The struggle of faith in democracy: voting

Guest blogger: Ben Anderson

Living our faith means struggle.  I am reminded of this as I see this sign taped to door of an old Lutheran church:

Sign that reads "God's people have always led the fight for the right to vote."
“God’s people have always led the fight for the right to vote.”

In that church’s dusty dark basement I lead phone banks where church volunteers make calls asking people of faith to vote “no” on the voter restriction amendment this November in Minnesota.   The struggle for the right to vote has taken many shapes over our history and continues today.   

This story of faith and struggle must be the context when we think about our individual vote.  In a time of monstrous corporate power and of unprecedented inflation of wealth and money in politics, it can easy to be apathetic or even hostile toward casting a ballot.  Our politics can seem so frustrating and so many horrifying wrongs are done by our government here and abroad. 

Yet the very idea that not voting separates us from our communal sins is an individualist fantasy.  Participating is the struggle of faith in each other and our democracy.  I say faith because a Christian’s belief in democracy is not the optimist’s view of gradual progress or a hope that democracy would bring the kingdom if people were only more reasonable and educated.  It is faith because evil is present in myself and the world, yet God is also present and at work.  Resting on the love of God for our world and our inherent goodness, we must take responsibly for who we are and the pain and suffering that surrounds us.  We must struggle not only for charitable solutions for our immediate neighbor, but for political solutions for the entire community.  We must struggle for justice. 

Voting is only a small but important step in the struggle.  It is not the solution or a score sheet of our complete moral character.   We must make prudent decisions for our context that are difficult.  Here are three points I think best summarize our duty.  What leader and policy best: (1) responds to our most pressing local issues in a manner that is consistent with the common good, (2) respects the life and dignity of all, (3) empowers the poor and marginalized? (three steps adapted from: Evans, Bernard Vote Catholic: Beyond the Political Din, (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007)

I spend my evenings in church basements and my days organizing as a Jesuit because it is at the core of our faith to participate with God in working toward racial equity and an environment so all can flourish.   We can only do that if all have the power to be at the decision making table.  

A room full of people with hands raised indicating a vote yes.

In a time when states are trying to pass voter restriction amendments and groups are spending millions to intimidate and suppress minority votes, we cannot be paralyzed by our own moral quandaries.   

A billboard discouraging voter fraud
Visit http://www.colorofchange.org to tell Clear Channel to take these billboards down.

We must enter into the struggle, vote ourselves, and fight for the right so all people have a voice in our democracy on November 6 and beyond.”  

 

About this week’s guest blogger: Ben Anderson, S.J. is a Jesuit and an organizer with Isaiah, a faith-based organization that brings congregations together to work for racial justice and economic equity in Minnesota.  

 

 

7 thoughts on “The struggle of faith in democracy: voting

  1. Hi Julia,Havent written you yet, but today I will. I just read the article the struggle of faith in democracy and was quite disturbed by it on a couple of counts.Faith in democracy?? Faith is for spirituality, not for voting! We should not have faith in “our democracy” bc faith is not what is required, deeds are th only things that count!Plus, there is the question of democracy. We do not live in a democracy. Why should we vote?? As the author of this piece wrote corporations are running wild, it is our country that promotes dictatorships all over the world. And most of all, what kind of democracy is this that both candidates for president are supported by these same corporations! These 2 candidates are vying for who can be tougher on the people of the world and we have seen how the present presidate has bombed more countries than any other president!So, it almost sounds like Ben Anderson works for Obama’s campaign bc I have never heard of this before–have faith in democracy. He is making a farce out of faith.Peace, Laura Paz

    Date: Wed, 17 Oct 2012 13:34:20 +0000 To: laurapaz53@hotmail.com

  2. Laura, Thanks for your comment and I think you are asking the right questions that I wrestle with all the time. I want to make three points to add to this great discussion.
    First, I don’t work for the Obama campaign…I am a community organizer though, so you make the judgement 🙂
    Second, you make a clear distinction between faith that is religious and faith in a human institution. As a Catholic religious, I don’t intend to make a “farce our of faith.” There is an obviously distinction, our faith in our creator is our ultimate faith, yet the love we have for the God we cannot see is reflected in the love for our brothers and sisters we can see. Faith, our love, belief , trust, and relationality towards our creator is reflected in our faith towards each other, like our friends, spouses, partners, and religious vows. Democracy, as a value, not as our current institutional set-up, is the value that all people have the right to decide and participate as our community non-violently solves its public problems. I think such a value, while not distinctly or perfectly Christian, is something a Christian can have faith in as it reflects our faith in a creator who made all creation good and welcomes us all to have a voice as children of God.
    Third, if you do think that the value of all having a voice is important, then the decision has to be if you believe that we still have a democracy. While we clearly do live in a imperialistic state dominated by corporate power, we still are able to say such a thing and I am still able to freely organize a grassroots religious movement against it with no fear of being killed. This is a pretty amazing for human history and the fact that non-violent movements have expanded our democracy to allow women and African-Americans to participate in the past one hundred years shows the possibility of good. Yet, there is much evil in our world and it will always continue to penetrate deeply into whatever way we choose to form our government. I worry that declaring this country no longer a democracy is an too easy opt-out of overwhelming evil and I personally find that the easy and privileged answer for myself. I have to believe that God is helping transform this pathetic democracy into a better one and I am trying my best to help.

    1. Ben,

      I also have some issues with your blog. It seems that the idea of democracy “as a value” is at the core of your thought on faith and justice. The issue is that democracy is not reflected in the gospels. Even if it may read that way the idea of a democratic state hadn’t influence the Mediterranean from the Greeks in a substantial way at the time of the New Testament writings. In fact, according to Bruce J. Malina’s work, “New Testament World”, the idea of equality among people simply didn’t exist then. That is not to say that it is wrong or un-Christian but rather that it is not a value derived from those texts.

      The underlying issue of your post, the threat of voter restriction, especially for underprivileged groups, seems to rely on your idea of rights being a Christian thing. I wonder if they are. This idea of equal rights comes from the social contract theorists Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. And as far as I can tell the first major linking of rights and faith come with Catholic social teachings like Rerum Novarum. But a right is something a state upholds and a state’s power is maintained in the same way it is formed, by threat of violence and violence. By violence I mean not only police and military force but small bureaucratic violence like fines or penalties.

      So with that in the back of my mind it rubs me the wrong way when you talk about the three things to keep in mind when voting. That is, a pro-life Catholic may say “Romney has more strict measures preventing abortion.” Yet if either Romney or Obama are elected there will still be drones bombing villages. So in this instance voting for which candidate “best respects the life and dignity of all, [and] empowers the poor and marginalized” becomes impossible. “Best” means choosing between two evils.

      Lastly, as a Christian I live in a kingdom and any discussion of a democracy is a discussion of dual citizenship. This is an important conversation that is ongoing. A problem occurs when we begin talking about voting as an act of faith. I think many people have already made the assumption that their vote means something for Christ, that legislation or rights means something in the Kingdom. Perhaps it does, I can’t say. But when you talk about having “the power to be at the decision making table” I get the feeling you are strictly speaking of the American political structure. When you say “we must struggle for justice” I wonder how much you see policy influencing the world and what kind of justice you are thinking of. The American political system, the judicial system included has never exampled a Christly justice and if voting influenced it then things might be different.

      Why is it that a step toward justice must occur through democracy? Perhaps we should think bigger than democracy in terms of Christ’s power in the world. One of your final arguments seems to suggest that because there is such a strong suppression of minority votes that asking questions about what a vote means, what a right means, why we see state supported voices as justice— those are luxuries we don’t have time for. Candidly, you appear to call discussion of voting a privilege and you expect your reader to then simply Do Something Real and vote. The question of political participation, of state sponsored (rather than community or church sponsored) rights, of what constitutes significant action is too important to be chalked up to a moral quandary.

      1. I should correct myself. In my first comment I wrote about Hellenic notions of democracy influencing the Mediterranean. What I meant to say was those ideas had not yet influenced Christianity. Slip of the fingers.

  3. A post that speaks a lot of truth. Thank you. Your points remind me of a book I am reading, When I Was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson (I have no connection to her other than as a reader). She writes about the current dangers to our democracy (pursuing prosperity for a few at the expense of the good for the many) and the importance of correcting the current push toward free-market-everything which endangers much of what is great about this country. She is a deep thinker, a religious thinker, a free thinker. She writes from a place of concern, not rage. I think many Americans who are disillusioned (as I admit I have been at times) should read this book, it reminds us why we should not give up, not give in to despair in spite of how rotten things look sometimes. As a Christian, I find comfort in knowing that appearances are not all, that there is another story, another truth that will triumph. As Julian Norwich put it: All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

  4. I’m baffled that anyone can consider voter ID laws to be “restriction” or equate them with taking away anyone’s right to vote. Preventing vote fraud is a necessary measure to protect everyone’s right to vote. It has nothing to do with race. One voter, one vote. Period. That’s what voter ID laws are trying to safeguard.

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