The editorial elaborated by pointing out how they could not recommend a candidate to their readers that they would not recommend to their own family.
If one is not persuaded that either of the candidates are compelling choices isn’t NOT choosing the morally sound choice?
The Richmond paper’s refusal to choose brings up an interesting theological question:
Do Christians have a duty to vote?
We’re told as much by civil society, and churches often follow suit.
Congregations serve as polling places. Worship bulletins contain reminders for members to vote on Tuesday. Candidates often speak (or preach) on Sunday mornings. Denominations often act as though the Kingdom will arrive with an HR # stamped on top of it.
Do followers of Jesus have an obligation to vote?
And notice, the question isn’t:
Do Christians have a duty towards their larger society?
The answer to that question is obviously yes.
But to the extent that Christians hear the first question as questioning the second we betray the cultural assumption that voting is the primary means by which we serve the common good.
“entertainment to keep the populace consumed by distraction in a way that they’re not really in any way ready to engage in the kind of work necessary to really do something about the world in which we find ourselves.”
|Here are few points from Branson Parker that I think emerge from Hauerwas’ observations:
1. Voting is only one example of a civic duty, and it’s not the main feature of democracy. The fact that we’ve reduced civic life to nothing more than voting is part of the problem in our hyper-partisan culture.
2. The emphasis on elections can actually distract us from active civic engagement.
Voting is like showing up for a church council meeting. voting, and then coming to church only once every few months to listen to a sermon and then go home. We’d never say that qualifies as active Christianity so why does it count as active civic engagement?
3. To suggest the choice is between “voting” or “doing nothing” is a false dilemma that ignores creative, alternative ways to be engaged for the common good.
4. We overemphasize voting because we overemphasize the importance of the State as solution to all problems.
As UVA sociologist (and Christian) James Davison Hunter notes, “There are no political solutions to the problems most people care about.” For Hunter, the problem is one of expectations. Most people, including most Christians, have unrealistic expectations of the state. The state can’t cultivate family values, can’t help us respect human diversity, and can’t help us value our local communities and cities.
5. Voting can become a way of avoiding responsibility.
Again, Hunter: “In our day, given the size of the state and the expectations that people place on it to solve so many problems, politics can be a way of saying, in effect, that the problems should be solved by others besides myself and by institutions other than the church. It is, after all, much easier to vote for a politician who champions child welfare than to adopt a baby born in poverty, to vote for a referendum that would expand health care benefits for seniors than to care for an elderly and infirmed parent, and to rally for racial harmony than get to know someone of a different race than yours. True responsibility invariably costs. Political participation, then, can and often does amount to an avoidance of responsibility.” (Hunter, To Change the World, 172-173)
6. Voting can function as a lens that shapes us to think about people and issues in ways other than Scripture would have us think about them.
As Hauerwas notes above, voting can be very coercive. In the current cultural context, where Christians often embrace the notion of a “culture war,” we forget that we are not called to see non-Christians (or other Christians) as political enemies to be defeated but as people who need to hear the good news of the Gospel. Does our political voice actively deter people from hearing the Gospel? It can.
For example, we might ask: does speaking out strongly in the political arena against gay marriage deter the ability of non-Christian LGBT folks to hear the good news of the Gospel? If so, perhaps we should let the state define marriage however it wants, and think more carefully about how Christians should define and live out marriage within the context of the Christian community. When the “conservative” or “liberal” label becomes more foundational to our identity than the label “Christian,” we’re missing something.
7. Elections in particular have takes on messianic overtones.
The election has become the opiate of the masses, a political drug that lulls us into civic inactivity (except for getting our guy elected). We constantly overestimate what one woman or one office can actually do. Candidates talk about what they’ll do while in office, all the while ignoring the fact that their best laid plans will be affected and determined by (a) the legislative and judicial branches of government, (b) circumstances of history over which they have no control, (c) the real limits of presidential power, (d) the structures and institutions already in play, and (e) the pragmatic considerations (as opposed to their ideological ideals) that they face once they’ve taken office.
8. Voting is not inherently evil or morally wrong, but is a matter of Christian liberty. This also implies that it can become an idol.
Paul’s instructions on Christian liberty in 1 Cor. 8-10. Paul is addressing something that is morally neutral (eating meat) that can become morally evil when it is connected to idolatry. So is voting inherently morally evil? No. Can voting become morally evil if it is given an idolatrous place? Yes. The trouble with idolatry is that we usually don’t see it, even when we’re doing it.