It happens every election, and this one is a doozy. This is a flaming dumpster fire of an election. A descent into madness. Winter has come, y’all. Winter has come.
And every election, it happens, especially on the Right: Christians argue that you have to vote pro-life or else the blood of millions of babies is on your hands. And then comes the Left: you have to vote to take care of the poor, to welcome the stranger, and combat the sin of racism. Both agree, you will answer to Almighty God for your vote.
So. Much. Pressure.
Of course, we should take voting seriously. I agree! One-hundred percent! And yes, we will answer before God for all of our actions, for every intention of our heart, and every word we ever say.
But I’d like to step back a moment here, with all the necessary caveats, and make one point that easily gets lost: Voting is not really what God will judge us for. Because it’s not enough.
If I vote for pro-life candidates and then consider my “pro-life duty” fulfilled, I am mistaken. If I take pride in voting for candidates who seek to end poverty and then believe my duty to the poor is fulfilled, I am wrong. If I vote for the candidate to care for the planet, yet lead a wasteful life, I’m doing it wrong. If I vote for the candidate to reform immigration, but do not reach out to the new faces in my own neighborhood, I have not sufficiently welcomed the stranger. If I vote for the candidate to combat racism, yet do not love my neighbor, it profits me nothing.
I am so, so guilty of letting my vote do all my work.
Every four years, Christians debate each other over the eternal consequences of our vote. I’m here to suggest, if you’re like me, that the way we vote can easily be a way to let ourselves off the hook. Like, hey, we voted. We did our part, took a stand, defended marriage, cared about the poor, whatever. We’ll return to fight the good fight in four more years. *pats self on back*
Democracy lends itself to self-righteousness, doesn’t it? If you don’t vote, you can’t complain…about those other people who are ruining our country. We all console ourselves that the problems of this world are outside of us. We all voted for the other guy (or gal). We walk into the voting booth as if it were a confessional, seeking absolution. It is not there.
May we remember this, and be a bit more demanding of ourselves when it comes to living our our values and a bit less judgmental of those who vote differently.
Because most of those other people are really good neighbors. And some of those other people are better Christians, day in and day out, than I am. People are more than their party identification.
I know it’s tough to love our political enemies these days. The opposing side just seems so terrible, so unacceptable, that its easy to let that negative emotion taint whole categories of people made in the image of God. Yet there stands Christ: right in the middle of our mess, calling us to love each other. To treat each other with respect. To assume the best of our opponents. To give each other the benefit of the doubt. This is hard.
I have always been passionate about politics. I probably peaked in 2010, when I volunteered consistently for a local congressional candidate. Since then, I have been convicted to cultivate a “holy ambivalence” to political elections. I almost always fall short! But I really do try to remind myself that my identity in Christ is way, way bigger and more important and more lasting than my identity as a member of any political party. And I am connected forever to my brothers and sisters in Christ who vote for the opposing party every time, for their own good reasons, or even for their bad reasons! We are all one body, the Body of Christ. His Body is greater and truer and stronger than any body politic.
God does invite us to enact and witness to His Kingdom on earth, but our responsibility to do so has never been fulfilled by a mere vote in an earthly political system. Of course not. So this election season, let’s remind each other to do justice, and love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God, not only on November 8th but in the small ways every day that make up a holy life.
And let us pray, yes. Pray for His will to be done and His kingdom to come on earth, as it is in heaven. We need not pray to win, as if the crucified Christ needed earthly success to bring about His Kingdom.
The Church has survived under kings, presidents and tyrants for millennia. We will survive no matter who wins this election. Our Leader has already ascended to His throne. Amen.