I spoke last night to more than 600 Texas Tech students in Lubbock, Texas. I was asked to address the faith of the candidates: is Barack Obama a Muslim? Can a Christian vote for a Mormon? I made a brief presentation, reserving most of the time for questions. When I’ve spoken at this event in the past, Q&A went far beyond the time allotted; on one occasion I talked to students for 90 minutes after the service concluded.
Not last night. The students were as respectful and gracious as ever, but it was clear that the faith of the candidates was not a pressing subject for them. They asked incisive questions, but they were more curious than passionate. No one mentioned the VP debate going on at the same time, or even seemed to know they were missing it. Only one student waited after the event to talk, and his question had nothing to do with politics.
Voter apathy among young people was a major concern after the last presidential election, and is shaping up to be a significant issue again this year. But this problem is not confined to young adults. In the most recent election, the U.S. had the second-lowest voter turnout rate in the developed world. At 47 percent, we were a point higher than South Korea. By contrast, Belgium’s rate was above 90 percent; Greece, much maligned in recent years, votes at above 70 percent. Russia exceeds us by 17 percentage points, Canada by 13. Since our elections have been evenly divided in recent years, around 25 percent of the public elects our president.
Why such voter apathy? One reason is that many Americans don’t believe elected leaders can solve our problems. According to a recent survey, 86 percent of us believe one person can make a difference in the world. Apparently, many of us don’t think that person is a politician.
It’s time to reverse this trend. God is calling more Christians into public service than are answering his call. His word instructs all believers to “honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17), to support the governing authorities (Romans 13:1), and to pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2). While churches should not become political organizations, Christians should be extremely engaged in the political process. Otherwise we leave our salt in the saltshaker, our light under a basket (Matthew 5:13-16).
Analysts seem to think last night’s debate had no clear winner. If it doesn’t motivate more of us to engage in our political process, they’re right.