Is it a sin not to vote? Or a virtue?

A number of Catholics and evangelicals across the political spectrum who have become disillusioned with their usual candidate or with the entire political system are opting out of voting -- despite the longstanding tradition of most churches that voting is a serious duty for Christians. (Voting is a civic sacrament, as Father Hesburgh once said.)My latest piece for Religion News Service rounds up some of the arguments for abstaining, or at least threatening not to vote, or voting for a third party:

Julia Smucker, a contributor to the Vox Nova blog who identifies as a Mennonite Catholic, wrote in July that Obama had disappointed her so much she may not vote for anyone. Meanwhile her colleague Kyle Cupp said he found both campaigns so vacuous that he has almost reached the point of not caring.Similarly, Jana Bennett, a professor of theological ethics at the University of Dayton in battleground Ohio, wrote a column at the Catholic Moral Theology blog saying she is considering voting for a third-party candidate or not at all because neither party adequately represents her beliefs.Something has tipped for me this election and its the way I think Im being asked to rip myself in half, figuratively speaking, by one party or the other, or both, Bennett wrote in early October, lamenting the stupidity of the apparent choice with which I am faced in the election.The stark disparity between the two partys platforms indicates to me that regardless of who wins in November, the net result will be that nothing will continue to get done," she said. "In a two party system, we seem to have only one choice, even if that choice splits us down the middle.Bennetts colleague at the University of Dayton, Kelly Johnson, also advocated not voting, though she framed the decision as a fast in which believers should abstain from some good for the sake of orienting our desires toward a higher good.Abstaining from voting for now would recognize that in this setting and for us, elections can be an occasion of sin and a site for scandal, Johnson wrote last spring. Paul abstained from meat sacrificed to idols for the sake of other Christians; Catholics could abstain from U.S. party politics, for the sake of all of us, Catholics and non-Catholics, who are misled by such efforts.

I can understand the frustration but I have an instinctive reaction against abstaining from voting. You wind up working to elect someone anyway, in a negative way. And personally, I'd rather be guilty for what I do than for what I don't do. Thoughts?

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.

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