Tuesday, November 04, 2008

"Biblical" Voting

Don't hesitate to read this post because of the title: I promise you that I am not going to pressure you about the "right" person to vote for in this election, or even the "right way" to vote! (Of course, at 3:48 EST on election day, you've already voted anyway, yes? If not, don't forget to go the polls later today!)

I've just been reflecting a bit on the passions and anxieties that have permeated this particular election cycle. That always seems to be the case in presidential years in the U.S., but perhaps this year more so than ever, for all sorts of reasons.

And I've been reflecting on the stressful rhetoric from both sides about doing the "right thing" and voting the "right way." That's true in all kinds of communities, perhaps most of all in communities of faith.

I still remember the first presidential election I could ever vote in. The year was 1988 and I was an earnest 20 year old who really wanted to "make a difference" and "do the right thing." I was at a Christian liberal arts college with a history of social and political activism, and talk about the campaign felt almost constant. Somewhere along the way I picked up a little pamphlet, or was given one, entitled "Can My Vote Be Biblical?"

I don't remember the pamphlet very well, beyond the fact that the writers seemed to think that the answer was yes. They provided me with a little check-off list of issues. I very carefully went down the list, putting check marks in various columns, seeing where one candidate did better than the other (or so I thought) in certain areas. I was surprised to find that the line of check-marks looked kind of ragged: no one candidate had a lock on the issues I happened to care most about, and I'm pretty sure at least some of the issues I cared about hadn't even made it onto the pamphlet.

In despair, I threw up my hands. Can my vote be biblical? I thought. And I decided the answer was no! Not if "biblical" meant: does any one candidate adhere absolutely and perfectly to the values that I feel Jesus would think are most important.

20 years later I have to smile at my earnest youthful idealism. I still resonate with my own youthful anguish over the realization that politicians (then and still now) will never be perfect, or even anywhere close to it. But my idealism is tempered by the realizations that 1) I'm not sure I even know what "perfect" means, 2) we've got an impaired and in many ways corrupted political system that in many ways promotes awfulness between people of good ideals who should know better, and 3) as U2 once sang, "kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall, but you (God) go on and on..."

I now think that my vote can be "biblical" but not at all in the way the writer of that pamphlet two decades ago thought. Voting is, after all, an action like any other, though seemingly fraught with more weight and importance than some others. It's a verb. I vote, just like I hug my child or cook dinner or have a conversation with a neighbor or write a story. (And hmmm...I have days when I am pretty sure that most of the latter actions and how I do them will have deeper ripples and repercussions than the button I pushed on the voting screen today.)

Voting is something I do, and because it's an action, a choice, it's rooted in who I am. In other words, it comes out of how I'm shaped at the deepest core. If I'm shaped by a biblical vision, the one that sees the big story from creation to revelation, the vision whereby I understand that the whole world is held together and sustained by a passionate, loving God who was willing to empty himself to win humanity back from the power of sin and death, if I'm shaped by a vision of God's kingdom as the everlasting kingdom, humanity's call to create and cultivate in a broken world, the hope of Jesus that anchors the soul in the midst of any storm (even financial and cultural ones!) and the reminder that this world is not our home...well, all those things and more will shape the way I think and do a lot of things. Including, but not limited to, voting.

Kind of hard to put all that in a pamphlet though.


Erin said...

Very thoughtful reflection. I've felt pretty stressed out about this election in large part because I have friends on both sides of the spectrum, each with a list of reasons the country is doomed if the other guy wins. Many of those friends are Christians, and I have a hard time discerning whose points are more valid when they're all making Biblical arguments.

A few months ago, I thought quite highly of Obama and McCain both and had no qualms about either of them as president. Now, after months of often frightening rhetoric, I've been feeling kinda freaked out, but I think I've come back around to having faith that, whatever their failings, these men want what's best for the country and will serve it well. May God bless them both...

Beth said...

I hear your stress, Erin! I thought the rhetoric from some parts of the faith community was very stressful this time around. There did indeed seem to be either an embracing of total gloom and dread (which flies in the face of biblical hope) or an embracing of cynicism (which I tend toward more than gloom and doom). Neither response seems to be deeply healthy nor all that Christian.

I think Obama and McCain were two of the better candidates we'd seen in years, despite the fact that both allowed their campaigns to turn highly negative in some respects, as seems to be the given these days in American politics.

And President-Elect Obama certainly needs our prayers, inheriting the mess he's inheriting...and with so many people's hopes pinned to his ability to "do something" about an awful lot of it.

Edna said...

I agree with both of you. You put it well, Beth. I just keep thinking of all the Old Testament stories and books of prophecy where we can see very clearly that God will use pagan kings and godly ones alike to accomplish His will. We need to make the wisest decision we can, but it's ultimately up to God (as always).

Beth said...

Amen, Edna! Of course our prayerful actions matter, but how right you are that ultimately we need to reach a place of trust in God. He will do what he will do, and we can trust in his goodness and faithfulness!