[Note: I originally published this at my personal blog. I'm reposting here because I'm vain like that.]
I can still remember the day, back in 1988, when I was encouraged–along with my entire Senior government class–to register for the vote. There was an election that year. It was George H. W. Bush (R) versus Michael Dukakis (D). Our government teacher, Miss Lynch (and I have great respect for her, so this is not to disparage her in any way), helped us to get registered so we could vote in the primary. I was certain I would be voting Democrat. If I recall correctly, Jesse Jackson was also a Democrat primary candidate. I was loud enough in class to assure our teacher that I would vote for Jackson in the primary. I don’t remember if I voted in that primary or not (I graduated when I was 17 and I just do not remember.)
Several months later, there would be a presidential election. I was at Parris Island South Carolina, completing my training as a recruit in the USMC. I was one of two recruits during basic training who received absentee ballots. I recall very the very distinct and piercing voice of SSgt Aronhalt telling us, “If you still want to be allowed to carry a gun, you better vote for Bush.” I voted for Dukakis. Probably just to spite SSgt.
Here I am now, twenty some years later, and it is time for another presidential election. This past Sunday I was at worship. We were invited, as we are every Sunday, and as we are commanded in Scripture, to pray for our nation’s leaders. Someone prayed something to the effect of, “Lord, please send us the right candidates.” It struck a raw nerve with me. It’s one thing to pray for leaders, generically; it is quite something else to pray for the ‘right candidates.’ I gnashed my teeth. I have no right to feel that way about someone else’s prayer to God. But I did, and I do. Four days later, that prayer is still bothering me.
I grew up idolizing my grandfather. He had strong political ideas that mostly revolved around Democrat politics. He was a politician and perhaps could have done more with his political ambitions had he not also had ideas that mostly revolved around Miller beer. I knew, from a very early age, that Democrat was the only way that I would ever vote. Die-Hard Democrat: “Democrats stand for the working people; Republicans for the Rich” was the story he told me. With wide, saucer-like eyes, I listened in awe. Of course I voted for Dukakis–as much out of respect for my grandfather as to spite Ssgt Senior Drill Instructor Aronhalt.
I never missed an election cycle–local, state, federal for twenty years. Ever since Miss Lynch encouraged us to register. Voting was my right, responsibility, and privilege. People had ‘died so that I could vote’ or ‘voting freely is what makes America great and unique’ are the mantras I grew up listening to in classrooms and around cans of beer.
Here I am twenty years later and I just do not care any more. My conviction is born out of a heart that has come to the conclusion that it simply does not matter what I do inside that small curtained room. It’s like there’s a giant floating head hovering above us, clothed with smoke and fire, shouting to the candidates, “Don’t pay any attention to that man behind the curtain.” Word. That’s how I feel every time I go to the church building where the polling stations are set up. Ironic, I know, but true nonetheless.
Frankly, I think my conviction is born mostly out of my faith. On the one hand, I have no faith in the ’system’ (I wish I never had any to begin with, but that’s another story) any longer–I’m not so young and naive any longer; my grandfather is dead; I haven’t seen SSgt Aronhalt since November 9, 1988; and Miss Lynch can no longer issue me a detention slip. On the other hand, my faith compels me to neglect the handing of power to the power brokers, power mongers, power feeders, power graspers, power (insert favorite verb) of this world. Since voting no longer matters, and since I no longer care, I’m not doing it again this year. Not one of those people running for office speaks for me, represents my view, or hopes to accomplish things in the way they should be accomplished. All they can do is throw more money at problems. They do not have in mind the Kingdom of God; they have in mind power: “The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over their subjects.” Indeed.
In every way imaginable, in every conceivable way, government is the antithesis of the Kingdom of God whose King Jesus is.
My conviction is that I will live with those who are chosen to lead, but I will have no part whatsoever in pushing them into power. I will not live in fear of those whose political opinions are diametrically opposed to mine and I will not worship at the throne of those who happen to share similar views. This is faith: that politics carries as much weight as we give them and I refuse to give politics any credibility at all. I refuse to invest my time in their power–it’s bad enough they get my money. I will endeavor to do my best to ignore them, their promises, their threats, their speeches about hope and unity and a ‘better America,’ or, worse, ‘a better tomorrow.’ Frankly, I do not want the sort of hope that is provided by politicians and government. Their hope is no hope at all. They can keep it, and I’ll keep my vote, my money, and myself.
But the worst part of all this? I know when I go to worship on Sunday I will hear something about this insipid political game we play every couple of years–does anyone ever even consider how much damage politics have done, how it destroys the unity of the body of Christ–and precisely because we are invited to pray for our leaders? (Prayers are never so unbiased as to avoid a short sermon or two in between thanking God for our daily bread and delivering us from evil.) I’m waiting for that one sermon that reminds me of what politicians are really like, what they are really about, and what they really hope to accomplish with their power: “But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison” (Luke 3:19-20).
Politicians do not have the best interests of anyone in mind but themselves. Their life and their work is to preserve the continuity of power in the hands of a few. I will no longer play a nice part in the perpetuation and consolidation of power. The Scripture says, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). So if Jesus disarmed the powers and authorities, what on earth could compel me to pick up those arms and willingly hand them back to the power-hungry leaders of this world?
I think the most Christian thing I can do in America right now is NOT vote in the upcoming presidential election.