Dispassionate Voting
The Blog of Nathan D. Smith

I nearly voted, by write-in, for Pontius Pilate to be the President of the United States. It would have been a joke, for sure, but the sort of joke which provokes more thought than laughter. Instead I opted to vote for no one, which sparked quite the outrage among friends and family. It seems anything is better than not voting, and even the non-vote born of laziness or apathy is better than what I did. However, this was the desired effect, because I thought a non-vote to be the most effective means to raising my thoughts and concerns about Christianity and politics. Here I will present three basic reasons that I did not vote for President. The first two will be rather brief, but the third will form the crux of my current thinking on voting.

First, I have become rather fond of federalism of late. Therefore I think we would be better served by having our President elected by a means other than a popular vote. For example, state legislatures could choose free-will electors by preferential vote. I believe this would facilitate a better selection process which cannot be so heavily driven by the media. Think of the money which could be saved if candidates only had to campaign for 538 individuals. Moreover, think of the benefit to our society were we spared from the eternal election cycle and the divisive rhetoric which accompanies it. This proposal is unpopular by definition, but I think at this present juncture it could be quite useful for states to follow their forebears and take the vote for President out of the hands of the people.

Second, I wanted to give concrete expression to my heavenly citizenship. The preponderance of salvific and even messianic language coming from some high-profile candidates this season has given me pause. The hope to which I so firmly hold is Jesus Christ, not the political movement of Barack Obama. Moreover, the change I seek is the change of Jesus' inbreaking kingdom, not that of a political "maverick" named John McCain. Obviously, I have saddled each with a perhaps unfair equivocation of what each means by "hope" and "change." Neither Obama nor McCain would say he is seeking to usurp a role which only God can fulfill. Yet as I considered the concept of heavenly citizenship, I realized that I myself give very little expression to my understanding of the hope and change that are in Christ Jesus. My hope was indeed vested in Presidential politics, at least in terms of any practical expression. My hope in Jesus was purely theoretical. Therefore I thought it best, for my own devotional edification, to opt out of voting for a leader and instead to merely say "Jesus is Lord." By doing so, I am expressing that I am not expecting ultimate hope nor change from worldly leaders. Rather I can relax in knowing that whoever wins this tiny election, Jesus Christ still sits at the right hand of the Father, waiting to usher in His kingdom on earth.

The final reason I elected not to vote this year centered around the question of voting as Christian orthopraxy. In other words, as I have asked before, is it possible to vote righteously? Another way of asking the same question: should faith inform one's voting? Based on my purely anecdotal experiences, I believe that most Christians want to say that their faith affects how they vote. My question is different from and prior to that question: how can faith inform voting?

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made.

How someone can go from faith (as witnessed in the Nicene creed) to Democrat or Republican is a mystery to me. I simply see nothing in any tradition's creed, confession of faith, catechism, or doctrinal statement which can tell me whether supply-side or demand-side economics are better; whether welfare programs are best executed in the US by the states or the federal government; whether "the right of the People to keep and bear arms" should include assault rifles; whether a federal ban on off-shore drilling should be lifted; etc., ad nauseum. Christian faith, in and of itself, cannot inform our voting, unless there is a measure on the ballot, "Do you believe in one God . . . "

I think that if asked about these issues, most Christians who say that their faith affects their vote would agree that there is no clear "Christian" position on many of these partisan distinctives. They are, for the most part, purely a matter of personal preference. If someone would like to make a political case for a politician or an issue, one must do it from the standpoint of Christian ethics, not Christian faith. Are there any issues facing the United States about which Christian ethics can make an authoritative pronouncement? To each individual, it would seem there are. However, I can affirm the Nicene creed with my Episcopalian friends, some of whom disagree with me on whether abortion should be illegal. Also, I can affirm the Foursquare doctrinal statement, but many of my friends in that movement disagree with me on the wars. There is also the question of to what degree our Christian ethics should correspond to the laws of laws and politics of a liberal democracy. My conservative friends believe that we should clothe and feed the poor, but they do not believe that such charity should be mandated and carried out by the government. My liberal friends believe that homosexuality is wrong, but they do not believe that gay couples should be deprived of the same benefits as straight couples. With regard to abortion, should Christians vote for McCain because he takes a principled stand against legalized abortion, or Obama, whose policies might greater reduce the actual occurrence of abortion in the United States?

Sarah Palin's former pastor said, "If every Christian will vote righteously, it would be a landslide every time." In my opinion, the only way to vote righteously is to vote self-righteously. I know I have made an inflammatory statement here, and I do not wish to unduly offend anyone. Yet when I look at the complexity of voting and of Christian ethics, I can come to no other conclusion. Voting is subjective. Even on seemingly easy questions, Christian tradition cannot easily be boiled down to a vote for a single candidate. I believe we have to approach voting humbly and dispassionately, if at all. We do so because in our weakness we admit that we lack the wisdom to discern God's will in every instance. We do so because in nearly every case in politics, there is no one right answer, yet we feel compelled by our civic duty to do something. We do so because our own Christian brothers and sisters, who believe in God with the same sincerity, may come to opposite conclusions. And finally, by voting dispassionately, we acknowledge that the politics of this world are not the ultimate end. It does not matter greatly if things do not go our way, because we trust that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him."

This year I assumed the ultimate dispassionate posture: I chose not to vote for President. I may or may not make the same decision in the future. Yet this year it seemed right to me to excuse myself from the noise. On November 4th, I will be free to take in the greatest spectacle on earth without worrying about a right or wrong result. I will be trusting in God's providence rather than the will of the electorate.

Date: 2008-10-24 14:10