Cast Thy Ballot As Long As Thou Canst


A set of pre-election queries for Friends

1. Is voting for a presidential candidate a form of wielding the carnal sword?

When we pull the lever in the polling booth we are declaring that we want this one, and not that one, to serve us as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. If our candidate wins and proceeds to wage war, or have Federal prisoners executed, he has every reason to claim that we gave him his mandate.

“But we voted for him because of his stand on the economy,” we may protest. “The system gives us no way to give a mandate for one thing while withholding it for another.”

Then why participate in a system that forces you to say what you don’t mean?

Some Friends withhold income taxes so as not to wield the carnal sword by proxy; one can also avoid it by not saying “yes” to a candidate willing to take human life.

2. Is choosing a lesser evil over a greater one a thing God wants us to do?

When we knowingly do a “lesser evil” we know we’re doing evil and have strayed from God’s will; otherwise we wouldn’t call it that. We know in our hearts that God never wishes us to do evil.

The important thing is to will what God wills. God’s given us a conscience to guide us in doing that. Divine Guidance, which comes through that conscience, is always preferable to the often-wrong reasoning by which we devise means to reach ends we’ve deemed desirable. Can’t hear the Guidance? Ask the Holy Spirit to speak louder. It will.

The prophet Isaiah was uncompromising about blurring the lines: Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil! (Is. 5:20a.) Some centuries later, the apostle Paul denounced those who’d say “Let us do evil, that good may come of it.” (Romans 3:8.) But this teaching is common to all religions.

God will not allow us to be tempted beyond our power to resist (1 Cor. 10:13), and if God wants us to live with undefiled consciences, God, being Almighty, can be relied on to make that possible for us.

That acknowledged, do we need to query ourselves as to whether we’ve carved out areas of life and choice from which we’ve shut God out?

3. Have you asked God whom to vote for?

If there’s continuing revelation, as Friends have always held, and God (let’s suppose) wishes So-and-so to become President, mightn’t God reveal the divinely chosen candidate to Friends gathered in worship and then direct them to minute their discernment that all voters should be encouraged to vote for So-and-so? For we are urged to be of one mind (2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 1:27, 2:2; 1 Pet. 3:8; 1 Cor. 2:16); why not be of one mind about the upcoming election?

“But we couldn’t do that,” we’d protest, “because then we’d lose our tax-exempt status. And it would split the Meeting, and our entire Society! The Democratic Friends in the East and the Republican Friends in the Midwest would never forgive each other! Please, God! No political endorsements!”

Then perhaps God is keeping the divine preference – if there is one — hidden from us only as a tender concession to our frailty. Or might God wish to set up So-and-so as President without Friends’ involvement in the process? For “the servant of the Lord must not engage in quarrels,” 2 Timothy 2:24.

4. Is our praying “Thy kingdom come” to God contradicted by our going to the polls to pray – by voting – that our candidate’s presidency come?

There’s an interesting parable about this in the First Book of Samuel, Chapter 8; but many have found it easy to be faithful citizens of God’s kingdom while also enjoying the citizenship of a secular nation-state, “rendering unto Caesar those things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). However, Jesus warns us that where our treasure is, there will our heart be also (Matt. 6:21), and the political discourse of the secular state has almost never concerned itself with the spiritual good of all souls, but rather with the outward wealth, power and security of its own people. Which of these shall we call our treasure and set our heart on? Jesus advises us to seek first the kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33), and the other goods will follow. Does this suggest the relative importance of voting and prayer? Of Caesar’s things and God’s?  Does Caesar even have or control anything, “unless it were given him from above?” (John 19:11.)


19 Responses to “Cast Thy Ballot As Long As Thou Canst”

  1. ramzymosa Says:

    Reblogged this on ramzymosa and commented:
    which religion believes ,if you tell the lie 100 times, 10 people will believe you,if tell the same lie 1000 times, 100 people will believe

  2. Thy Friend John: Cast Thy Ballot As Long As Thou Canst - Quaker Ranter Says:

    […] Friend John: Cast Thy Ballot As Long As Thou Canst Posted on 09/30/2012 by Martin Kelley Link: A set of pre-election queries: Per­haps God is keep­ing the divine pref­er­ence – if there is […]

  3. Joanna Hoyt Says:

    Dear John,
    Thanks for the queries. I am having my usual pre-election internal wrestling match about voting. You articulate one side of it, the side I hardly ever hear articulated, very strongly.

    Last year, for the first time in my life, I voted for a President who won. (Before I’d voted Green.) These past four years I have been intensely aware of the parts of his policy that seem wrong to me–notably those involving killing other people–as being done in my name and in a way with my support.

    I am also leery of trying to cling to my own purity in a way that prevents me from supporting what would be a small improvement though a long step from perfection. I’m particularly aware of this in some congressional, state and local races where the legality of hydrofracking, which strikes me as a grave blow to the Creation, is at issue.

    Whatever I figure out about voting, I know that the most important thing is to keep living each day in a way that makes God’s kingdom a little more present in this muddled earthly kingdom to which I also consider myself responsible. That includes being rooted in prayer, and trying to root out the seeds of war from my possessions, and continuing to love and work with my neighbors of opposing political persuasions.

    I haven’t yet come to a clear leading about voting this year. My time in prayer keeps being filled with wrestles closer to home….and with the usual residue of distraction. Perhaps that in itself should tell me something. I’ll try to listen.

  4. Carol Says:

    Joanna, thank you for your comment about clinging to your own purity rather than supporting a small improvement.

    It echoes a fascinating essay I read last night by Rebecca Solnit. Here is a sample of her interesting thinking, pushing back at John’s “lesser of two evils” argument:

    “One manifestation of this indiscriminate biliousness is the statement that gets aired every four years: that in presidential elections we are asked to choose the lesser of two evils. Now, this is not an analysis or an insight; it is a cliché, and a very tired one, and it often comes in the same package as the insistence that there is no difference between the candidates. You can reframe it, however, by saying: we get a choice, and not choosing at all can be tantamount in its consequences to choosing the greater of two evils.

    “But having marriage rights or discrimination protection or access to health care is not the lesser of two evils. If I vote for a [candidate], I do so in the hopes that fewer people will suffer, not in the belief that that option will eliminate suffering or bring us to anywhere near my goals or represent my values perfectly.”

    Later in the piece she states: “You don’t have to participate in this system, but you do have to describe it and its complexities and contradictions accurately, and you do have to understand that when you choose not to participate, it better be for reasons more interesting than the cultivation of your own moral superiority, which is so often also the cultivation of recreational bitterness.”

    Giving further voice to things I’ve been struggling to articulate for a long time, Solnit says, “Dismissiveness is a way of disengaging from both the facts on the ground and the obligations those facts bring to bear on your life. As Michael Eric Dyson recently put it, ‘What is not good are ideals and rhetorics that don’t have the possibility of changing the condition that you analyze. Otherwise, you’re engaging in a form of rhetorical narcissism and ideological self-preoccupation that has no consequence on the material conditions of actually existing poor people.’”

    Recently a friend of mine startled me by remarking, “There’s something immoral about an argument based on ‘purity.’ It’s the religion of Pilate, not of Jesus. You’re doing it to save your own soul, to keep your own hands clean.”

    I have watched myself engage in purity struggles in the Quaker world: How can I allow myself to be linked to unbelievers? How can I sit at the table with Friends with whom I disagree over gender issues, marriage equality, and water baptism? I have felt the superiority in myself that that line of thought creates, namely, I know what Truth is. And I know what God wants.

    The antidote to purity for me lies in the parable Jesus tells to his burning-with-zeal disciples about the wheat and the tares.

    ‘Don’t uproot,’ I understand Jesus to be saying. ‘Don’t try to purify the field. You’ll risk too much destruction in your attempt. Leave it to the harvest, leave it to God.’ (Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43.)

    My Friend John and I have disagreed about voting for a very long time. Long may we continue to do so.

  5. Carol Says:

    Here is the link for the full essay by Rebecca Solnit:

  6. naomipaz Says:

    I can’t help it: I have to vote.

    And I don’t hold my nose.

    I vote not for presidents but to keep faith with the Haitians who stood in line for days, and suffered injury and death by the tonton macoute simply for asserting their right to this tiny symbol of enfranchisement.

    I vote my conscience: Green Party, or Working Families, if need be I can leave it blank and vote for no candidate and I reserve the option of voting for myself (my platform: abolish the office and resign), but I vote.


  7. Joanna Hoyt Says:

    And yet, Carol, I don’t think that it is an evasion either of facts or of obligations to observe that the political system in which we are engaged is based on deadly force and on a selfish, divisive and short-term form of economics, both of which are fundamentally opposed to my understanding of God’s kingdom; and no one for whom I can vote–including Jill Stein–is in a position to change that.

    When you write that in voting for a preferred candidate you are voting for the good they have done or promise to do, that seems true to me. But when John writes that in voting for a preferred candidate you are voting also for the evil they have done and plan to do, that seems true to me as well.

    I am clear that purity–in the best sense, single-heartedness, integrity, the avoidance of harmdoing–is not served by avoiding fellowship with people who do or support some things that strike me as evil. (Especially since I still sometimes do and support such things myself..) But to love someone and engage with them as a neighbor is one thing. To vote for them, to request that they be put in a powerful position in a fairly destructive system, is another.

    I still am not sure whether the latter is less wrong than not voting, if you will, against whomever I perceive as likely to do even greater harm, or to refrain from doing whatever good my preferred candidates may do. I think there isn’t one obvious right conclusion.

  8. Paul Hamell Says:

    Carol has left very little for me to say, for which I am grateful.

    When I vote, I do not intend to convey any meaning beyond what is denoted: I prefer this candidate over the other. For anyone else to assign further meaning is wrong; it is not I who is saying something I do not mean, it is they. And we can help our officials avoid this mistake by expressing our views to them clearly.

    I reject in its entirety the expression “voting for the lesser of two evils”; it is seldom used with seriousness, anyway, but if it were, it would demonstrate naivety on matters spiritual. Since all human beings are of a dual nature, containing both the image of God (the Light of Christ) and the weakness and failings of their humanity, all human beings will exhibit some mix of virtue and sin; as Friend John has written, due to mankind’s fallen nature, it is inevitable that any human’s most well-intended acts will contain a whiff of sin that may undermine the good intentions. My duty as a voter is not to seek a perfect human being for office, but to use judgement and discernment to identify the (imperfect and fallen) candidate most likely to act with virtue and sound judgement.

    Indeed, my duty in all situations is the same; to discern what Love asks of me, and to do it. If faced with two candidates for President, both of a martial disposition, but only one of whom expresses a wish for community and an intention to assist the poor and care for the sick, while the other promotes isolation and indifference, Love compels a choice! Every loving act builds the Kingdom! (Even when tainted by sin; otherwise there is only despair!) God does not ask us to vote for Obama or to vote for Romney; He asks us to vote from love.

    It was Jean-Paul Sartre (an avowed atheist) who understood and articulated this moral hazard with the greatest clarity: human beings are condemned — yes, condemned! — to freedom. We cannot escape it. We must choose our essence, what we are to be. If we try to escape this responsibility, and determine to not choose… in so doing, we have chosen.

    Similarly, if we try to escape the responsibility of choosing our communal essence… in so doing, we choose.

  9. Marshall Massey Says:

    Voting for the lesser evil can be a way of ensuring that your position doesn’t count or make any difference. The Democrats have for decades simply assumed that people concerned about environmental issues will vote for them, no matter what, in the certainty that the Republicans would be worse. As a result, when a climate change act stood a strong chance of passing the House and Senate in 2009 with bipartisan support, the Obama White House deliberately sabotaged it (as documented in The New Yorker), knowing that it would cost them nothing to do so because virtually all environmentalists would vote for Obama in 2012 all the same.

    That is where “voting for the lesser of two evils” can get you.

    My position is that if a candidate wants my vote, he cannot simply pose as the lesser evil; he has to prove that he will earn the vote I’d be giving him. He must show that he will actually do some good on the issues that are literally life-and-death for my daughter and for any grandkids I might have: issues that, in Obama’s case, include climate change prevention and mitigation, ecosystem protection, and preservation of the roots of a just and free governmental system. Alas, Obama has shown that he not only will not do good on those issues, he will do positive harm at fundamental levels — e.g., by facilitating the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens without constitutional protections, by facilitating domestic drone surveillance, by failing to respond in any constructive way to Citizens United or Walmart v. Dukes or the dissolution of elected local governments in the state of Michigan, by facilitating oil drilling in the Arctic and reckless expansion of the Alberta tar sands oil industry, etc.

    Obama must therefore figure out a way to win without my vote and the votes of other pro-environment, pro-justice voters — or else, if he actually decides he needs our vote, it is his responsibility to figure out a way to earn it. Simply saying that I have to give it to him, because he is the lesser of two evils, strikes me as moral irresponsibility in the extreme, and I don’t think I could face my God if I behaved in such a manner. While the U.S. political system continues to offer me only a choice between evil and evil, I choose to devote my energies instead to nurturing an alternate system of government, one I found among Friends — government, not by the winning self-centered, short-sighted mob, but by the assemblies of the faithful answering to the still, small Voice within.

  10. Carol Says:

    Marshall, the question I was addressing was whether to vote. Not whether to vote for Obama.

  11. Joanna Hoyt Says:

    Friend John, I’m writing a blog post about elections and Kingdom citizenship; may I link to this piece?

    • Thy Friend John Says:

      I would be honored. Thank you, Joanna. I look forward to seeing what you write. What I wrote makes hints about citizenship in the kingdom, and how it transforms our citizenship in the nations of this world, but doesn’t develop the idea. May the Holy Spirit speed your pen, or your fingers on the keyboard, and give you something glorious and wise to put before the world.


  12. Joanna Hoyt Says:

    Thank you, John. Glorious and wise would be considerably overstating it, but I have written something and put it up at

  13. Randy Oftedahl Says:

    Thank thee, Friend John, for bringing forward this deeply considered and obviously timely topic. I appreciate the thoughtful comments Friends have made and will read and re-read them as I too wrestle with this question. At this time, perhaps because we have been innoculated by the culture as to how important it is to vote, I have tried hard to discern a way forward. What I have come to is this: I can not find clarity to answer this question for myself, and since I am not clear that I can in conscience vote, I will refrain from voting. I realize that this is something of a cop-out in my position, since I am not currently living in the U.S. and it saves me the “bother” of the absentee thing. However, I came to this decision earlier. I do not take relish or delight in this decision – I realize it offends some people I care about and that troubles me. But I find no leading and no clarity whatsoever on this action, and given the ramifications of personally supporting a person who may do considerable evil, I can not do it. I only wish it was this “easy” to refrain from supporting other forms that I also do not have leadings on. But this is what I have and this is where I must stand.

    • Thy Friend John Says:

      Randy, thank thee! Like thee, I take no relish in not voting; more people I love seem mildly irked by my abstention, or merely tolerant of it, than supportive of it. My wife and two children expect to be voting on Election Day. I expect to be fasting and praying. But I’m respectful of their obedience to conscience and they’re respectful of mine, even though our faithfulness takes different forms.

      But I’ve come to think of fasting and prayer as my way of voting. It’s a time for me to draw near to my King and reaffirm my citizenship in His kingdom, in which all things work together for good. (I ask readers’ forgiveness for using words and adjectives here that seem to impute maleness to God; I know that God is above gender.) Not a sparrow falls in it but by His will and consent; and in this fallen world, not a candidate lies about his intentions, not a moneybags conspires to buy the election, not a voting-machine hacker falsifies the count, not a corrupt official disenfranchises masses of voters, but by His permission. Of course this permission does not stop evil intentions from bearing evil fruit, but we’re promised that He’ll wipe away all tears from our eyes. Meanwhile my task, as I see it, is to pray for them that despitefully use us, that they repent of their hardness of heart and, as they discover the infinite mercy of God toward the repentant, become merciful themselves.

      And I’ve come to think of voting as a carnal weapon, which I, as a follower and member of Christ, am forbidden to use. Notwithstanding those paradoxical incidents with the fig tree and the moneychangers in the temple, Christ has taught me to disbelieve in the efficacy of attack; in disarming Peter, He disarmed me. Now if I use this weapon of the vote to impose my will, I nullify your will, as you, meanwhile, are trying to nullify mine by voting for the opposite candidate (or position on, say, Proposition 37). How does this differ from my calling you a fool and your opinion worthless? If I gather to me enough like-minded bullies to outnumber and silence you and your team of bullies, how will this make you love me, care about my feelings, and respect my discernment on how best to promote the common good? Because I don’t really wish to silence you, but to persuade you (which implies my own willingness to listen and risk being changed).

      And speaking of my like-minded fellow bullies, what’s my obligation to them? If I’m voting for my candidate for good reasons, but I see that my neighbor is voting for him for evil or foolish reasons, shouldn’t I discourage my neighbor from going to the polls and injuring his own soul?

      What I think it comes down to is throwing myself at the mercy of God. I want good government, responsible government, wise government from the civil authorities. I once tried to get that by voting for Johnson against Goldwater, only to find that I’d in effect voted for the War in Vietnam. Half a century later, I find myself even less qualified to call myself a well-informed voter, as I watch no television, read no newspaper, and have no insight into the candidates’ wisdom and purity of heart. But my Heavenly Guide does. Every morning I make a point of saying to Him, “Thy will be done.” That is now the sum and substance of my politics.

  14. Michel Says:

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  15. Clarice Says:

    First off I want to say terrific blog! I had a quick question that I’d like
    to ask if you do not mind. I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your mind
    prior to writing. I have had trouble clearing my thoughts in getting
    my thoughts out. I do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are wasted just
    trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or
    tips? Appreciate it!

  16. Thy Friend John Says:

    Well, Clarice, you succeeded in writing to me, so that’s a good sign.
    Thank you for your kind words about the blog.

    I know a blogger named Rebecca Hein who’s for years maintained a helpful advice-blog called “The Music of Writing” (, which compares the work of writing to the work of playing a musical instrument. Many of her postings are classified under the topics “freewriting,” “practice writing,” and “writing techniques.”

    In her entry of 6/25/2013 she writes: “Ease of execution; smooth flow; producing a great first draft—these skills are possible with practice. Not the ‘practice’ of polishing a piece for publication or of working through a series of early drafts, but practice writing.

    “Put words on paper, or type them. The content is irrelevant because your state of mind is the key. You have to know the intrinsic value of basic writing, without regard to quality, form, or content.”

    To tell you something about myself: I’ve lived with severe critics all my life, and not surprisingly turned out to be so self-critical that I was painfully inhibited as a writer for most of my life. In fact I’m feeling painfully inhibited now, considering what to say and what to leave out, because I want to give you my best advice and I want it to reach the part of you that’s having trouble. And because I don’t know you yet, I have to just guess, asking the Lord to guide me (because He knows you better than anyone else does).

    My best advice would be to pray before you write, and keep praying as you write. Then you don’t have to worry about looking stupid, or clumsy, or wrong, or any way that you might fear looking, because your Lord, who loved you since you were a baby in the womb who wasn’t able to do anything at all, loves you unconditionally, doesn’t care if you think you’re stupid or clumsy or wrong now, but wants to heal you of all that cruel self-criticism, and wants you to grow until you’re godlike, perfect, glorious, in the image of your Heavenly Parent; and if you feel a calling to write, and are willing to serve His kingdom by your writing, and honor the Spirit of Truth by writing truthfully, even if what you’re writing about is just the truth of your own inner chaos and confusion, then He, your Lord, will give you “a mouth, and wisdom” (Luke 21:15), unblocking the flow so that the words come flowing forth freely.

    I also forgot to tell you that I tend to write in horribly long sentences. Look at that horribly long one I just wrote! And yet it’s true, and clear. If I were rewriting this for publication I’d probably break it up into several sentences, but I just wanted you to see what came out of me once I opened up my heart and let it pour out.

    The main thing is to put yourself in a safe place (and if you write to me, I promise you’ll always be safe with me) and open up your heart.

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