One of my friends asked me a while back, "Does your faith influence how you vote?" Behind that question, I heard two more fundamental questions:
- Are you one of those Christians who tries to use the political process to push your own Christian agenda in the public sphere (e.g. the "Moral Majority"), and
- Does your faith matter when it comes to the big questions of public life, or is it more of a personal spirituality?
The first question is a question about power. Do you use your power (in this case your vote) to try and re-form the public sphere in your own image? Do you try and legislate your morality onto everyone else? It's a tough question, particularly because it hasn't been a tough question for many American Christians throughout our history. The answer has been a resounding, 'Yes! of course you do!'
Personally, I believe that mentality has led to an idolization of power in the American church, a nearly pathological need to have the defining influence in cultural happenings. And when power becomes your god, you are likely to play pragmatic political games, stomping on people on your presumed path to public victory and making complicated questions overly simplistic in order to consolidate opinion around an ideology. In other words, people who idolize power tend to abuse it.
You might think that if you want religious folks to avoid abusing power in the public sphere, you should privatize faith. Pretend as if you are two people: on Sunday November 6 a follower of the way of Jesus, on Tuesday November 8 a citizen of the U.S.A. That tends to be one segment of American culture's answer to the question of religious groups abusing their power. Just keep religion or spirituality out of politics.
But that doesn't work either. First of all, power is, to put it simply, just the ability to do something. To not use your power is to not act, to absolve yourself of society's issues and exit the responsibilities of citizenship. And if you act at all, (if you, for example, vote) how can you divorce your thoughts about ultimate things (God, the nature of the good life, what people are and are for) from your engagement with public life? That would lack the personal authenticity and philosophical integrity we all hope to have.
So how can our faith and vote relate? We can't disengage without hanging our fellow citizens out to dry, but we've seen what damage can be done by religious people playing the power game.
But what if your spirituality was grounded in a person who fundamentally restructured how we relate to power? As a Christian, I believe that the Son of God came to earth as a the son of an unwed mother, in an unimportant part of the world, to a marginalized people under occupation. He used his power to disempower himself in order to identify with and empower the suffering, the oppressed and the marginalized. He voluntarily gave up his life in order to bring new life to others.
If that's your faith, then using your power in the way of Jesus should never look like shouting people down and steamrolling the vulnerable. Voting your faith will never look like overpowering the weak for your cultural comfort.
Next week on Tuesday, I pray you'll use the power of your vote to empower the suffering, the oppressed, and the marginalized, in the same way that the author of my faith once lived and died.