.” He also said, “What luck for rulers that men do not think.”
Making an informed decision in a vote takes more than following voter’s guides or listening to late-night talk shows or to one-minute commercials. To consent this way makes room for corrupt men and women to move into the corridors of power and serve their own interests. We not only have a great privilege in this nation, but a great responsibility. We would do well to remember that there is no eternal judgment for governments – God holds nations responsible in the here and now. Isaiah gave a warning to the people of God in his own day,
“How the faithful city has become a prostitute; she who was full of justice! Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers. Your silver has become dross, your best wine mixed with water. Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them.“ (Isaiah 1:21-23)
As Saint Peter tells us, we are to be subject to our government. This puts a heavy burden on Christians, who must live under laws that are at odds with our beliefs,
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:13-17)
Which is why it is that much more important that those of us who have been given a hand in the selection of our representatives take it seriously enough to do the work of making informed votes. The framers of the United States Constitution signed the Declaration of Independence with these words, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” They pledged to one another with their lives. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.” It seems the least we could do is to make the sacrifice of getting informed and participating in the privilege bequeathed to us.