Who should I vote for?

Although I attempt to play it close to the vest during political seasons, when “passions” (that sounds so much nicer than “tempers”) run high – particularly in Ohio – I often find myself the subject of mistaken assumptions with regard to our standard, dichotomous political labels. Today, on the eve of the 2012 presidential election, I have decided to set the record straight.

When queried about my political affiliation, my response is “Christian.” I am surprised at how often fellow Christians think I am joking when I say this. I don’t think this is because they’ve disconnected their faith from their politics, but rather because they’ve intertwined them so thoroughly as to only see a possible connection between “Christian” and “Republican” (in which case, why wouldn’t I just say “Republican”?). But I really don’t know how else to answer. My life, including my political perspective(s), has been formed overwhelmingly by the Church, which I believe to be an outpost of the Kingdom of God in the here-and-now. “Kingdom” is a political term. To adapt Stanley Hauerwas, I believe the church doesn’t have a certain politics, it IS a politic. Polis simply means “city.” To be a Christian  means (among other things) being a citizen of a city where Jesus reigns. So, with Hauerwas, I believe that when a Christian is asked to say something political, the appropriate response is “Church.” I do not claim that living this out is straightforward or easy, but I aspire to keep clearly focused on the fact that my primary citizenship is not of this world, and to quote Derek Webb, “my first allegiance is not to a flag, a country…democracy or blood – it’s to a King and a Kingdom.” This is not to diminish my love for or loyalty to my nation, or my gratefulness for the freedoms we enjoy, but an acknowledgment that I aspire to be a Christian first, and everything else a distant second.

In light of this, the question of how we live as citizens of our this-worldly cities in the time that remains is not at all simple. In fact, I think it’s incredibly complex, which is why platitudes like “vote biblical values” strike me as not only meaningless but rather irresponsible – I want us to take our Bible, and our responsibility as citizens, more seriously than that. I believe sincere Christians can come to radically different conclusions about politics, because I believe there is a bit of good and a bit of truth – as well as a whole lot of broken, sinful humanity – involved in ALL of our attempts to govern ourselves and organize our common life in the present age. But I believe the Kingdom of God subverts all of our this-worldly political systems, which makes our politics (any of them) a poor foundation on which to build our lives or in which to place our faith.

This is the source of my “dis-ease” with contemporary American politics. I see both sides offering utopian visions of heaven on earth, and I see Christians on both sides believing that “their side” offers true hope, while the “other side” will bring only doom and destruction. We’ve bought into what Peter Enns identifies as a “rival eschatology,” one very different from Christian hope. Perhaps we’ve succumbed to this because we see our this-worldly situation as the more “real” one, and the Kingdom of God as far off, when as Christians we are called to live as though we believe that the Kingdom is more real than “real”…which is admittedly not easy.

So politically speaking, I feel a bit like a stranger in a strange land. I feel very at home around conservatives who promote personal responsibility, family values, and “life.” However, I am often frustrated that this tribe that places such great emphasis on life doesn’t take their agenda far enough to oppose not only abortion but capital punishment, torture, drone strikes that kill civilians, endless war, and to insist upon care for the poor and downtrodden, orphans and widows, and the planet on which we must make our home for generations to come. I am concerned about an uncritical faith in capitalism and “the market” to solve all our problems, an untroubled complicity with violence and militarism, and an inherent selfishness that celebrates those who are “winners” (according to the world’s rubric), while ignoring (or worse, rationalizing) the systemic injustice that results in an impossibly wide gap between the winners and losers. So, although I have chosen at times to vote along these lines, I prefer to not identify myself as “conservative” or “Republican.”

I also find myself quite at home amongst liberals who emphasize equality and believe that everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic status much less their mental or physical ability, should have unencumbered access to education, health care, and a basic quality of life. However, I am often frustrated that this tribe doesn’t go far enough in fighting for this same basic quality of life for the unborn, or in stressing the importance of taking individual responsibility for our actions as a necessary basis for a flourishing society. I am concerned about an ideology that at times prefers the welfare of plants and animals to that of human life, an inherent naiveté about the brokenness of our human condition that leads to the mistaken and silly belief that if we work together and simply love each other – and most importantly ourselves – we can bring about our own salvation and achieve peace on earth. So, although I have chosen at times to vote along these lines, I prefer to not identify myself as “liberal” or “Democrat.”

I also believe that if being a Christian means anything it means telling and promoting the truth. But I confess I don’t see much truth-telling during campaigns: from the candidates, the media, or even from us ordinary folks as we air our opinions. (Perhaps the old saying should be revised – in war and in politics, truth is the first casualty.) I am troubled by a culture where we’re more likely to dig our heels in about our biases and beliefs when presented with evidence to the contrary, rather than dare to think and reconsider. So in the interest of truth-telling, let me make a few confessions, and give you a chance to weigh in:

  • I am far left on some issues, and far right on others. (What can I say? Anyone who knows me would agree that moderate is not a word often used to describe me.)
  • I am concerned when who we favor in an election becomes a litmus test for our patriotism, or even our Christian faith, rather than simply an indication of diverse political and philosophical preferences, many of which are more likely inherited than thoughtfully selected.
  • I believe America would be better off with more than just two viable political options that seem so polarized in some areas and yet so completely identical in others.
  • I am quite attracted to certain aspects of the platforms of the Green party, the Libertarian party, and yes, even the Republicans and Democrats too; I also despise certain aspects of all of them.
  • I choose to believe most candidates for political office genuinely desire to serve the common good and make things better; I also don’t believe any politician can be trusted to keep all the promises they make during a campaign.
  • I believe God has instituted that we should have systems of governance, but leaves it in our hands to work out what that actually looks like; I don’t believe God is the puppet master behind the geopolitical landscape or is responsible for who wins an election.
  • I believe that if Jesus walked the earth today, he would be quite disinterested in the spectacular beauty pageants we call “elections.”

So…given the available choices, and in light of these convictions, who do you think should I vote for, and why?

16 responses to “Who should I vote for?

  1. outstanding reflections

  2. I can’t disagree with anything your written; however, tomorrow you will make a choice. I’ve made my choice in the interest of my grandchildren and the hoped for future they will have and especially, the freedom(s) we have and most of all our freedom to worship without fear. This election is about the future of our country, our freedoms and our future generations.

    • Hi Allan: thanks for your reply. You’re right of course: I will have to make a choice, to vote and for whom, or to not vote at all. For the record, I will definitely vote – there are a lot of issues and candidates on the ballot besides the president, so I believe it would be irresponsible to not vote at all, although I would sympathize with someone who opted not to vote for a presidential candidate. I don’t believe that the office of the president is as determinative as you say, but if what you mean is that who we elect to be our president *represents* something significant about who we are as a people and where we’re headed as a nation, I take your point. Also, I appreciate your decision for the sake of future generations.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here, Brannon. I find myself in a very similar position, almost wishing I could check out at election time because I feel like a bit of an ‘alien and stranger’ — and my heart’s desire is to remember my focus and citizenship in the Kingdom, which are most certainly of greater importance than this ‘kingdom’ we call the USA. It’s encouraging to know “my brotherhood throughout the world are experiencing the same sufferings.” Thanks for voicing what’s been in my head for a while! Hauerwas’ Community of Character has had a profound impact on my understanding of what the church should look like in the world — and I definitely don’t think, politically speaking, we’ve arrived!

  4. Brannon, We don’t know each other, but we probably should. We have a lot of mutual friends. I appreciate the thoughts you’ve laid out here. May your tribe increase. I’ve been taking the church I pastor in Chicago through a series the past four weeks on “The Politics of Jesus.” Yesterday I attempted to proclaim the message that in the end it’s all about lifting up Jesus and telling his story in the midst of our local place and time. The text was Hebrews 2 and specifically the phrase “But we do see Jesus.” The author of Hebrews tells us that the world as we see it does not appear to be ordered and brought into the care and governance of God’s kingdom vision…but we do see Jesus…crowned with glory and honor because of his victorious death. So I very much appreciate your comments on the utopianisms of the right and left and pray that we all can find faithful ways to live and act in our local (and catholic) spaces that confess and proclaim “we do see Jesus.” Anyway, just thought I should say “thanks” and “we should be friends.”

  5. This post struck a chord with me because it’s something I could have written myself a few years ago. Struggling to vote with integrity in an age of cynicism, too conservative for the liberals, too liberal for the conservatives, etc.
    But then I came to a realization: my rationalization, my intent, mattered not one whit when it came to the real-world results of my vote. Not to bring up all kinds of hot-button issues, but you mentioned that your sympathy with conservatives was in part a product of their vocal opposition to abortion.
    Here’s a recent study showing that the contraceptive provisions in the Affordable Care Act can reduce abortion rates by as much as 75%: (http://journals.lww.com/greenjournal/Abstract/publishahead/Preventing_Unintended_Pregnancies_by_Providing.99945.aspx) That’s huge! Here’s another take on it: http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/sexandgender/6501/barack_obama,_pro-life_hero_/
    So there’s a very real dilemma: Republicans are saying more loudly that they oppose abortion. And Democrats are supporting a policy that will reduce the number of abortions. If Romney wins and the ACA is repealed, the loss of contraceptive coverage means that many more abortions will be performed. Seriously, think about the irony here. A large contingent of pro-life voters could actually bring about more abortions as a result of their “pro-life vote”.
    What I’m getting to is: what’s in your heart matters a great deal to you. But a vote is a messy, pragmatic, dirty, real-world thing. It has consequences. Anyone who allows their intent and inner feelings to decide their vote, rather than the real-world end results, will be exploited by the political powers that be. See my example above.

    • Aklab: thanks for your thoughtful comment. I completely understand what you’re saying, and I’m familiar with that train of thought (I read that Religion Dispatches article last week, and recall a similar one during the last election that showed how abortion rates were lower under Clinton than Bush because of the state of the economy and so on). I think you make an excellent point about how voting based on feelings can be exploited. But, although it simply is the way things are, I still dissatisfied with a system that discourages me from voting based on my convictions (which are different than feelings I think), and that forces me to either “waste” my vote (which I don’t really think any informed, intentional vote is wasted) on an unviable candidate, or settle for one I’m not happy with. I know, it is what it is. You’re right, it’s a dirty, messy thing.

      • Perhaps another way of saying it is that there is no such thing as a “perfect” vote, one that will satisfy all your convictions or leave your conscience entirely clear. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. For this reason I think “would Jesus vote” is a much more interesting question than “who would Jesus vote for?”

  6. I think that if you cannot separate your politics from your faith, you should do us all a favor & please never run for office.

  7. Pingback: Vulnerability, Facebook and the Election « Daylight Rising

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