Seventh-day Adventists and Voting
A Response to Some Questions that have Arisen
Mark A. Finley
After carefully reading everything Ellen White has to say about voting and surveying Adventist history, I have come to the following conclusions regarding voting that will answer some of the questions raised. I have also listed some of Ellen White’s statements and a few points from Adventist history.
- If one chooses to exercise their right to vote it should be for men and women of moral, upright character.
- If one chooses to vote it should be a private affair between them and God.
- If one chooses to vote it should not be because they are involved in a political party but rather because the individual, they are voting for represents biblical principles.
- If one chooses to vote they should respect others right to vote and not divide the church by partisan politics.
- God has a much larger purpose for His people than becoming involved in a political election. We are children of God, elected for salvation, part of God’s remnant church to prepare a world for His soon return. This should be our passion rather than aligning ourselves with political elections.
For an understanding of Adventists and voting and Ellen White’s view of voting please carefully study the references below.
A local election in Battle Creek in 1859 challenged Adventists to reconsider their responsibilities as citizens in a community. They were pressed to make a more definite commitment about voting. What were they to do?
Ellen White, who was present as Adventist leaders discussed this question, made this entry in her diary: “‘Attended meeting in the eve. Had quite a free, interesting meeting. After it was time to close, the subject of voting was considered and dwelt upon. James first talked, then Brother Andrews talked, and it was thought by them best to give their influence in favor of right and against wrong. They think it right to vote in favor of temperance men being in office in our city instead of by their silence running the risk of having intemperance men put in office. Brother Hewett tells his experience of a few days [since] and is settled that [it] is right to cast his vote. Brother Hart talks well. Brother Lyon opposes. No others object to voting, but Brother Kellogg begins to feel that it is right. Pleasant feelings exist among all the brethren. O that they may all act in the fear of God.
It is obvious from Ellen White’s diary entry above that she did not oppose voting certainly when it was in favor of positive principles like temperance.
But there continued to be a cautious attitude toward voting in general. About a year after this experience in Battle Creek, James White, as a Review editor, wrote: “The political excitement of 1860 will probably run as high as it has for many years, and we would warn our brethren not to be drawn into it. We are not prepared to prove from the Bible that it would be wrong for a believer in the third [angel’s] message to go in a manner becoming his profession and cast his vote. We do not recommend this, neither do we oppose. If a brother chooses to vote, we cannot condemn him, and we want the same liberty if we do not.”
James White’s comments above are fascinating. Let’s analyze them. He cautions not to be drawn into political excitement but recognizes an individual’s right to vote but neither recommends nor opposes it.
It is evident that some Adventists did vote in this election, for two years later James White wrote:
“Those of our people who voted at all at the last Presidential election, to a man voted for Abraham Lincoln. We know of not one man among Seventh-day Adventists who has the least sympathy for secession.” Ibid., Aug. 12, 1862.
In the General Conference Session of 1865, the delegates voted a resolution on voting. Remembering that James and Ellen White were present and actively participated in the work of the conference, we note this resolution:
“Resolved, That in our judgment, the act of voting when exercised in behalf of justice, humanity and right, is in itself blameless, and may be at sometimes highly proper; but that the casting of any vote that shall strengthen the cause of such crimes as intemperance, insurrection, and slavery, we regard as highly criminal in the sight of Heaven. But we would deprecate any participation in the spirit of party strife.” Ibid., May 23, 1865.
The General Conference in Session in 1865 with Ellen White’s guidance recognized an individual’s right to vote, counselled them if they voted to carefully consider voting for those who have high moral principles, counselled against voting who championed principles contrary to Biblical values and urged Adventists not to be involved in “party strife” that is to promote any political party.
Ellen White believed that the decision to vote for candidates is a personal choice. She wrote if you vote, “keep your voting to yourself. Do not feel it your duty to urge everyone to do as you do.” Selected Messages, book 2, p. 337.
Some have wondered about a statement in Spirit pf Prophecy Counsels Relating to Church State Relationships page 104.2)
Ellen White writes, “We cannot with safety vote for political parties, for we do not know whom we are voting for. We cannot with safety take part in any political schemes.” I have just read the entire article. The counsel was initially written to teachers in our schools to strongly urge them not to lead our students to become involved in political campaigns or attach themselves to political parties. Ellen White’s counsel is clear. Seventh-day Adventists have a prophetic message to proclaim to the world. The three Angels Messages must occupy our time and attention. The issue Ellen White was addressing was not an individual’s right to vote it was becoming immersed in “party politics” and “voting” along party lines irrespective of a position.
In an enlightening article the Review and Herald, August 14, 1952, J. H. McElhany, President of the General Conference made this enlightening comment: “We believe every member … is entitled to exercise his or her right of franchise. The stability and foundation of good government rests upon the people. If those who are stable and law abiding and have a high regard for the principles of good government hold themselves aloof from the task of choosing good and fit men for governmental leadership, they thereby make themselves responsible for failures in government. This is a responsibility good citizens should seek to avoid insofar as their votes make this possible. … It is important that all issues that are to be placed on the ballot should be carefully studied by every conscientious voter.”
God calls us to something much larger, much grander, much more rewarding than “party politics”. It is the proclamation of the three Angel’s Messages. May this be our passion and our everlasting joy. Above all Jesus is our leader and the One who will guide us to the promised land.