During this year’s presidential campaign, I occasionally asked friends for whom they were going to vote. The common response I received, with a few exceptions, was, “Why? That’s a very personal question.” Now, at first, this response puzzled me. The concept that a choice involving the public arena was a private issue was a bit foreign, but eventually I understood that there were personal reasons such as fear of heated debates, lack of a desire (or strength) to defend one’s choice. So I stopped asking. Well, that is, until after election day.
As I suspected, people were a bit more open after than before election day. People who cast their vote for Obama proudly told me for whom they voted, probably conscious of the fact that their vote helped bring about a monumental moment in American history. Those who voted for McCain obviously in a disappointed tone told me who they supported on election day. Then there were some, no just a few, who still refused to tell me their vote. And this time it wasn’t because “it was a personal question” but rather it was because they were in a position not to endorse a candidate, meaning they think they have a great sphere of influence and don’t want to sway voters. Now, pastors (or religious leaders) do this quite often and I think it wise that they do. It is wise to let individuals come to a decision of their own on who they will vote for without authoritarian influence which mostly likely will override or cause neglect to the research of issues and candidates, and if endorsement of a particular candidate is done in the name of Christianity (i.e. “If you’re Christian, you should vote for….”) then those religious leaders have not only committed an unwise act but have failed as a leader. But I wonder about after election day. Is it ok for a religious leader to disclose, post-election day, for whom they cast their vote? I suppose there still is a danger for misinterpretation, for people to say, “Oh that candidate must have been the right choice according to my religion since my leader chose them” but the possibility of misinterpretation will always exist no matter the situation or circumstance. I want to say that it is ok for a religious leader to disclose their choice of vote after the election and in some sense, I think it better that they do do so. To keep their choice veiled, post election, I think, falsely puts too much weight on their sphere of influence and the importance of one election in history. The first builds an unhealthy culture that may give too much influence to the leader and erroneously puts them on a pedestal and the second fails to recognize the place of one election in terms of effecting change, no matter how monumental, in the scope of eternal history. Mark Driscoll, in his blog entry (In God We Do Not Trust), helps us to see the correct scope of presidential elections in terms of fulfillment of hope and effecting change. So to teach thus as leaders I think, after the election, a nuance disclosure (with education) is more favorable than silence.
This then brings me to raise something in the very same blog mentioned above. Driscoll rightly analyzes why people are so hopeful (falsely, he says) in a presidential elect to solve the problems of the world. I agree completely, but I am not somehow completely satisfied. I feel his blog correctly orients us to realize the cause of the problems of this world and where the ultimate solution lies, but it lacks something. For a moment I think maybe it’s unavoidable to leave out but then, I come to my sense and realize that it is important to at least attempt to answer the question, “How do Christian engage in politics?” Or maybe the better way to phrase the question for some would be, “How do you participate in the redeeming of politics?” I don’t think disengagement is the answer. Voting is a good thing and we are, at least socially, responsible to cast a ballot. It is clearly wrong to not vote on the basis of apathy or sloth, but even to not vote because neither candidate is favorable to oneself, seems borderline disinterest. Then, if to withhold your ballot is irresponsible then what is responsible voting for a religious person? Are religion and politics irreconcilable? No, that’s probably not the right question. So then, how are we to vote in such a way that participates in the redemption of politics? It certainly doesn’t seem to be the method of gang mentality that Chris Rock (in the HBO special, Never Scared) mentions, which is to vote solely according to party alignment. I think we threw that option out the window a couple paragraphs ago. Then would it be to participate in, as John Piper explores the difficulty of voting while juggling many issues, ‘One-Issue Politics’ (One-Issue Politics, One-Issue Marriage, and the Humane Society) where he considers the validity of eliminating a candidate from your possible choices based on your commitment to one issue? Possibly. Noah Toly seems to offer another nuanced answer using the story in 2 Samuel 6 (or 1 Chronicles 13) about Uzzah and the Ark of the Covenant (Evangelicalism, Realpolitik and the Gospel). He suggests that, “not only at the substance of our political commitments, but also at the style of our public engagement because in it, the medium is the message. The form communicates where we’ve placed our hope.” True, yet still not a tangible method of engagement that I can clearly grasp. Am I erred to look for a tangible way (of voting)?
Quite honestly, I do not know if I have an answer, but one thing that does come to mind which I believe points us (or at least myself) in the right direction of exploration is to explore ‘wisdom’. Once we know what wisdom is and if we channel our interests and passion for politics in wisdom, then I think we’re stepping forward in the right direction. I don’t think religion and politics is incompatible, rather it must necessarily be considered together. Like Jesus famously replied, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (NIV)