Let’s imagine you’re in high school. (Sorry to give you flashbacks to failed algebra exams or being picked last in gym class or whatever, but it must be done.)
The administration at Generic Washington High School has decided they want a school song. It’ll be played in the halls during passing periods every day and sung at graduations and sports events, and it will also determine the theme of the special assemblies and programs throughout the year. Being the progressive sort, they let the students vote between two controversial options.
Song A is an odd combination of feel-good self-esteem messages and obscenities. Its lyrics champion respect and love for all and everyone’s right to claim their own destiny and control their own fate, along with a peppering of mystical phrases and repeated uses of the f-word.
Song B is raw in a different way. While it often mocks others and turns into an us vs. them screed for one verse, the chorus affirms belief in God and values like courage and responsibility. Weirdly, the music video both objectifies women and randomly flashes Bible verses across the screen.
A school-wide convocation is called where the vote is explained and students get to hear both songs. The principal mentions that you can write in your own song or start a grassroots campaign for another option, but the school isn’t going to endorse any except their chosen two, and teachers won’t be allowed to promote any others.
The school board decides that each homeroom will vote for a song, then send their teacher to a council to vote only for the winner of the majority vote in their room. Besides that, senior classes get four votes, juniors three, sophomores two, and freshmen one, because why not make things more complicated?
So, imagine you have a small group of Christian friends who attend Generic Washington. (Some of the following scenarios apply if you’re not a Christian, but that’s the crowd I’m mainly talking to right now.) You’re all discussing what you should do.
Your friend Carissa Overachiever decides to take a strong stand against Song A. She wallpapers lockers with posters saying, “Only Immoral Chickens Vote for Song A” and changes all the profanities in the lyrics to “cluck.” “I’m trying to provoke conversation,” she says when you question her methods.
Meanwhile, Jon Chessclub has decided that he’s actually excited to vote for Song A. Profanity, he thinks, is something external that makes us uncomfortable, but the message of the song will actually do a lot to help the school. “This is our chance to show that Christians refuse to support a message that dehumanizes others,” he says.
Carissa immediately calls him a heretic and unfriends him on Facebook. He responds by writing an editorial in the school newspaper trashing her methods without actually naming her. They’re not speaking to each other. It’s super awkward.
Ana Bandgeek, frustrated by all this conflict, declares that she will not be voting. “It’ll send a message to the administration.” You point out that what kind of message won’t be clear (maybe she didn’t like the choices…or maybe she was just lazy), but she responds, “Can’t we focus on more important things?”
Marcus Letterjacket finally admits that he’s also voting for Song B. From his point of view, a full year of hearing the godless message of Song A every morning would be harmful to the school. “Song B isn’t great…but it’s the best we have,” he says, “and maybe once it’s chosen, we can bring out the good aspects and downplay the negative ones. And we don’t have to show the music video—the real content is in the chorus.”
Joey Hipstercrowd has started a petition to ban the two-song ballot altogether and put at least three other songs on there. Ten people have signed it, out of two thousand students, and two had to be bribed with Oreos. “We’re all doomed,” is his assessment.
“What about you?” your friends ask, noticing that you’ve kept quiet this whole time.
“I’m not going to vote for either song,” you reply. “I plan to write in a third option.”
“Already tried that,” Joey says. “By my official poll, only thirty-six other students are going to do that, and I’ve been campaigning for weeks. That’s not enough to win even one homeroom. Like it or not, one of the two songs on the ballot is going to be playing every day this year…and influencing the assembly speakers, which will then influence this generation of students, which will then influence the future of our city.”
“Really, it’s just a choice of which song you’d rather listen to,” Carissa says.
“And we all know which one that should be,” Jon shoots back, glaring at her.
“Um…neither of them?” you try. “I think both songs are awful.”
“It’s not about your personal opinion of the song,” Marcus explains again. “One of them is going to win either way. It’s about which one will do the least amount of damage in the long run.”
And that sounds convincing…almost. But while you’re not ready to say that it would be wrong to vote for A or B, given the right motivation, checking one box or the other when you could write in something you actually believe in seems like a betrayal of your principles.
You think about the demographics of your homeroom, run by Mrs. Polarizing-Opposite-Jones who has been campaigning for the song you most disagree with. You know all the other students in your homeroom will support that song. So, you think, if my vote won’t change the outcome anyway, why not make a statement by voting for a third song?
But even if your class belonged to Mr. Swing-State-Smith and the outcome was up in the air…would it still be a good choice?
Say you stick to your plan. If your third song isn’t chosen—and because of blind adolescent peer pressure, it would take a miracle for that to happen—did you waste your vote?
I’m going to argue no. Here’s why: what if your main goal was not voting for a song that was likely to win (or voting to keep another song from winning)?
If you wanted to be true to your conscience…you made a good choice!
If you wanted to start conversations about how Christians do not affirm certain aspects of either song … you made a good choice!
If you wanted the third song to gain a following and be a stronger contender for next year’s vote… you made a good choice!
If you feel like you won’t be able to speak out against the harmful parts of one of the main songs, should it be chosen, if you vote for it, but voting for another song would give you that credibility… you made a good choice!
If you wanted the principal to look at the vote, and say, “Hey, 11% of kids in the school picked this third song, when I wasn’t expecting any of them to deviate from the two main choices, because they never have before. What if that number grows next year? What if they become strong enough to destroy my musical tyranny?” and the principal either modifies the process for choosing a song, or includes less terrible options next year, or makes any sort of change… you made a good choice!
To me, none of that sounds like a waste.
Obviously, this isn’t about some bizarre teenage social experiment; it’s an exaggerated analogy for the upcoming election. Like all analogies, it falls short, it isn’t a 1:1 comparison, and there is no easy answer.
I don’t think the only right choice for Christians is to vote third party. I have heard many strong arguments on both sides for choosing differently, made by people I respect. However, I do think voting third party is a reasonable option, for all the reasons listed above and more.
I’m voting third party for president in November, and even if you’re not joining me, I’d encourage you to at least research other options (Gary Johnson and Evan McMullin are two with significant bases of support).
But remember, as I’ve said before, the biggest statement we’ll be making about Christianity in the next month is in how we talk about politics. Let’s be gracious, quick to listen, and slow to anger as we live out our faith in the public square.
That said, feel free to disagree with me in the comments, but know that I’m not telling you what to do, or what all Christians should do. I’m evaluating my options carefully, coming to the conclusion that voting third party is the only way I can accomplish my goals (stated in the parable above), and illustrating why that choice isn’t a waste.