Casting a vote beyond the political haze

For most of my adult life I have been incredibly fascinated with the interaction of politics and faith.

I was ecstatic when Pope Francis spoke to U.S. Congress last fall. I loved lobbying on behalf of the Catholic bishops in Iowa—and all the Catholic concerns for the entire state—when I interned with the Iowa Catholic Conference in 2004. And, I am a big fan of organizations like Faith in Public Life and Sojourners, who empower people of faith to advocate for justice.

Most of the time I am pleased with what I observe in the dance between politics and faith because I believe the actions of those of us who are religious—including our political actions—must be directed by our faith.

Many would agree that our religion must influence how we raise our voices, what we stand up for, whom we stand with and how—or whether—we vote. For those of us who are Christians, this means we aim to imitate Jesus Christ, who demonstrated that nothing was worth killing for and that real love makes everyone worth dying for, even in the political sphere. We are guided by Jesus’ most demanding teachings like “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44) and “Blessed are the meek” (Matthew 5:5) and “if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions (Matthew 6:15).”

As a Catholic Christian, I am grateful my bishops insist that every person has a responsibility to inform their conscience and follow it in the voting booth. I love this Church document and I appreciate media like this that summarizes the document and highlights the complexity of voting:

Certainly, it is complex to weed through the issues and options and arrive at a decision, to prayerfully follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the voting booth.

I also keep in mind that no politician will ever save us from all our problems.

Unsatisfied with every party and politician, a lot of what Shane Claiborne wrote in his book Jesus for President makes sense to me. This article from the 2012 election especially resonates:

No party feels like home. No candidate seems to value the things we see Jesus talking about in the Sermon on the Mount. Federal budget cuts have begun to look like the anti-thesis of the beatitudes where Jesus blesses the poor and hungry rather than the rich and wealthy. You get the sense that if Mary proclaimed her famous “Magnificat” in Luke’s Gospel today — where “God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty” — she’d be accused of promoting class warfare. As one theologian said, “Our money says in God we trust … but our economy looks like the seven deadly sins.” What would America look like if Jesus were in charge?

There just isn’t much talk in the debates about caring for the poor and loving enemies, the stuff Jesus was on fire about. It’s hard to imagine a candidate with a consistent ethic of life, a candidate who is pro-life from the womb to the tomb. Many of us have grown tired of death, and share a faith that speaks of resurrection and proclaims the triumph of life over death and love over hatred. We want life—fewer abortions, an end to the death penalty, hospitality to immigrants, an end to extreme poverty, fewer bombs and wars and other ugly things.

~  From “Jesus for President 2012” by Shane Claiborne, Huffington Post

With such writings in his past I was amused, then, when Shane Claiborne tweeted that he will vote for president during this election:

 

Alternatives also fascinate me. Guided by their religious convictions, some folks have found other ways to participate in democracy and help promote God’s reign wherein all life is protected and peace and justice are triumphant.

I’m intrigued by those who choose not to vote, such as Christian anarchists. I can understand, somewhat, why they take that approach to help create social change. (Jesus for President is a good book to read to understand.) Personally, it is a big challenge to me that one of my heroines, Dorothy Day, never voted and was a suffragette. It is equally interesting for me to learn about those who will not vote this year, even though they voted a lot in the past.

I have never been convinced that the two-party system we have in the United States is the most fair or helpful: we are too diverse as a people to be divided into two camps. Related, I was excited to learn about the American Solidarity Party this election year and the presidential candidate Mike Maturen, whose platform is completely in line with the teaching of the Catholic Church. (I am not sure I’ll vote for him though.)

I am also fascinated by and well aware that, for many people of faith, political choices aren’t actually influenced by one’s faith but rather it’s the other way around—what they believe and accept as true is often influenced by where they sit on the political spectrum. This, of course, isn’t supposed to be the way it works. We are called to put our faith in Jesus before any political candidate, party, or nation. The Bible tells us repeatedly that to put anything before God is idolatry.

No matter how one decides to act, it is certainly complex and challenging for people of faith to participate in democracy. It takes a ton of study and prayer—and faith that God can make something good come out of anything.

Yet, people of faith are called to even more; we must move beyond the voting booth. Now, especially, we are needed to step to the front of the political haze and be healers and servants to a nation in need.

Such servant leadership requires communal prayer and discernment. Together we can create societal transformation by asking broad, visionary questions—questions that move us forward and beyond the violence, hate, and division that has wounded our nation, our communities. We must tend to those who are feeling left out, ignored, marginalized, neglected; those whose anger and pain has disturbed what we once thought of as normal. (Visionary questions and the need to care for the neglected are discussed in this in this On Being episode.)

With God’s grace, we will manifest hope, joy and reconciliation to people in need of freedom and peace. Following in the footprints of Jesus Christ we can be ones who show others that—really, yes—”blessed are the peacemakers” indeed.

By Jay Phagan from Taft, Texas - Vote Here Sign, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52568213
By Jay Phagan from Taft, Texas – Vote Here Sign, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52568213

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.