February 5, 2016

Reflecting on Tom Hicks’ Thoughts on Voting

By In Blogs, C.Jay Engel

Tom Hicks has posted a four point reflection of voting as “an act of submission to Christ.” Quickly, I’d like to respectfully— in view of my thankfulness for Hicks and his ministry— offer some thoughts of both agreement and dissent. In any comments or responses to this by those who also disagree with Hicks, please speak kindly and reverently.

What follows is not a case against voting, because I hold a more nuanced view.

Hicks point one: The Constitution. The constitution is the highest law of the land, and under that, we the people, collectively, are the greatest human authority in the USA. That means, in obedience to Romans 13, we the people must choose governing officials who believe and obey the literal meaning of the constitution. I’ll be looking for Constitutional Originalists who interpret the constitution according to authorial intent.

Response: I believe that this point fails in three regards. First, it assumes that one’s moral obligation to vote is created by a document written by men having no legal authority over individuals 200 years later without first proving that such an obligation can come about in this way. It may be that Hicks thinks that it is agreeable that the Constitution has set up things in the way that it does, but until he proves that such a document is binding on “the people,” one cannot use the Constitution in this way. Second, the point of Romans 13 is to encourage Christians broadly subject themselves to government in general for the sake of living peaceably with all; it cannot be used outside its context in order to demand 21st century Americans take part in a political process that was altogether inconceivable to 1st century Roman Christians. The point is how we ought live among rulers who are morally bankrupt, not that we ought to participate in said rulers’ popularity campaigns. This is why I argue that voting per se is a matter of Christian conscience.

Finally, this point does not address the actual and real fact that there are no “Constitutional Originalists” running for President, despite what a given candidate might try to argue of himself. In such a case, does Hicks agree that voting is not obligatory after all? (Full disclosure: while I would never call voting obligatory, I am comfortable voting for a constitutional originalist and in fact did vote for Ron Paul, the last of his kind).

Hicks point two: Religious Liberty. I will look for candidates that uphold the freedom of worship, the right to free speech, and liberty of conscience, both because it’s a constitutional right (1st amendment) and because it’s a new covenant ideal (Mk 12:17; J n 18:36) for the sake of the free propagation of the gospel. This means that we must support religious liberty for all faiths, not just the Christian faith.

Response: I completely agree with this and especially appreciate the final sentence, which seems less than popular amongst general evangelicals in our time of neoconservatism. My only push back would be to encourage Hicks to look beyond religious liberty as an end in itself and instead to consider religious liberty as a subcategory of the more general liberty that human beings have in their person and property. All rights must be in terms of property and the right to exercise one’s religion freely stems from the natural obligation that men have to refrain from aggressing against his neighbor.

Hicks point three: The Social Commandments. I’ll try to choose candidates who uphold the outward social aspect of God’s moral law, revealed in the Ten Commandments. This means choosing officials who oppose murder (abortion), adultery (gay marriage), theft (socialism and communism). Romans 13 teaches that rulers are to “carry out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (v. 4), where wrongdoing is defined by the moral law of God (Rom 13:8-10).

Response: I do agree with the general approach to Hicks’ preferred candidate, though perhaps I’d apply the approach differently than he might. First, in my estimation, the entire point connecting the Ten Commandments to “government” is to say that “governors” are not exempt from these moral laws. That is, if the citizen should not murder and steal, than neither should the government. This has very radical implications that even go so far as to undermine some of the “powers” that have been relegated to the Federal Government via the Constitution (such as operating a Postal Service and establishing revenue or trade tariffs). Perhaps the logical application of the Ten Commandments challenge the Constitution itself. If one is not ready to follow the logic to it’s necessary conclusions, perhaps Hicks would agree that, on this front, the Articles of Confederation were more preferable than the Constitution (a point which I would stand by).

Second, it is not clear enough to oppose actions which both break the moral law of God and yet do not constitute a breach of a person’s right to person and property. Hicks mentions adultery and gay marriage but other commandments include such as those relating to coveting and honoring one’s parents. It is certainly praiseworthy to oppose all of these things, but what is more important, given the role of government, is to ask whether it is agreeable that the ruler must use coercion in order to “enforce” these moral principles. Perhaps Hicks would disagree with me, but the libertarian position is that coercion is only proper when used in response to initiations of aggression (murder, theft, fraud). But lying, dishonoring one’s parents, and committing adultery are not inherently requiring of government response. Therefore, while I would certainly be glad at a candidate who agrees with the moral law, this doesn’t mean I agree with the candidate if he wants enforce every one of these.

Hicks point four: Dual Citizenship. I’ll try to remember that while I’m a citizen of the USA, more importantly, I’m a citizen of Christ’s kingdom. The power to change the world isn’t in politics, but the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, while I’ll try to vote in submission to Christ, I will try not put my hope in political change because politics cannot change hearts. There’s a sense in which I’ll try to “vote as though I was not voting” (1 Cor 7:29-31). Our hope is Christ. Everything depends on Him. The only hope for our nation is an awakening. So, I want to put my primary energy into living a holy life, holding fast to sound doctrine, preaching the gospel, raising my family in the Lord, building into my local church, evangelizing the lost, and planting churches. “Seek first the kingdom of God” (Matt 6:33).

Response: The fact that we are principally citizens of Christ’s kingdom and not the present political ones, coupled with the fact that politics is not the means to change the world, is perhaps the most powerful point against a Christian obligation to vote. This is a healthy attitude to have and I appreciate Hicks’ perspective in this area (especially in light of the statism of Christians in recent history). To further Hicks’ point, I might argue that Christians have for far too long flocked to the voting booths in an attempt to “turn this nation around.” This has completely destroyed the mindset of a free people, which ought to consider the desire to improve society and create a better world in the short term as being fulfilled through the free market, through persuasion, through changing minds, starting businesses and serving one’s fellow man. All these things take part in the absence of political violence; and the great turning of the mass’ attention to the voting booths as a means of social change represents the failure of people to embrace their freedom and instead to rely on the very state that has for the last hundred years grown to devour these freedoms.

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A related comment having nothing to do with Hicks’ thoughts:

Real quick, I want to say something about the common libertarian refrain that voting is necessarily violence and therefore necessarily evil. Besides the fact that I hold a different view as expressed here, I also don’t agree with this by virtue of the fact that there are opportunities to vote on propositions. For instance, if there was a proposition up for vote which said: “From this point on, the state of CA will allow banks to create their own currency in competition with the US Treasury,” it is literally the opposite of violence to support this measure. And if there was a proposition that said: “From this point on, gold shall hereby be declared outlawed,” it is literally the opposite of violence to vote against this measure. Voting per se is not evil. Voting for evil is evil.

As always, the problem is democracy itself: the idea that, via the vote, man can legitimize the wrongdoing of governments. We need the establishment of property rights to their logical and complete extent. Voting in a political sense should have pretty much no impact in a free society.

Written by C.Jay Engel

Editor and creator of The Reformed Libertarian. Living in Northern California with his wife, he writes on everything from politics to theology and from culture to economic theory. You can send an email to reformedlibertarian@gmail.com