The final guest post in the Jesus Politics synchroblog comes to us from Tripp York. Tripp is a PhD who teaches in the Religion Department at Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk, VA. He is the author and editor of ten books, including The Devil Wears Nada. Visit him at The Amish Jihadist and/or Eating Anarcrow.
The revolution will be drowned in the ballot boxes—which is not surprising, since they were made for that purpose. – Jean-Paul Sartre
There are few things imagined more dutiful in this life than the so-called “responsibility” of every North American to vote. Despite the fact that many decide, for whatever reasons, not to vote, the very idea that voting is an indispensable requirement that falls on each individual goes largely unquestioned.
Let me state at the outset that any qualms I may have about voting stem from neither apathy nor indifference. It simply makes little sense to me, given that we are, as Aristotle claimed, political animals that anyone would or should be indifferent to voting. Christians, whom I am here addressing, should be concerned with the goods that constitute the temporal cities of this time between times, and voting is but one means of attempting to seek those goods.
Nevertheless, I often wonder if what has been passed down to us as an unquestioned duty is the only way, or even the primary way, to be political. To be more specific, is it possible for a conscientious abstention from voting to be understood as an act of politics concerned with the good of the polis? Could it function as a witness to a different order, one not predicated on the enforcement of legislation, laws, and the lording of power over one another? If so, what would be the rationale for such an objection, or at least a hesitation, to the act of voting? What sort witness would this attempt to make?
To answer these questions I have jotted down a few points in a modest attempt to put forth reasons why voting might be problematic for Christians (especially for those who think we should ‘vote with our Bibles in our hands’). If nothing else, at least dealing with these possible objections could make us more conscientious voters—if that is what we decide part of Christian witnessing entails.
1. Romans 13 demands subordination to the government. Which government? All governments. Paul demanded Christian submission to powers that be because, despite how fallen they are, God ordains them. Rebellion against such powers is understood as rebellion against God and thus not permitted. It makes no sense, therefore, to perpetuate any order founded on explicit disobedience of Scripture. The United States of America only came into being through rebellion against the God-ordained powers of English monarchy. (The irony of this is rich, as the most patriotic of souls love to use this text to demand obedience to every whim of their beloved nation-state without recognizing the hypocrisy that made it possible for it to come into being in the first place.) To vote for the maintenance of such an order seems to entail approval of disobedience against God, or at least renders Paul’s command nonsensical as it can be disobeyed if enough time has elapsed from the inception of said rebellion/revolution.
2. Jesus requires that his disciples not be like those Gentiles who lord their power over others, even if it is for some sort of “good” (Matt. 20:25). Christians are, as he says in verse 26, not to be this way; rather, they are to be slaves to and of one another. It might be one thing if elected officials of this nation were forced to take office; instead, these are individuals who desperately want to be in power and beg and plead with the common folk for their votes, all to the tune of countless mil- lions of dollars—spent to convince us that we should exalt those who would be like those Gentiles who lord their power over others. If we were forbidden to be like them, why would it be permissible to place them in the kind of posture Jesus decries?
3. Capitalism, the socio-economic order that underwrites this culture, is predicated on the seven deadly sins (lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, pride). Without just one of these sins, capitalism would fold and collapse on itself. For instance, if there were no greed this economy would be destroyed. We are taught to never be satisfied, to never have our fill, to never be satiated, to remain in a perpetual state of want, all in the name of the common good. How is this even remotely akin to the kind of desires that should be produced by ecclesial formation? Goods are only good if they are shared goods, at least according to Scripture and early Christian history. Sharing goods in this culture would be a sin.
(An aside, but pertinent: Let it not be lost on us that immediately after September 11, 2001, the president of the United States demanded that we the people respond neither with prayer nor patience but by . . . shopping. The interesting thing is, this was actually a morally legitimate command (as it would have been for any president for that matter). Had people ceased spending money, the economy would have collapsed. Therefore, in such a culture one responds to terrorism via trips to the mall (along with many missiles and the country’s young people). This is our way of life? This is what Christians are willing to both die and kill for? How can we vote for any potential Caesar under this sort of politic?)
4. While we are on the subject of the seven deadly sins, let’s look at one more: pride. Pride is a term that falls again and again from the lips of U.S. leaders. Both Scripture and tradition remind us that pride is purely representative of the fall of humankind. Because of this, there is nothing to be proud of except, inasmuch as one can boast with St. Paul, hope in Jesus. Pride has become the very means whereby we Christians are co-opted into our culture. Pride has robbed us of the resources to practice repentance, confession, humility, and servant-hood—all of which are at the heart of Christianity. Voting is, de facto, an exercise in pride (especially if you find yourself on the winning side).
5. In the gospel of Luke, Satan takes Jesus up to the mountain top and offers him all of the kingdoms of the world:
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” (Luke 4:5-8)
Though the powers may be ordained by God, they are (as with all of creation) in rebellion against God, and according to this passage it is Satan leading this rebellion. Satan offers the kingdoms to Jesus because they belong to Satan. Satan gives them, or at least offers them, to whomever Satan pleases. All Jesus has to do, to rule the world the way most of us imagine how we are to rule it, is to worship Satan. Thus it appears that all of the kingdoms of the world, though rightly ordained for the maintenance of social harmony, are currently satanic. All you have to do to lead them is worship Beelzebub; hence my reluctance to vote for this sort of person.
6. The U.S. Constitution tempts us toward idolatry. Though written by humans (right after the rebellion against the God-ordained powers nonetheless) to protect the interests of a few wealthy white men, we are taught to understand all of life in this socio-politic through its lens. It becomes the all-encompassing hermeneutical device that enables us to determine what constitutes a good life. This is a life that leads us into hyper-atomization, self-interest, and ownership of private goods (even as it deprives others of the basic necessities of life). Through the Constitution private interests are served and protected against any claims of common ownership of God’s good earth. We are to imagine that this is a good thing.
7. Ezekiel 16:49 says, “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.” Our economic order requires all of us to practice the sin of sodomy. What is sodomy? According to the Bible, it’s screwing the poor. Class-led consumer capitalism simply cannot thrive without an impoverished class. Indeed, the very basis of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of the Nations, the quintessential text that underwrites our order, is the promise that we can all be rich – which, ironically enough, is the very state of being Jesus seems to think a huge impediment to our salvation.
You can take that up with him.
8. Regardless of which leaders win, they will demand my unadulterated allegiance. That is, of course, a problem in and of itself, as Christians are called to serve only one master. How this, arguably, affects Christians the most is that leaders of empires simply cannot enact the radical kind of peace Christians are to offer their enemies. Rulers, history has shown, must take up arms against their enemies. They must engage in warring, or at least threats of warring, to secure certain goods.
This is a far cry from that which Jesus calls his disciples. Jesus demands that those who would follow his lead must turn the other cheek and pray for those who persecute us. (Ever heard a president pray for enemies—except that they be destroyed?) Jesus’ followers must refuse to inflict vengeance, as that belongs to God. Yet all nation-states demand the exact opposite. To be socially relevant and responsible is to forego the literal imitation of Jesus. I argue that any order that demands that a Christian not imitate Jesus is a demonic one in- deed, a stumbling block for God’s children.
9. Someone once said that the United States may be the greatest Babylon on the planet, but she is still a Babylon. As William Stringfellow astutely pointed out, if we are to read all nations biblically then we must recognize that they are all Babylons. None are the Heavenly Jerusalem; if they were, then they would be the City of God. They are, therefore, parasitic on the good that is the heavenly city, and the church, as the image of this city on earth, is called to show the state that it is not the heavenly city.
That, I think, is the church’s task. It is not to buttress the powers that be but to show them, through the church’s wit- ness, that whatever the powers that be are, they are not the church. One way to resist being co-opted by the powers that be, I imagine, is by neither voting nor taking office.
10. Voting is saying that you want these persons to enact your will, legislate it, and force it on others. Then inasmuch as these persons do this, you will support them. That is, you demand that they do what you want them to do for the betterment of how you envision the world (even as rather than seeking the peace of the city, as Jeremiah demands, this often results in attempting to secure the peace).
11. Voting and the system it entails spares Christians the burden of actually having to be the church, because now we can have the state require of others all that we think it should. We don’t need to work on creating alternative communities, we don’t need to be prophetic to the powers that be through the act of radical discipleship because we have become the very powers and principalities Paul claims Jesus has defeated.
12. By the simple refusal to vote (or, to at least consider it), perhaps we can at least better see how such power has seduced us, and has both compromised and domesticated our faith by putting it in the service of one of this world’s chief idols: a nation-state.
These simple musings are but a few reasons I am currently hesitant to cast my vote for yet another Caesar.
(The above post, with slight modifications, was originally published in Christian Ethics Today #70 and the author’s book, Third Way Allegiance).
If you agree with Tripp, that Christians shouldn’t vote, then write a post about it, send me the link, and I’ll feature it here.
If you disagree, leave a comment and let me know what you think. REMEMBER: It’s ok to argue your point vigorously, but do so with civility so your comment doesn’t disappear from the thread.