Electing Not to Vote (7): Paul Alexander
The Blog of Nathan D. Smith

This is the seventh in my series of interactions with the essays collected in Electing Not to Vote: Christian Reflections on Reasons for Not Voting. Paul Alexander provides an essay entitled “Voting With Our Lives: Ongoing Conversations Along the Path Pentecostal Faithfulness.”

Alexander opens his essay with the following questions:

So, is voting a legitimate strategy for faithful Christians to use to witness to the kingship of God? Is voting a legitimate strategy to help redeem the world right here and now where people are really suffering . . . ? Is voting a legitimate strategy to reduce sin and violence, to increase the peace, and to glorify God - to be the church we're called to be? (81)

My initial reaction is to answer that voting may not be a good means of achieving those ends. However, I do not think that voting's utility is limited to witnessing to the lordship of Jesus and redeeming the world. Voting might achieve the end of being better neighbors εν πολει ανθρωπου (in the City of Man), for example. Alexander concludes that it is a subjective judgment, resting ultimately on how one understands voting.

The essay continues with some deconstruction of the concept of voting. "We vote every day." Namely, he looks for what it is about political elections which is any different than the many other types of choices we make day in and day out. One significant difference he notes is that one's selection of Pepsi over Coke is unlikely to be enforced by violence, whereas national-political very well may be. Depending on one's views on non-violence, this could certainly make voting a questionable activity.

However, Alexander concludes that a proper understanding of voting is only a partial solution. It must be accompanied by a proper ecclesiology. Here Alexander turns to the early roots of Pentecostalism, which were largely nonviolent. As someone who grew up in a branch of the Pentecostal movement (Foursquare), this was news to me. This included condemnations of "immoderate patriotism" and "national sectarianism." The historical sketches alone make this essay worth reading. The major thrust is that Pentecostals understood that undue allegiance to state made prophetic witness impossible. Alexander notes that voting for someone who would lead in a manner contrary to Christ's teaching would be "less than total allegiance to the king of kings."

He ultimately recommends "voting with our lives" as a more constructive form of political engagement than visiting the ballot box. I am not sure I agree with Alexander's understanding of allegiance being compromised by voting, but I can understand where he is coming from. I also agree that voting is a poor (the worst?) form of political engagement, but I am not sure if that justifies the exclusion of voting on Christian grounds.

My overall impression of the essay is positive. It was good to hear about Pentecostals who, as a result of their preaching against nationalism, had files opened at the FBI and War Department. As a tangential issue, I find it interesting how many historical Christian movements in the US have tended away from non-voting, nonviolence, and pacifism in order to embrace the status quo of nationalism in the last century. It is a recurring theme in this collection. For some reason, these positions seem to be very difficult to maintain faithfully. Given the great surge of nationalism in this nation in that time frame, I am not surprised.

Date: 2008-10-13 12:39