Thoughts On Voting
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” - John 15:12-17 (NRSV)
It was fascinating for me to watch another Christian, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, IN, to talk about how voting is something that can be taken away and given back at will. It reminded me own my views on voting. For me voting is a requirement for Christians, when I say this out loud I always get pushback, and I realized recently that I’ve never written out my reasoning for holding on to this belief outside of some tweets so buckle up I’m about to take you on a journey.
Our Theological Task
Jesus doesn’t give many commands in the gospels, but he does go out of his way to command his disciples to love one another, to lay down their lives for one another. He appoints people called his disciples to bear fruit. Christians today receive the same command from Jesus. As presidential hopeful Senator Warren rightly points out, the parable of the sheep and the goats isn’t about Christ choosing the “haves” and “have-nots” it’s about Christ separating the people who actually lived out their faith from the people John the Baptist described as “white washed tombs”, people that say “lord, lord” at the gate but can’t recognize the Risen Lord in the neighbors.
So while some people think being a Christian is all about WWJD bracelets, avoiding being “Left Behind”, or using Jesus as a “Get out of Hell free card”; according to Christ we only bear fruit when demonstrate love for each other. That is our theological task. No amount of “private time” or devotions can make up for us failing to love our neighbors. One smartass tried to get out of this theological task in Luke chapter ten, “Lord, who is my neighbor?” and Jesus clappedback and named the Good Samaritan as his neighbor. In modern language that would be like saying the good ISIS member, or the person who brings 30 items to the 10 items or less line, the person you hate most is your neighbor and as a Christian it’s your job to love them as best you can. The Good Samaritan didn’t just love his neighbor in thoughts and prayers, he used his own physical labor and his own money to demonstrate that love, he saw his neighbor wasn’t safe so he moved his neighbor to safety, he saw his neighbor was hurt, so he healed him, he saw his neighbor was thirsty, so he gave him something to drink, etc. His love for his neighbor was actualized not just a nice thought to hold onto once a week with his friends.
Our Political Task
We need to love our neighbors in Flint, Michigan. Our neighbors are thirsty and we have the means to give them clean water.
We need to love our neighbors that are immigrants.
We need to love our neighbors that are facing violence including: women, trans folks, the LGB community, people of color, the poor.
How can we possibly take on such large tasks as individuals? Well we can love the people in front of us - but loving our neighbors requires massive structural changes to the way our society works. It requires educating our neighbors, it requires listening to our neighbors, it requires using our power to make those changes. The epistle of James is pretty clear in James 2:15-17 “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” If our faith requires us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to provide for the bodily needs of those around us, then that means we need to manage the resources that are given to us in a way that thoughtfully considers those around us and those coming after us.
As individuals in this society we aren’t given much power unless we have an unreasonably large amount wealth. But everyone in the society is given the right to vote (unless that right has been infringed upon). Voting is a resource not only to pick individuals to represent us, but it determines where our money goes to educate children, it sets priorities for our governments, it determines who gets sent to prison and who gets off on technicalities, it forms the moral center of the society, it determines which towns get clean drinking water and which towns get lead in theirs, it determines which wars we get into. Voting is a resource most of us can access that can be used to meet the needs of our neighbors (including restoring their rights to vote).
The combination of our theological task and political task have lead me to the conclusion that voting is necessary part of an active faith. I can’t feed all my hungry neighbors, but I can use my vote to prioritize their needs, I can’t bring Flint, MI clean water - but I could vote out the irresponsible leaders that created the crisis if I was registered to vote in Michigan. I can’t fix the terrible history books of Texas as an individual, but I can vote for members of the school board and hold the accountable. For me voting is a necessary part of loving my neighbors and putting other people’s needs ahead of my own.
What are your thoughts?