I wrote this last Halloween on the eve of the election.
People are calling this the most important election of our lifetime. That’s a pretty bold statement, but given the economic and military issues on hand, it could well be true. America is in a recession and may be in danger of a depression. The war in Iraq has been raging for four and a half years, and our involvement in Afghanistan has gone on even longer. Prices of basic necessities are going up, and our healthcare system is badly broken. Not only that, but there are some fundamental concerns about the role of the president and vice-president, and the weakening of our constitutional system of checks and balances. Don’t forget the perpetual issues of social morality: abortion, marriage, religious expression. There’s something to catch the concern of nearly everyone.
I’m a politics junkie. I say this by way of confession. There is no good reason for me to know all the trivia I know about the current political game. I really should find another hobby. But my remote control tends to gravitate toward C-Span, and wonky blogs keep loading on my web browser. Poll numbers, significant Senate races, potential Cabinet appointments for either side, tax and policy proposals—I sift through all these things on a regular basis. That friend of yours who know waaaaay to much about baseball? That’s me with politics. It’s an engrossing game, and it’s always in season.
I have a favorite team this year, too. Well, that’s not quite right, but there is definitely one team that I would like to lose. That’s no secret. But explaining why I think one option is markedly less acceptable than the other isn’t really the point of this note. The point is this. I’ve been gradually shifting into a more Mennonite/Anabaptist/neo-Stoneite/David Lipscomb-esque theological posture regarding political engagement, and I think it’s time for me to give up voting.
For at least four or five years now I’ve occasionally preached sermons on the dangers of political involvement. Jesus was offered the kingdoms of the world. The only price was to bow to Satan. He said no. I suspect the reason that Matthew and Luke record this temptation is that it wasn’t going to be unique to Jesus. The church would be offered the same bargain. Political recognition in exchange for a little bit of idolatry. As in: “Maintain good standing as a Roman citizen—just offer a little incense to this statue of Caesar.” Or, “Have a shot at ending abortion—just form political action committees to consolidate wealth and influence. Get in good with the right candidates.” Or, at its most base, “If you vote for me, I’ll send more money your way through earmarks, entitlements or lower taxes.” Money is a kind of god, too—the one that Jesus seems to feel is the biggest competition. That’s why he said we had to choose.
It’s so easy to vote against our own spiritual interests. Jesus teaches that having more money is a spiritual impediment, and that we shouldn’t store up treasure on Earth. His people vote for lower taxes and more financial security. “Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” But I want someone to help me get into a house. “Love your enemies,” he said. But his people will vote in droves for our enemies to be carpet-bombed, detained without trial, tortured until they break.
I’m thinking that the lesser of two evils is still pretty darn evil. And I don’t want anything to do with it. I don’t want to be seduced by power, even the somewhat minimal power of casting a ballot. I don’t want to comprise with worldly powers. I don’t want to be tempted to “Lord it over people like the Gentiles do.” And if I’m concerned about food or clothes—the basics I need—Jesus’ answer was pretty clear: stop worrying, seek the Kingdom and justice. God will provide.
I have a King and a kingdom. I am a citizen of heaven and I eagerly await a savior from there. What can any political figure do to trump that?
I’m afraid that we’ve fallen for the notion that worldly kinds of power-grabbing are the way to get things done in the world. If we believe that there is a Father God, an interceding Son and an indwelling Spirit, if we believe he has a mission and a church and in his name alone can peace and salvation be found—really, why would I waste my time supporting a mere human?
I know—almost no one thinks this way anymore. But it used to be a powerful strain of Christian thought, and still is among peace churches like the Mennonites. And it was huge in my background, the Churches of Christ. Barton Stone, Tolbert Fanning, David Lipscomb—powerful preachers, writers, and educators, all warned about the dangers of coercive political power. Many in our churches shunned voting, refused to run for political office, rejected military careers and avoided jury duty out of a basic refusal to compromise with the world. They wanted to be in it, but not of it, and it was hard to see how they could do any of those things and not be “of the world.”
Yeah, I’m a ball of contradictions on this. But I’m thinking about what the better path is for my own spiritual development, and for the integrity of the church. And I’d rather we just wash our hands of the whole matter.
These thoughts have been coalescing recently. Every day since early voting opened in North Carolina, I’ve thought about slipping out on my lunch break to cast a ballot. But I keep holding back. I think with a little prayer and willpower, I can resist the temptation all the way to election day. I know I’ll be almost alone in my conscientious objection to the ballot, but that’s good for me, too. I just think of it as voting for Jesus.
I can’t promise not to stay up ‘til 1:00 a.m. watching the returns next Tuesday, though. Some habits die hard.