While I am hesitant to insist that Jesus would vote, I am quite eager to encourage all earnest followers of Jesus in the U.S. to do just that, to vote. They should vote, as I contended in the last post, in ways compatible with the main message of Jesus and the means Jesus uses in serving that message. Jesus announced and inaugurated the Kingdom of God. Jesus embodied his own teachings on the Kingdom, gave his life and rose from the grave to achieve the victory of the Kingdom, and now is enthroned and reigning as King himself. Thus Jesus has initiated a Kingdom-movement that one day will see the Revelation’s acclamation fully and gloriously realized—the kingdoms of this world have become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever (Rev. 11:15).
The Kingdom does not come from, and is not dependent on, the world as we know it—which is exactly what Jesus meant when he said it is “not of this world,” but the Kingdom does target this world and eventually transforms it, renews the creation, and closes the gap between Heaven and earth. Followers of Jesus, participants in his Kingdom, are by nature engagers with the world and in the world, and are not isolationists.
Therefore, it is now the joy and the privilege of Christ-followers to join Jesus in manifesting, expressing, and extending his Kingdom. They do this in various ways—as light, as salt, as planters of seed that starts out small but ends up huge, as stepping up in order to stoop low to wash feet and offer a cool drink to the “smallest” of persons, to name just a few examples.
But what does this have to do with voting? I would argue that it can be and should be one important expression of salt and light penetration in the culture. To be sure, it is not the only form of this and may not be the most important form of engagement with the culture, but it stands as one expression of “light and salt” endeavor that we should exploit for the sake of the Kingdom.
I am moved deeply by the substantive and symbolic meaning of the vote, or “the franchise” as it is called. Perhaps there is no more powerful symbol of freedom in our present day—the opportunity to choose who and what will govern us. For most of human history and still today for most of the world’s population such an opportunity has been and remains inconceivable. Only in modern history has there been such freedom. Think of the powerful symbol that the vote has become in our more recent history with the full equality of woman, African Americans, and other minority peoples among us. To vote is to exercise a freedom and a possibility that the vast majority of human beings have never known. Think of the uprisings in Egypt, Lybia, Syria and elsewhere in Africa and the Middle East. Should they ever have the right to vote, it would be received as a precious gift, and the Christ-followers among them would name it as from God and understand it as charged with deep spiritual significance. Our brothers and sisters in Africa, and elsewhere, hailed the election of President Obama as a powerful “victory” for the U.S. and the world, since it shows the enormous possibilities open to a people who can vote their conscience, even the up-to-then impossibility of choosing a minority person of color to lead the U.S. When we travelled to Africa the day after the 2008 election even the customs and airport personnel in the Kenyan and Nigerian airports congratulated us for using our freedoms so wisely! Whatever we may think of that particular election, I think this outside perspective on the privilege, power, and possibility inherent in the vote should give us pause. In a later conversation with some of our church leaders, one of them asked me if the U.S. President was really and truly elected by the people, whether the votes we cast were, in fact, respected and counted. In Nigeria, he lamented, everyone registered may vote and is encouraged to vote, but in reality the election has been decided quite apart from any of the votes that people cast. Again, the outside perspective sheds light on the matter we would not likely have otherwise.
Now, indeed, the Kingdom Jesus brings is by no means a democracy, not even a democracy in some sort of pure form. Yet, no one will enter and enjoy this Kingdom by force or coercion. And we whose privilege it is to enter the Kingdom will not do Kingdom work by force or coercion. My point is: that we have the right to vote is very much a part of a worldly system, but the freedom to choose and the dignity that comes with the responsibility to make choices and then live with the consequences are fully compatible with the Kingdom and one important opportunity open to those who would do the work of the Kingdom.
We who have this opportunity should exercise it, as we do all our opportunities, with redemptive intent and missional urgency. The Apostle Paul instructs us to make the most of every opportunity. Why wouldn’t that include the opportunity to vote and help make choices compatible with the person and work of Jesus? We may engage with our culture and society in other (seemingly) more powerful ways, but in any arena we hope to engage and bring Kingdom impact, our credibility may suffer if we do not participate in the vote.
I urge all Christ-followers to vote, but I implore them to vote as participants in the Kingdom Jesus brings and in ways that best reflect Kingdom values. I would rather have Christians not vote than simply to vote some party line, whatever the party is. We are first and foremost citizens of God’s realm, called to be responsible agents of that realm wherever we are and have opportunity. So we use the opportunity to vote as an expression of our desire to see God’s Kingdom come to as full an expression here and now as possible. Some will protest that it is nearly impossible to find a candidate or a platform or an issue framed in a way that we would endorse as completely compatible with a Kingdom agenda. That is a fact. We cannot do all the good we would like to do by voting. (It is conceivable that in some cases perhaps there is no good at all that could be done by voting, but that strikes me as only a rare possibility) But because we cannot do all the good we would like to do doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do some good, whatever good we can. We do the good we know to do, think to do, are in a position to do, and trust God with the rest.
I agree that this approach will be confusing, frustrating, and even painful. It will, just as it is for many of the most important things in life and above all like Jesus’ teachings and deeds once you consider them beneath the surface of appearance.
Before suggesting a “Jesus Voter Guide” in my next post, here are a few other quick musings about voting. As I’ve already said, we must not be captive to an ideology—either one idea or one way of thinking or one perspective that becomes the lens or grid through which all of reality necessary must pass. Most party systems are captive to ideology. For example, if you think that government should be small and as unobtrusive as possible (as I do by the way) you could be ideologically opposed to anything and everything that would demand more governance. Yet, justice and peace for example often make such a demand. The ideology creates a default setting that can make it hard or impossible to advocate or support kingdom priorities. We should beware all quasi absolute ideological commitment.
We must also beware committing to a simple pragmatism. If it doesn’t work, why bother, why try, why support, why, why, why? Some would choose not to do anything because they cannot see what good it could do. Yet, much of the Christian life seems impractical and, in fact, doesn’t “work” in simple straightforward ways.
I have wondered about voting from the bottom up. Jesus shows us that his Kingdom often works upside down. The first becomes last and the bottom ends up on top. In electoral matters we tend to place most emphasis on the big elections, where it seems so much (more?) is at stake. Perhaps, however, we have more influence locally and through local engagement sustained over time. If the Kingdom itself begins small and grows huge over time, in ways that are hard to trace or put on a spread sheet, then perhaps Kingdom impact in voting and the like follows suit?
Furthermore, when voting as members of Jesus’ Kingdom, should we not give serious attention to what Jesus says is most important, to what Jesus spends most time and energy addressing? I am considering what that suggests today.
Finally, Jesus’ Kingdom methods require sacrifice of self out of love. We cannot expect worldly kingdoms or nations or parties or special interest groups to do what requires sacrifice. They may wheel and deal, they may forego some things to acquire other things. But they never embrace something clearly against their own self interest for the sake of others. We couldn’t expect this from the systems of this world. But we can agitate, demonstrate, and vote for policies and priorities that use our relative wealth and privilege and power to bless others, all around the world, in the way Jesus blesses.