Featured Reviews, VOLUME 1

FEATURED: Christian Reasons for Not Voting? [Vol. 1, #27]

“Visible Identification

with the Politics of Jesus”

A Review of

Electing not to Vote:

Christian Reflections on Reasons for Not Voting,

Ted Lewis, Editor.

By Brent Aldrich.

 


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Electing Not to Vote:
Christian Reflections on Reasons for Not Voting.
Ted Lewis, Editor.
Paperback. Cascade Books. 2008.
Buy now from: [ Doulos Christou Books $15 ]

Electing Not to VoteWith the Fourth of July just a week gone and the presidential elections looming ahead, nationalism has been on full display, literally exploding in the night sky. Given the divisive political context of the presidential race coupled with the celebratory patriotism of July 4th, Electing Not to Vote: Christian Reflections on Reasons for Not Voting offers the Church words of caution as it addresses the question of Christian engagement with the state – specifically the practice of voting. However, it also functions as a call for commitment on the part of the Church to find her primary identity within the kingdom of God. As a people whose identity is found in bearing witness to the truth of Jesus, how shall we participate with the principalities and powers of the world? How shall our allegiances and identity be made manifest, and in what do we place our hope? These foundational questions underlie the essays of this book, and in the introduction, editor Ted Lewis names the root question tackled by these gathered writers: “How does Christian faith inform the way we engage the practice of voting? And more specifically, might there be legitimate, faith-based reasons for electing not to vote?” This is indeed the central question of the book, although in its entirety, the most immediate concern is the cry for the Church to see “the new humanity rooted in nothing less that the cross of Jesus, as its source as well as its identity” (Tato Sumantri 98).

Several contributing writers (there are nine total from several church traditions) position the act of voting within a historical and cultural context: comparing it to a confession of faith in the “mythology of ‘state-as-savior’” (Andy Alexis-Baker, 13); socialization into the voting process in school and in media (Nekeisha Alexis-Baker, 24); and examining it within the theological writings of John Howard Yoder, Karl Barth, and others who have set precedents for Christian civil engagement. Issue is raised here with voting as a symbolic act of allegiance, a sign of hope in the reigning political powers, and instead of the shalom of God. John Roth provides “five reasons that Christians might conscientiously abstain from voting” which include “the individualism and privacy of voting is in sharp tension with our communal understanding of faith” and “not voting in national elections may have symbolic and pedagogical value.” Voting in this paradigm is understood as a rite which indicates loyalty (5-7).

 

Abstaining from voting, then, is not done from apathy, nor from frustrations “based on candidate profiles or the notion of the electoral process: (Ted Lewis, 113). Rather, it is a rejection of a master other than Christ; it is choosing identity in God rather than mammon. It is this emphasis, repeated throughout the chapters, to which we must listen.

 

Our politics should be radically different from whatever political model the world may embrace, as was Jesus’s act of self-denial and crucifixion. The Christian’s responsibility must be to build up “the church as a political entity where God reigns” rather than the nation-state (A. Alexis-Baker, 16). The call is not to elect the politician whose policies are nearest to Christian beliefs, or the ‘lesser of two evils’; nor is it to imagine that a government run by Christians is desirable. Rather, it is faithfulness – to God and to the gathered body of Christ in the Church – that is to be our hope and our politics. With one exception* these writers believe that we must find alternative ways to political engagement other than voting. Voting indicates a confirmation of faith in mammon, that is, faith in a system other than what God has provided in the death and resurrection of Christ. The Church is to bear witness to that which is of God; this, then is to be our politics: denying self, loving the enemy, preferring the poor to the powerful (Michael Degan, 60); “steadfast love, right relationships, and humility” (Sumantri, 94); “sacrificial love, covenantal faithfulness, and reconciling justice” (Lewis, 107). Ted Lewis considers the conversation of Jesus and Pilate as two ways of doing politics: that of Christ and that of the world – one which will pass away and one that endures forever.

 

The practice of not voting makes disengagement a “form of engagement” (G. Scott Becker, 49), a visible identification with another politics, viz., the politics of Jesus. “We should abstain from voting as a protest, as a testament of our hope in the resurrection of the dead, and of the current presence of the new age of the kingdom of God” (Sumantri, 100). In reading Electing Not to Vote, and in our practices, particularly with the cacophony of presidential campaigns that are at hand, may we have in mind first the call to deny self, take up our cross and follow Jesus.

—–

*Todd David Whitmore’s chapter “When The Lesser Evil Is Not Good Enough: The Catholic Case for Not Voting” is perhaps useful in its given context, but the great lengths spent on just war theory and dissecting George Bush and John Kerry’s policies seem disproportionate to the radical call to follow Christ alone.

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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com


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