Thursday, November 04, 2010

Why I don't Vote- and no it is not because I am a Quietest

You can find a post here on not voting that says things differently than I do here but with which I pretty much agree. Also, there is a repost here, of Alasdair MacIntyre's argument for not voting written around the 2004 presidential election. If you want you can see them as exhibit A and B in my case for not voting.

There are a number of issues. To some degree what I wrote about here on Election day has much to do with it. There were a few things around which my decision to not vote originally hung: 1)an objection to the two party system 2) a sense that Christians myself included were putting our hope in the political process and who controlled the Government 3) A growing unease with the mythologies and civil religion of the United States that I came to conclude is idolatrous and thus felt that abstention from this "meat sacrificed to idols" was my best witness as a Christian and pastor. 4) To proclaim and call people from this idolatry through this abstention, though not necessarily through doing as I do. I do not believe that not voting is something a Christian must do.

Since the 2008 election I have struggled with my decision. I have asked myself, and reflected on this question put to me by others: if we can influence the state to protect the poor the oppressed should we not do so? I do think there is a place for this and my position has never been that it is a Christian thing to not vote. My voting is influenced by my being a Christian and disciple of Jesus, but it itself is not a necessary expression of so being. As I struggled with this I have also taken part in local conversations with city, state and Federal elected officials. I have a better appreciation for what being a politician is in our system and context, the pressure they feel to fix everything, but also the pragmatics of government which seems to be deal making, controlling various competing interests and making happy those who make up their base and their support (not the same thing). Such interaction has not made me more confident in our system nor made me more inclined to jump back in and participate in it.

What I have seen in the past two years is our two party system encourage self-righteousness in my fellow believers in Christ. Many Christians I hear talk about their convictions about this or that politician or this or that party are completely convinced that their support for the party or politician isn't in conflict with their disicpleship to jesus Chrsit. In fact they are quite convinced that their voting as they do is directly connected to what God wants for the world, that they are defending truth and justice and righteousness by voting for a candidate or party and opposing said candidate or party. Most disappointingly I have seen it in Jim Wallis. When he came out with his God's Politics and God is neither a Democrat or a Republican campaign, I felt it was mostly a jab at the Religious right and a hidden support for the Democratic Party. Jim's comments I have read tend to identify the Gospel with the current administrations policies. There is also, in Jim's rhetoric an increasing talk in terms of American civil Religion and speaking of the American citizenry as a people of God. These tendencies I find unpalatable in relation to the Gospel.

Lastly I continue to not vote because someone needs to witness to the fact that Christians are citizens of a realm, of a "nation" that is other than the nations of this world. We do not primarily express this citizenship by conforming to the desires, the duties of the nations, the states and the governments of the world. Democracy is not a characteristic of God's realm any more than any other human political or economic system. I might be amendable to an argument that democracy might be the most likely to approach the limit of God's Kingdom. Yet, even if that is true it is I believe important perhaps especially in our current situation and as antidote to American Civil Religion that has sought to conflate attributes of the church with attributes of the the Nation of the United States. As those baptized into Jesus Christ and Christ's body on the earth our only real citizenship is in the realm of God, and the world that is to come and has come in Jesus Christ. All systems and nations including democracy and the nation of the United States is part of those things that are passing away and are part of that system which had set itself against God, and part of those powers and principalities and systems that put Christ to death.

As I see it America itself pulls us as Christians to see it or to want it to be coincident with the Kingdom of God. There is a nuance here in that what i am seeing now is that this loyalty to America has become loyalty to one of two competing visions of America one Republican ("conservative") one Democratic ("progressive", "liberal"). As Christians we may have convictions that lead us to vote one way or another, but our loyalty isn't to parties, or governments. Our trust cannot be in politicians or the State, or system, like democracy. Liberation and justice and righteousness do not come from any of these. If we are to make a true difference in this world we need to admit that we have a citizenship that is from another world. It is only in God that we find the truth justice, and righteousness that is beyond reproach and can truly transform the world into what it should be.


  1. You could add Howard Zinn's argument that the American political system historically subverts and disperses actual "movements of the people". The radicality of such movements are often embraced by political parties for their own ends. Popular movements are thus reduced to fit the controlling structures put in place for the stability of governance. The initial aims of the movement are then watered down, tempering the volatility and unpredictable "people's rule" outside the controls of a governing system. I agree with much of what you are saying about the relationship between church and government but am not following how that connects to the act of voting. It's true I can't vote for God (unless God announces candidacy in 2012...and even then, I'm not sure I will be able to agree with all Her policies) but a voting boycott seems a hollow symbolic gesture. I'm questioning the response more than the reason for a response.

  2. That's a good question. And like my friend Huw wrote in his own post, my response may be due to my own weakness. I know the temptations to put hope in party, and Government and the State are mine. Participating in elections is to some degree putting trust in the system. In part this isn't simply about the system as how the system spiritually effects me.
    I agree it is symbolic, but rarely is a symbolic gesture hollow. Symbols them selves carry power. One could say that most of what the Israelite prophets did were hollow symbolic gestures (not that I am claiming such prophetic authority here).
    But it also raises the question if you agree with my reasons for a responce, and you take seriously Howard Zinn's critique, then isn't voting itself a hollow symbolic gesture that appears to give one person the power to change things?

    Having been pushed on this by you I would say that voting is largely symbolic in nature perhaps always in a democracy, but certainly in ours. It always has been. Thus campaigning by politicians must always take on either grand themes of hope that border on the messianic or on themes of lurking evil. In voting we are either voting our hopes and dreams, or against our fears. This symbolic system isn't necessarily bad in and of itself, except that it claims to produce what is impossible for it to produce, the raw reduced will of the people. This itself is a symbolic reality and not an actuality, there is no such thing as the "People" as any self-respecting pluralist or multi-culturalist will admit.

    So, I may agree with you that my responce is a hollow symbolic gesture but that is because we are caught within a hollow symbolic system, which is perhaps one way of describing our fallen world out of which we as followers of Christ are called.

    Abstaining from voting doesn't remove me, but it symbolizes for me and hopefully for others that our hope is elsewhere, and that we need not fear what politicians and the State, and our fellow people tell us we need to fear. Rather we are already part of another symbolic system, one infused with the source of all meaning and life, that will always and has already overflowed and cannot be contained by any other symbolic system.

  3. I like to imagine what would happen if a significant portion of the millions who don't vote went and voted for so-called third parties, and if such action was accurately reported. Could be a great monkey wrench in the system.

    shalom v'ahava,


  4. I have had the same thought. Even went someway into how I could promote such a thing. From the late 90's until I stopped voting I generally voted for independents or third parties. Though the term itself reinforces the two party system, as you marked "so-called". However, so doing still would leave the question of allegiance and citizenship that are the more fundamental and religious reasons for not voting as a minister.