Winning contests of the absurd: Voting is not the problem, but winning and losing...

The question is not whether brothers and sisters in Christ

should participate in democracy. It’s just that the biblical responses to the realities of life, or, complex issues cannot be resolved by elections. The question is not whether brothers and sisters in Christ should maintain an apolitical presence or promote political abstinence due to some false beliefs regarding the biblical Jesus and mission of the church. Rather every choice we make reflects a political reality, as politics are at the most basic the means through which individuals and groups bound by interests compete with others to maintain access to resources, and maintain a privileged access to those resources.

Politics is also a decision about how resources are distributed, discovered, processed into good or services, and who will control the future of distribution. Even a belief that one is above politics, or not political, indicates that you reject the notion that you somehow benefit from the status quo even though you in fact do; or that you lack trust to the point of avoiding the often necessary risk of advocating for yourself or others in regard to accessing resources. Jesus was far from apolitical, and the early church was extraordinarily counterculturalyl anti-authoritarian regarding first century politics and the claims made by empire. However, Jesus did not promote democracy, nor did the early church. It was not a reality during the life of Jesus, and in fact was not a reality for those of European ancestry until, perhaps, the Enlightenment.

So, the gospel does not address democracy in any real sense, but it does discuss political ethics and communitarian responses to both, authoritarian control of resources and a patronage system of distribution, and, confronting the claims made by political and religious authorities who crucified political outliers, especially if they came from the margins of a Palestinian backwater of the empire. Yet, the lack of democratic political discourse in Scripture does not indicate that the church has nothing to say about democracy. It should never be taken to indicate that the church cannot speak about democracy in biblical terms. Also, the text does not indicate whether or not brothers and sisters in Christ should vote or otherwise participate in democratic institutions.

I ask a different question however. There has been much time set aside to write, discuss, or debate over whether members or constituents of tradition peace churches should participate in elections. While I do not cast votes in any election, nor do I address policy from the standpoint of obligations owed to the population by the nation state. I no longer tell people not to vote simply because they are Christians. I am also not willing to debate whether persons of faith should run for public office, which requires taking an oath to serve the interests of the nation state. Ultimately, and especially when one acts in faith, faith is met with grace. One will never be damned by the God of Abraham and Sarah for doing what they can to influence godly outcomes. These votes likely cancel one another out the long run. I also do not feel the need to spend time attempting to legitimize the electoral process – one thing that reason and democracy has proven to be beyond question is the fact that reasonable people will disagree on some things to the point where they no longer depend on reason to produce the best outcomes, thus reducing themselves to participation in contests that produce winners instead of solutions. I cannot making sweeping generalizations about Christian values regarding problem solving, because it would not produce any worthwhile discussion. Folks who feel that they should vote as a matter of conscience feel just as strongly as me about rejecting to participate in elections.

My different question is whether it is biblical to publicly participate in the electoral process beyond the private casting of your ballot for the best candidate, the lesser of two evils, or the antichrist; much like a prayer for beneficial political outcomes that can only be heard and understood by a God who already knows what is best for you and others. God will see your ballot cast, and you will pursue further discussion with the Creator just as privately if your conscience is impacted in a negative way. The biblical ethic, however, is clear. To actively promote and fund political campaigns in a manner that leaves open the matters of faith for discussion as potentially universal truths or god-ordained moral standards, you have violated the tenets of the cross, and valued belief over faith in servanhthood.

The rejection of privilege that is demanded by Christ of the church cannot be a maintainable rejection of privilege if the public position of a person of faith is to spend more efforts controlling potential outcomes rather than embodying the kind of life that we want emulated by public policy. To publicly support a candidate or party is, by default, supporting the rhetoric and judgmental demeaning of political opponents. Because a ballot is secret does not mean our life is, nor that it should be. And publicly, are people interpreting your actions and words as prioritizing democratic ideals and processes, or do they see you addressing corporate sin, poverty, injustice, and violence through a life of sacrificial rejection of the privilege that benefits from such sin.

To publicly support a candidate or a party is to publicly indicate that your resources cannot be trusted to decision of the church regarding the allocation of resources. There is more evidence of Christian political action and ethics in Acts 2 and 4, and Romans 12, than there is evidence of any biblically sound outcomes being produced by a democracy with the support of a faithful church. Social reforms regarding justice are simply not Christian ideals, they are ideals that are universally discussed among human beings and governments of all sorts, even those that are authoritarian. To depend on voting to overcome poverty, racism, sexism, blatant lying, violence, and any kind of evil that seems to sometimes result from an overabundance of sin is to reject the kingdom of God as a necessary alternative to the world's insistence that we may have to wait for history to change things for the better. You might do well to vote for more egalitarian societies that attempt to legislate against the racist policies or laws which target your neighbors, but remember, you in fact may lose that election, and your participation validates the outcomes.

What the church might consider is focusing its resources on servanthood, and reconsider how we distribute or access resources when government cannot meet need, is bound tightly to two statements of the Lord. You cannot serve two masters, but will love one and not the other. And, Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar. When the church is bound to Caesar, the emperor, a congressional representative, or the president, they will all come looking for what is owed when the time is right. The individual you vote for is now in charge of allocating resources, and such allocation will always promote the military, criminal justice, institutional racism, a sexuality of shame and spectacle, and bread and circuses. If you think that voting will change that, then you did not pay close attention to the manner in which your democracy worked in the favor of individuals like Dick Cheney and allowed him to commandeer a foreign policy. You no longer remember the Supreme Court insisting that votes did not count, and making a president by fiat rather than constitutional process. You do not remember that we have been at constant war and you voted for funding it so that Americans could get better health care, more tax credits, or secure borders. Syria is still real. The war machine did not stop for eight years because a Nobel committee valued regime change. Americans were still incarcerated at alarming rates, and we never inched further away from Nuclear War. Now we have inched closer, and we must be realistic, would a Clinton administration have changed any of that? I global state sponsored terror more palatable if the Klan is not in charge at home? Well - yes, but the matter of voting has hardly worked out the kinks of racism in America.

The American church is so deeply entrenched in its civic duties that we forget our biblical mandate to offer an moral alternative to a supposedly moral majority, and we favor majorities even though those majorities do not produce political victories anymore. We invest ourselves so much in publicly displaying our commitment to legislating a righteous empire that we fail to recognize we are a church that lacks righteousness. One may claim that it is a privileged position to refuse to vote on behalf of those suffering in service of our own sense of purity. That may be true - I have no negative belief that such statements are untrue or misrepresent the gospel. But if you are part of a congregation that is more invested in election victories while maintaining a church building that is only open for a day a week, or to house a secretary and a pastor of a congregation of three hundred without feeding and clothing and housing people in your neighborhood, you are antichrist. We are not commanded to elect others to do our righteousness as one aspect of an ill-advised attempt to universalize governmental goodness or Christian outcomes. Hell, we don’t even agree on what those outcomes are.

If you think it is a privileged advantage to not vote – fine. But really, you need to be asking the church to do a lot more. A lot more. Turn the focus of our public witness toward a positive ethic of doing for others, rather than voting for others while we maintain a privileged position in a privileged economy, with a job allocated to those with privilege and an education often restricted to privilege. Don’t call some folks out on privilege for not prioritizing electoral politics as public witness when the most one might do in their lives as a faithful act is to contribute to the Green Party, Trump, or Right to Life with enough left in their pocket for a trip to Disneyland and season tickets for the local NFL team. I’m not buying into that indignation.

Recent Posts
Search By Tags