When you vote, I hope you take your religion with you into the voting booth. Take your Bible with you, too. Or a cross. Or ask your pastor if you can borrow the church’s processional cross for the occasion. Get your neighbors to carry the processional candles and someone else to carry a large Bible, and you’d have one heckuva procession.
Well, leave the processional pieces at home.
But I’m serious about the Bible. Or the cross. Or what those things represent — faith. Take your faith with you into the voting booth. Our Lord Jesus has claim over your whole life. Not just your Sunday life. Not just your religious beliefs. But over your whole life. Even over your civic life. And your voting.
Now, voting with faith is not as easy as comparing Jesus’ stance on the issues with those of the candidates. For one, Jesus is pretty silent on matters of bond initiatives, debt-to-GDP ratio, or the relative authority of federal, state and local governments.
And furthermore, even if we could tease apart Jesus’ stance on issues of great importance, and if we could figure out how those issues translate into public policy — a task that has stymied Christians for millennia — Jesus is more than a list of issues.
Jesus is Lord over our lives. And this Lord is one who, in his own life, gave of himself for the sake of others. As such, voting with faith is not issue-oriented voting at all. Instead, voting with faith is voting that is focused on our neighbor.
When we vote, we should vote not our own interests but instead the interests of others, especially the interests of the poor and marginalized, those with whom Jesus especially identified.
So the question is not, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” but rather, “Are my neighbors in need better off than they were four years ago?”
To be sure, we will disagree as to which policies will better achieve the goal of improving the life and lot of our neighbors in need. That is fair. The means by which conditions are improved for our neighbors in need could vary widely — from private sector charitable efforts and job creation, to increased government benefits alleviating the suffering of the poor, to a combination thereof. How we understand these issues will help us determine how we vote.
Yet the barometer is the same: How is my neighbor in need doing? It is this question of concern for our neighbor that is central to how Christians are called to vote. Voting with our neighbor’s needs in mind can even lead us to vote against our own interests, if we understand our interests in terms of our needs, property and income.
In his explanation of the Fifth and Seventh Commandments, Martin Luther makes extraordinary claims about our calling to our neighbor. Not only are we not to murder or steal from them, but we are called to “help and support [our neighbors] in all of life’s needs,” and to “help [our neighbors] to improve and protect their property and income.” Our call in these commandments is not to be concerned with our own needs or property or income, but to be concerned about the needs, property and income of our neighbor, especially our neighbor in need.
So, too, in the voting booth. Our calling is not to vote our own interests, but the interests of others. We’ll each do this in different ways, since we understand how the plight of our neighbor can be improved in distinct, and even contradictory, ways. Keeping our neighbors’ needs in mind, Christians will vote for Republicans or Democrats, Libertarians or Greens, Independents or write-in candidates. Christians will not be a unified voting bloc. And while this might be a messy and politically unsatisfying result, there is nothing neat and tidy and politically satisfying about faith in Christ.
For Christ is the one who dined with the wealthy and the poor alike. He is the one who built his church on a man who would betray him three times. He is the one who was arrested and executed by the state and who rose again in defiance of the state and of nature itself. He is the one who called a persecutor of the church to become its most ardent advocate. There is nothing neat and tidy and politically satisfying about faith in Christ.
But our call is not to fit seamlessly into a political box, or to vote in a politically satisfying — or victorious — way. Instead, our call is to vote with the needs and interests of our neighbors in mind, so that through our vote we might help and support them in their life’s needs.
You might also want to read:
Resources for an election year
The end of elections is nigh!
What the church can learn from the presidential primary