I haven't voted for the last few elections but I did in this one. I still am not sure if it was the most faithful thing to do, I was convinced that it was for the last election.
I had a fun conversation with a woman I had never met after I voted and as I was walking to my car.
She said, "Hopefully after today we will not have any more anger and rudeness." I said, sarcastically, "I wouldn't count on that. It's the nature of politics I think these days." Obviously, the nature of democracy includes and anticipates disagreement. However, this one has been particularly divisive.
There has been a lot of terrible things. The continued and systemic racism inherent in both of the major parties I think has been the worst. The sexism by Trump. The apathy of Clinton toward the Dakota Pipeline. There are others, but this is by far the worst.
However, I wish to address the minor element that is troubling to me as a pastor and theologian, namely the identification of the Church with political movements.
I think it is not misguided to relate this to the broader place of Christian History. It is interesting to note the change in tone between figures like Justin Martyr and Augustine in terms of politics. Obviously those two have other issues that are problematic in terms of how they understand the Jews and women. I draw on these two however simply due to their political writings. Justin was not concerned about the preservation of the Roman Empire, but Augustine was more concerned. Why? Because Christians were in charge. The shift is even more apparent when one fast forwards to a figure like Pope Innocent.
The change is the degree to which Christians are in charge or, better put, in power. The degree that Christians are willing to accept immorality changes with this shift. It is historically self-evident. I think what we are witnessing is the final breaths of this line of thought.
You see individuals on the right and left think responsible Christian discipleship is to be in charge at all costs. So they support candidates who most fit with whatever that looks like. I think the most vocal form of this is the Religious Right who have sold their soul to Donald Trump. It boils down to the main things that have defined this group since its inception, for example abortion. Many of the supporters dogmatic support of Trump comes down to his appointment of a conservative judge to the Supreme Court. So they are overlooking all of the other faults to this end. One might be able to sustain this argument. (I say this lightly) Maybe just because there have always been one issue voters. However, the theological justification of a Donald Trump vote is just horrendous.
For example, Franklin Graham has been adamant about the support and ways that God can use sinners in office and this why Christians should support Trump. (See story here) Even worse, Jerry Falwell Jr. has commented that those of his students at Liberty University who openly condemn Trump have not read the scripture, "Judge not." (Here is the story) The hypocrisy in this is laughable. These are statements freshly rolled out for Trump in order to justify it and is rarely ever heard with reference to Democratic candidates. (See here) Also, (just because I hate it) see the way that Christian history is being mobilized in this election by popular Bonhoeffer author (Not scholar, he is not even approaching a sophomoric understanding of Bonhoeffer) Eric Metaxas tweeting about Hilary Clinton and Barak Obama being comparable to the Third Reich on Twitter. (See here)
Why you ask? Is it simply because they honestly don't see the blatant generalization in favor of one party against another? I have no idea. Anything I would say is speculation. However, one thing is clear that the issue is about who is in charge, who should be and who is not. In short, the issue is power. We have not left the Christendom mindset.
If, like the woman I spoke to today, you're Christian and you want a way out, let me suggest one. A return to the Apostolic Mindset.
The Apostolic Church was a member of Rome's political order with two main distinctions, they were not in charge nor seeking to be in charge. They paid their taxes. They served the poor. They gathered together. They sought to stop the murder of innocence. They engaged in polemics on Truth and Justice. All of this was political, yet they did not seek to monopolize it.
They could be faithful without having to be powerful.
I think this is important. To be modern might look different. Like supporting social programs or not. By giving to certain non-profits or not. By actively giving of oneself as faithfulness. By eating certain kinds of foods over others. Taking an active role in their neighborhoods. All of these are political and none of which is dependent on a particular candidate.
I think one of great tragedies how we have forgotten these are the ways that these are our political responsibilities precisely because we are disciples who live in political realms not politicians justifying those realms. Voting is not our primary mode of responsible discipleship.
Now let me entertain some objections.
1) Why not both/and? Can't I vote for a major party and do these things?
-Yes you can. Of course you can. However, let's look at the climate. Churches and politicians a like say that voting and supporting these main parties is the way that you are to be Christian today. See this story from Liberty as an example. I have always loved this quote from Hannah Arendt.
-"Underlying our prejudices against politics today are hope and fear: the fear that humanity could destroy itself through politics and through the means of force now at its disposal, and, linked with this fear, the hope that humanity will come to its senses and rid the world, not of human kind, but of politics." ("Introduction into Politics." 97)
-The reason why politicians of these two parties collapse faithful discipleship and voting for their party into one thing. To challenge this system means to show that we do not need them. That we have come to our senses. This is the only way to end the divisive, racist, sexist and immoral language, namely to bankrupt it. As long as we are willing to fuel the fire, we all burn.
2) There are two candidates that have a chance of winning, voting 3rd party is a waste. Shouldn't I invest in someone that can win?
-No. I think this goes along with becoming Apostolic again. As a Church we don't invest because certain individuals are winners. We invest in thing and, most importantly don't invest, because it's faithful. And it is quite possible that both are unfaithful.
3) Well sure both are bad, but one is less bad. Shouldn't I vote for the one that is less bad to avoid a greater evil.
-Here I refer to C.S. Lewis.
4) What about all the people who died for my right to vote? Not voting is disrespectful to them.
-This is an emotionally driven argument. Avoid these as best you can mostly because we have not fought this type of war for a long time. However, I am not saying all voting is bad. However, see how purchasing fare trade and organic is a form of voting. See how spending time and money on the homeless is a type of voting. Surely service men and women were preserving this too. And finally, not voting for party establishment, which is not about democracy anymore, is a type of vote about what type of democracy we have.
5) What about issues like abortion, war and social programs? The president drives policy toward these things. Shouldn't Christians seek to support a candidate based on these so that our position might be affirmed or promoted?
-A couple of things. First, other non-establishment candidates have positions on these and ones you could probably make peace with. Second, this ignores a lot of the other problems that a candidate can cause. So for example, sure Trump might appoint a conservative justice. However, you're also allowing a man whose temperament can't handle Rosie O'Donnell to represent us to our allies and enemies. Or, it appears that Hilary Clinton is more of a socially conscious liberal to handle the disparities in the United States. Well, this ignores her continued trouble with the BLM movement and the overt, and ignored, persecution of the victims of the Dakota Pipeline. This is not faithfulness its narrow sightedness. Third, this creates an implied laziness in this. If you care about abortion issues, stop stigmatizing young women who have them and offer to be a place that celebrates births of all sorts. If you care about the poor, then be the Church. Care for the poor. Faithfulness is about doing the work of the Church rather than outsourcing.
6) Well if you don't vote for a president you surrender your right to speak into any social issue.
-Again, emotional. Now this is more geared toward not voting as faithful political practice. But observe just how false this is. A couple of things here too. First, think about the Apostolic Church I outlined above. Basically, they did not participate in worship of the Caesar cult, offer sacrifices to the gods or participate in the violence of Roman social life (i.e. the games, etc), but other than that they were Roman citizens in every sense of the word. They had jobs. They paid taxes. Debated. And they were still the Church. Second, the thing that we need to ask ourselves is what matters most being Christian or being American. There are many constructive ways to engage politics that are not limited to presidential elections. Third, the social elements of our political system is what we value. Being social is not predicated on your vote, its predicated on Christians being social and doing things in public. Now this does deconstruct the "individualism" of evangelical Christianity, but I don't mourn that and neither should you. Finally, I think, if I am right about the Apostolic Church, we think politics in ways that are more akin to the ways the Apostolic Church refused to be political. In short, we have given the two party establishments the authority to be the answer to the world's ailments. So much so that they have cult unyielding followers (Republicans and Democrats are the new Caesar cults), we see sociality as participating in mythic categories that celebrates our greatness through rhetorical violence and discord (games=voting) and we have offered our sacrifices to the gods of American politics (i.e. that the religious right and liberal Christianity cease to be Christian but another religion). In short, what all of these tell me is that Church only sees itself as coherent within the establishment parties making the latter the more essential. See for example Metaxas again who thinks witnesses against politics is violence or refusing to vote is being a wuss. What is more essential for Metaxas? The Church? Or the GOP?
So in this time of voting, if you're tired of the political system as it is. Specifically if you're in the Church, then think through the Church becoming apostolic again. The Church is enjoying the last twilight of it's influence. We are quickly heading back to a time where the government and it's institutions do not want or care what the Church says. Therefore, the Church must think of faithful ways of being the Church that do not need the government for it to be coherent. This does not mean the Church retreats into itself, but that it's social life is not about being a good Republican or Democrat, but a disciple.
The two questions to ask of your political allegiances this season is this: Is this stand or action coherent without the gospel of Jesus Christ and the practices of the Church? Does it need an apparatus of political power to sustain it? This will tell us the answer to where we are and where we should go.
Arendt, Hannah, "Introduction into Politics," in The Promise of Politics. Ed. Jerome Kohn. (New York: Schocken Books. 2005), 93-200.