Electing Not to Vote (9): Ted Lewis
The Blog of Nathan D. Smith

This is the last in my series of interactions with the essays collected in Electing Not to Vote: Christian Reflections on Reasons for Not Voting. Ted Lewis, the editor of the collection, provides an essay entitled “The 'Presidentialdom' of God: Our Conversation with Pilate.”

Lewis focuses on the metaphysics of voting as it were, and does not want to focus on the process of voting. The center of his inquiry is similar to that of Sumantri: what does our heavenly citizenship mean in the context of earthly politics? So he opens the essay:

How do we demonstrate our political identity? What, in fact, determines our political identity? These are the seminal questions that drove the conversation between Jesus and Pilate, and my hope is that we can draw ourselves into this same conversation. (102)

I appreciate Lewis' use of Pilate in this discussion. Pilate represents the very opposite of good government (he was indeed a terror to He who did good). Lewis argues that "voting for political leaders . . . establishes a bond between people and government in similar ways that religion establishes bonds between people and deities." Therefore Christians should refrain from voting, because they can only give such allegiance to Christ. Lewis' thesis is intuitive for me insofar as I believe that is what practically happens in many cases. Partisanship can create strong loyalties which I agree are inappropriate for Christians. What I am not convinced by is the uniformity of this problem. Lewis makes an interesting comparison between Christians wielding political power and taking vengeance for ourselves. I am reminded of course of Romans 12:

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.

which is followed by this in Romans 13:

[A political leader] is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

That is, it seems the state is a legitimate means of God's vengeance in the temporal realm. How this would bear on Lewis' assertion I am not sure, but it was a striking connection for me. The conversation between Jesus and Pilate is examined with great impact. Lewis notes that Pilate was a sound and moderate governor, who sought to quell the extreme fancies of the various people he governed, including those who arrested Jesus.

The power of the encounter between Jesus and Pilate is that Pilate put the decision to free Barabbas and to kill Jesus to the people. A popular vote, as it were. Lewis posits that Jesus and the Twelve would not have been voters in their day because of how Jesus reoriented politics. Here Lewis is arguing for non-voting as a normative Christian practice. This reoriented politics was ironic because Jesus was not acquiring political power through force - quite the opposite. It is also contrary to the democratic process, because a Christian politics is based on all members being in one in fellowship (κοινωνια) and having the same mind that was in Christ (Philippians 2), not on one group lording it over the other. Consequently voting (and the Pledge, among other political expressions) are not compatible with God's politics.

One of Lewis' strongest points is that Christians place their hope in God and not in the political processes. Therefore we can rest assured when our personal political preferences do not pan out. We trust God with the outcome of the election. In the meantime, we are free to practice the ultimate form of political engagement - love. Concerning the initial question about political identity, Lewis suggests that it can be best demonstrated by not voting.

Overall, his essay strikes a powerful chord in me. The question of the expression of political identity is not often addressed. While I am not convinced that merely voting creates bonds of allegiance between the voter and the state, I am convinced that such bonds are to be avoided. This essay is an effective capstone to the collection, one which I am sure to reread every two to four years.

Date: 2008-10-14 13:04