Electing Not to Vote (8): Tato Sumantri
The Blog of Nathan D. Smith

This is the eighth in my series of interactions with the essays collected in Electing Not to Vote: Christian Reflections on Reasons for Not Voting. Tato Sumantri provides an essay entitled “The Folly of Not Voting: Reflections on the Incoherence of the Church.”

Sumantri opens with a note that the following essay will probably make no sense to someone who is not a disciple of Jesus. Following is an account of his youth in Indonesia and the political turmoil that nation experienced in the 1960s. Following that, he notes that he first became disillusioned with politics during the Carter administration, when all the hope of having a born-again President was washed down the drain by the political realities of Washington, DC. Sumantri concluded that what he was looking for - peace and justice - had no chance of being established by any form of human government. Godly politics (non-coercive love) cannot be compatible with worldly politics (coercive violence).

Here Sumantri posits that a declaration of "Jesus Christ is Lord" is fundamentally incompatible with the secular politics, where Caesar is lord. This essay has the distinction in this collection of making the most frequent use of scripture, with Ephesians and Philippians being cited in support of Jesus' lordship over all earthly political powers and Christians' heavenly citizenship. Sumantri understands earthly politics as a form of the "grasping" for power which Jesus eschewed. In this he is arguing that non-voting should be a Christian norm.

I appreciate that Sumantri seeks to argue against voting in totality (given that most of the essays in this collection understand voting subjectively), based on the nature of being a follower of Christ. I am also sympathetic to the notion of Christian sojourning in a political context. Pilgrims do not vote. I myself am not sure that voting is a violation of allegiance, however. Nor am I sure what Sumantri does with the state (as described in Romans 13) in light of his position. At the very least, Sumantri's argument can be understood as an argument against democracy, but it brushes close to anarchism, which I cannot accept. Still, I personally do not often contemplate what being a citizen of heaven means for my earthly citizenship. It could be that non-voting might be a proper expression of that truth.

Date: 2008-10-13 13:09