by William F. (Bill) Knowles
It has been said, "Bad officials are elected by good people who don't vote." Edmund Burke, a British statesman of the past, expressed this observation: "For evil to triumph, it is only necessary for good men to do nothing."
Whether nationally, on the state level, or in the local community, Christians should be interested enough in public issues and events to express their views by exercising their priceless privilege to vote. It was President Dwight Eisenhower who said, "The future of this republic is in the hands of the American voter. Politics ought to be the part-time profession of every American."
But, does a Christian actually have a responsibility to become active in government? In Mark 12:17 Christ said, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." Jesus declared in Matthew 5:13, 14 that Christians are the salt and light of the world. Romans 14 teaches that we do not live or die to ourselves.
"Jesus made it clear that the highest loyalty is to God, but that man also has other responsibilities," said Edward L. R. Elson, a former chaplain of the United States Senate and trustee of the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge."We have obligations to think, to discuss issues and concerns with others, to vote, to pray for and encourage our leaders in coming to wise conclusions."
The Apostle Paul supports this philosophy. In 1 Timothy 2:1-3 he said: "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior."
"The leaven of the Kingdom of God must continually make its entry into the life of our nation; it can do so only through the witness of our lives," said former Sen. Mark Hatfield. "Our individual convictions as Christians and citizens will have an effect on our nation's destiny."
For a moment let us examine the oft-heard excuse of the nonvoter: "My one vote won't matter." History records that many crucial issues and elections have been decided by a single vote. I offer a number of these staggering illustrations:
In 1649 a single vote cost King Charles I of England his head.
By one vote some 280 years ago, the House of Commons decided in favor of the House of Hanover-96-95. Because of this action, Elizabeth II rules the United Kingdom today.
In 1774 a single vote by a member of the First Continental Congress would have transformed the American colonies into a British dominion ruled by an English type of parliament and a British governor.
On at least two occasions a single vote elected a president of the United States. In 1825, John Quincy Adams was elected by the House of Representatives by a single vote. And in 1877 Rutherford B. Hayes was elected president by perhaps the most spectacular one-vote presidential upset in American history.
In March 1868, the United States House of Representatives adopted eleven articles of impeachment indicting President Andrew Johnson. Some three months later the Senate was one vote short of the two-thirds necessary to remove the president from the most powerful and prestigious office in the world.
By one vote California, Idaho, Oregon, Texas, and Washington became states. Texas gained approval on the floor of the United States Senate while the other four states were admitted after clearing congressional committees by one vote.
In the shadow of the World War II the U.S. House of Representatives on August 12, 1941, extended the peacetime draft law by a one-vote majority. The millions affected by the "one-vote law" were just as much a part of the armed forces as thought the 435 members of the Congress had voted unanimously for the draft extension. If we could speak to the brave Americans who fought and died as draftees they would dispute the claim that one vote doesn't matter.
In the 1960 presidential election, John F. Kennedy won the presidency by less than one vote per precinct and became the youngest person ever elected president of the United States.
On November 3, 1964, Julius R. Lippman of New Hyde New York, visited his voting precinct and cast a ballot. His one vote counted! He was elected judge of the Third district Court by a count of 53,371 to 53,370.
Other examples of how each vote has made a difference are:
In 1992, Bill Clinton was elected when only 56 percent of the voting-age population cast ballots in the national election.
Charlie Lewis, who lived in Hickory , Mississippi, lost the mayor's job in his town's 1993 mayoral election. He moved to Michigan and retired. Then he received an unexpected phone call informing him that the Supreme Court had thrown out three absentee ballots, resulting in Charlie's election. Lewis became the first black mayor of the tiny town of 500 nestled in the clay hills of east Mississippi.
On May 5, 1994, the drama of banning 19 types of assault-style weapons ended when Congressman Andrew Jacobs, Jr., D-Ind, switched his vote to support the ban. The final House vote was 216 - 214.
Freedom and religion both will be victorious when individuals join in making this commitment with Edward Everett Hale: "I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. And what I can do I ought to do; and what I ought to do, by the Grace of God, I will do."
One vote does make a difference, and that one vote could be a Christian vote!
William F. Knowles is county clerk of Hamilton County, TN