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“Not Voting” as an Act of Christian Discernment : Calling the Emerging Church Into a Different Kind of Faithfulness

It is worth noting that one place where evangelicals and prot. mainlines, Southern Baptists and Sojourners, evangelical fundamentalist’ leaders(Dobson) and emergent village leaders (McLaren) converge is on our obligation to vote. They may not agree on whom to vote for, but they generally agree that voting is the Christian thing to do. In the midst of Shane Claiborne’s Jesus for President, there are those who warn us against withdrawal. Where is the recognition that abstaining from voting (refusing to participate) can be an even more aggressive activist (dare I say Biblical) stance for justice? It had been my hope, that the emerging church, atune to post modern, post Christendom and even post-Marxist post structuralist critiques of capitalism and democracy, might become a place of new Christian discernment for this new aggressive social posture of resistance towards the State and its marriage to multi- national corporate interests. Dissappointedly, I don’t think it has appeared yet. In the interest therefore, of promoting further conversation on this matter, I offer three issues to consider as you discern for yourself and your church as to whether to vote or not vote as act of Christian social justice. Please note that I am not saying it is always wrong to vote as a Christian. Rather I am asserting that voting is always an act of Christian discernment. Here are three issues to consider in discerning whether to vote or not.
1.) The State is an (Preserving) Order of Creation. If you’re a Calvinist you see God at work in all things (Common Grace) and that includes government. We should therefore participate in that. If you’re a Lutheran, you see that God is at work “preserving” creation in the State for the ongoing work of redemption until He comes, and therefore we should support that. Then there are some of us who follow Yoder (mostly Anabaptists) who consider that there are times when government is flat out evil and we should therefore not participate, indeed resist, or better yet (if you’re under postmodern influence) seek out tactics to subvert. I must admit, after staunchly disagreeing with pres. Bush’s approach to war and economy these last eight years, it might be incumbent on us all to vote for the preserving of the world from more American government induced violence and injustice.

2.) Voting is Violence Steve Knight recently posted on Hauerwas’s comments in voting for Obama. Hauerwas makes the case that voting is violence. Voting in essence polarizes and sets one group over against another. Once the 51% wins, voting sets the majority over against the minority in an act of domination. The 51% tell the other 49 what to do (er where to go in GB’s case). Should we Christians participate in that? Likewise, given the overt captivity of American government by territorializing powers of capital, should we encourage this process by legitimating it by our vote? Sometimes I think young thinkers, especially emerging church folk, cannot imagine what would happen if instead of evangelicals (or even better the voting block of the Christian church en toto) becoming a block of voters polarized over against the rest of the country by one issue, we simply refused to vote. What kind of subversive power for justice would be enacted? If every one refused to vote (and participate in the polarization), and the president of the United States was elected by 10,000 people, how much change would this evoke in the State? How much power would be stripped to wage war?

3.) “The Christian Nation” There is no question that some of the impulse to vote is to see justice take hold through the public sector. This is James Dobson, this is Jim Wallis. Yet I suggest that the organizing activity to vote (by Christians) may in fact distract Christians from the real work of justice in their own churches as communities of justice in the world. I believe just as the empty signifier (Zizek) “Christian Nation” distracts conservative evangelicals (in fact distances themselves from) from their own immediate participation in God’s justice through Christ in a people, so the same thing is very prone to happen among protestant mainline and emerging types when they advocate voting for justice through Obama. We keep working for justice in this way (family sexual values for Focus of the Family – social justice values for Sojourners) in turn giving hope for a Christianized America (one side sees Christianized as a sexually moral family-safe society, the other sees Christianized as a socially just society) via government. Meanwhile we are passivized towards engaging in justice ourselves in our own local churches. Indeed this becomes an excuse to keep justice concerns a safe distance as we (think we) are accomplishing it through other means. See my arguments on this here.

As for me on these three issues, 1.) I lean towards a Lutheran vote for the preserving of some baseline order in order to prevent te continuation of the problematic policies of the Republican administrations. 2.) I recognize that the polarizing has lessened in this election versus the prior Bush campaigns. 3.) Having said all that, I have no hopes for Christian justice coming through the halls of US government. Neither do I have hopes that Obama will somehow avoid being absorbed by the existing Order of the State.

My verdict: I will vote for Obama, but not expect too much (yeah, there I go parroting Stanley Hauerwas again).

In the meantime, I urge a discussion of these three issues in the emerging church forums. I urge we read Romans chapter 13 in view of John Howard Yoder’s discussion in ch. 10 of The Politics of Jesus. Whenever big politics starts sneaking into the church, let us push the discussion of what it means to refuse the rule of any other name but that of Christ as Lord. If you’re part of the so-called Hauerwas mafia, bring up the Christian anarchist stance into the political conversation of the emerging church. Do all of this in order to make it harder for Christians to just assume we should all get in line and vote.

What do you think? on issues 1,2, and 3?

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