The voter chooses not a position of principle but the less objectionable of two competing oligarchies. Understanding the franchise as a means of communicating to the bearers of political authority underlines how seriously the Christian witness is compromised by the fact that for most Christians the decision about how to vote is not the expression of any careful evaluation of what needs to be said to the authorities; the decision to abstain from voting is likewise seldom evaluated with a view to its communicating something.The Christian Witness to the State, John Howard Yoder
I began voicing my reservations several months ago with a series of posts titled Christian Participation in Representative Democracy (read Part I and Part II). Since that time I have engaged a wide range of perspectives concerning voting and Christian discipleship. In particular I recommend:
- Voting Not to Vote by Mark Noll
- Ten Reason Why I’m Not Voting by Mark Vansteewyk
- 10 Reasons to Vote: A Sympathetic Challenge to Mark’s 10 Reasons NOT to Vote by Casey Ochs
- Not Voting as Violence: …Why I Get Suspicious When White Men Tell Me Not to Vote by Anthony Smith
- How “Not Voting” Could Help Subvert American Racism: A Response to Anthony Smith’s post on Emergent Village by David Fitch
- How ‘Voting’ Could Subvert American Race Privilege: A Response To David Fitch’s Response by Anthony Smith
- Scot McKnight’s Voting For President?
- Why I Believe Christians Should Vote by Jim Wallis
- Voting as Damage Control by Shane Claiborne
- How Then Shall We Vote by Derek Webb
- and a rather surprising announcement by everyone’s favorite fideistic sectarian tribalist sharing whom he intends to vote for.
as well as:
- Electing Not to Vote: Christian Reflections on Reasons for Not Voting, edited by Ted Lewis
(there is an excellent review over at N. Dan Smith’s blog)
- Jeffrey Stout’s Democracy And Tradition
- Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas
- Karl Barth’s Community, State, and Church: Three Essays
- Shane Claiborne’s Jesus For President
- God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It by Jim Wallis
- and of course John Howard Yoder’s seminal The Politics of Jesus
After considering these various positions I have concluded (along with the majority it would seem) that there appear to be more arguments in favor of voting than against. In particular, the fact that voting takes all of 5 minutes but can impact the policies of one of the most powerful nations in the world would seem to make voting a no-brainer. Nevertheless, I will be abstaining from the 2008 election. There are several reasons why I feel it is important for me to sit this one out.
Were I to vote in the 2008 election it would certainly come down to determining which candidate represented
the lesser of two evils the least amount of friction with my own beliefs. I completely understand that no candidate will ever agree with me 100%, but at what point does one draw the line? The problem is which (or how many) issues am I prepared to compromise so that other issues might be realized. As an example, I voted for Bush in 2000 primarily for his position on abortion. Unfortunately, 8 years later almost nothing has been accomplished with respect to abortion and we’re now in an unnecessary war in Iraq.
Equally problematic I think, is the nature in which each of the candidates have run their campaigns. To say that McCain has been running a negative campaign would be an understatement. To my mind it has been more of a perversion, and, as Colin Powell has rightly illuminated, one which has promoted bigotry, racism, and hatred. His rival, Barak Obama, has exploited religious themes and language in a manner similar to that of President Bush while fundraising and outspending his opponent by almost 4 to 1. Isn’t there something to be said for believing that one’s endorsement should not be achieved through lying, wealth, or denigrating the Christian vernacular?
I have also become increasingly concerned with the idea that “we are a Christian nation.” Specifically, what exactly is meant by “we?” The Apostle Peter writes:
But [we] are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that [we] may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Yet is appears that many in the Church are missing the significance of this idea. Conservatives, focused on issues of morality, seek to pass legislation that will condemn what they consider to be immoral so that the country can return to its Christian roots, which unfortunately for them, never historically existed. For the more liberal minded, the issue becomes justice and the goal is to pass legislation which will lead to a more just society so as to help build the Kingdom of God. One obvious problem with both of these approaches is that they only voice part of the truth. Where it becomes problematic for me however, is that both positions potentially reduce the Church’s voice to that of a lobbyist, thus weakening the Church by making it dependent on the State to achieve its mission.
For me, the popular idea that the voting booth is where you “take action,” “make your voice heard,” or practice your “civic responsibility” doesn’t carry much weight. From my perspective, the American political process is 10 long months of steadily increasing extravagance and exhibitionism which climaxes in a brief moment where you share your deepest secret in a private booth, after which you can resume typical mundane activities like browsing the latest JCrew catalog. In other words, voting actually requires very little activity, and more importantly, the election process seems to function more as a distraction from the real action we could be doing. As Stanley Hauerwas puts it:
National politics is like the Roman circus in first century Rome. It is entertainment to keep us distracted from the real issues.Abolitionism: A Christian Response to War?: A Panel Discussion, Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture, September 27, 2002
I think most Christians understand politics as the process of choosing between democrat or republican, big or small government, public or private health care, and other divisive binary issues. This simply underscores the problem of competing allegiances I mentioned above. For Christians, politics is much more than determining your views on matters of policy, it is a visible activity where the idols of power, greed, selfishness, and violence are subverted by humility, generosity, self-sacrifice, and love. In that respect, the Church’s most significant political message is Christ’s death and resurrection, and it is to that which we must give voice. Image what real action could happen if, four years from now, Christians spent the months leading up to the election participating in tangible missional activities rather than arguing with family and friends and soaking up media gibberish that results in brainwashing and mindlessness.
For me, exactly how this Christian political witness is to be practiced is very much a work in progress. I feel that part of my discernment requires a certain amount of “space” to allow for the these ideas to further develop. Thus my decision to abstain from voting this year should not be taken as something that should apply to everyone, or even that it will be my same attitude four years from now.
Lest some of you fear I may be withdrawing, I will be participating in political activity on November 5th by joining my fellow Christians at the Vineyard Community Church of Morristown with a day of prayer and fasting for whomever becomes the new president.
To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.Karl Barth
Talk amongst yourselves.