Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Why Do Christians Vote?
(and should we?)

A good friend, Greg, recently posted in podcast form a conversation he led with university students. The subject was voting and, more specifically, the case for why Christians might not be called to do it. I found the recorded dialogue deeply interesting. First and foremost, it takes no small measure of courage to question an assumption so widely held as "you should vote." (I think the team's decision to name the talk "You Aren't Going to Like This" was brilliant.) Many people believe voting is more basic to being a moral personal than faith. To subsequently post the conversation that takes courage in the first place to have on the internet for the larger Church's benefit and critique requires the character we all, on our good days, pray to have as Christian leaders. I especially appreciated Greg's framing the question as one of Christian discipleship. 

Full disclosure: I don't know that I will not vote this election year. That is, I might. I am an undecided's undecided. In some years, I have abstained for reasons of conscience, though not for reasons as theologically and ecclesially developed as Greg's, and, in recent years, I have made voting a priority. In both cases, I have struggled primarily with what I consider to be a false choice: I am offered Coke or Pepsi and decline, indicating that I believe soda is harmful for my health (if only I could act on that conviction!) and am subsequently ostracized by large segments of the population if I refuse to make a choice within a choice I wouldn't choose.

That is to say that my argument might have been Christian in its struggle, but not uniquely so. I am grateful for the podcast's ability to tease out some of the important, more uniquely Christian questions for God's People. 

To steer away from American politics...

Toward the end of the podcast, Greg suggests that voting as a method of discernment may be inherently violent - at the very least incapable of expressing love for one's enemy. (I am still wondering if this is true. Might there be a way to vote in such a way that builds up one's enemy? But how would one choose which enemy to support?) Greg suggests that voting is not simply a problem, then, for American politics; it is a questionable methodology for the Church to employ in her important discernments.

This thought fascinates me. I remember my rector in seminary, Timothy Kimbrough, asking what it might mean for the Church to cast lots in filling positions of leadership. After all, lot-casting is the closest biblical answer for the challenges that voting was proposed to address.

Practical aside: many churches, even diocese, presently nominate only as many people as they have positions to fill. This happens for two reasons, largely: 1) individuals can be reluctant to serve, and 2) among those who do step up to serve, it is thought that the humiliation involved in "losing" is more than they deserve. But see how lot-casting helpfully speaks to these concerns: given corporately determined criteria for nomination, it would be possible to assemble a slate of individuals - twice in number relative to the open positions - with each one made a "winner" simply by virtue of the nomination, with no fear of "losing" in the step that follows.

Theologically, this method 1) reminds the Christian faithful that total control is neither possible nor desirable, and 2) creates open space for cultivating trust in the movement and leading of the Holy Spirit.

To see the thrust of these theological points in action, consider if we are not longer filling a board or a vestry, but calling a rector. With the process down to three candidates, the vestry casts lots. Gone is the sense that the parish's long-term success depends on their "getting this right." Increased is the sense of corporate responsibility (a key point for my friend throughout the podcast) for the life of the parish. Likewise increased is the reminder that the future we so often presume is the future that belongs alone to God.

And here's the big question: why does this scare us?


  1. We're considering this method of selection (nomination, then drawing lots) to fill our vestry openings this year. I agree that there is both biblical precedent and theological rationale for doing this, but I think it is point one of your theological support that answers the big question: try as we may to acknowledge and be at peace with our limitations and God's providence, we still want to be in control.

  2. Rob, great insight. I'll be interested to hear how it goes should your church fill the vestry openings by lot this year!


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