“For the love of Christ constraineth us.” – 2 Corinthians 5:14
Voting (and not voting) is not a sacrament
I have voted in every election that I’ve been eligible to vote for. I figure, like my brother Ben suggests, that when the government asks me for me my wisdom between people to wield the sword (see Romans 13:4), I’ll offer my input. It’s a practical thing for me and because I live so close to my polling center, it usually is a five-minute gesture. It doesn’t take much effort, and it may even contribute to the greater good.
For me, voting is like recycling. My individual action may not end climate change, and probably isn’t where the real solutions are to our society’s massive problems, but in many ways it’s the least I can do. Sometimes it might even make sense to help someone else recycle, or save your bottle to recycle at home.
My practical, and not moral, approach to voting saves me a lot of grief. I don’t feel responsible for the actions of the leaders I elect because I’m not endorsing them by voting for them. I’m simply picking the best option among probably two less-than-ideal options. Some people call it voting for the lesser evil. I understand that how the church participates in politics is a huge question, and I’ve written about that extensively: you can find a more academic work here, or a simple blog post here.
I blame American civil religion for why people think voting is a matter of moral purity, and not practical politics. (1/2)
— Jonny-O'-Lantern Rashid 🎃👻🦇 (@Jonnyrashid) May 23, 2020
But as I see the insistence from folks to vote, the requirement to fulfill this civil duty, I think that the country itself is broadcasting another message that differs from my rather pragmatic approach. Voting isn’t just a practical thing to do, it is a moral thing, it is a holy thing, and so extend it further, it is a sacrament. The grace of the state is administered at the ballot box. You may think I’m overstating it, but I think that sort of religious language is often used to describe voting, and I don’t think it’s that deep, generally speaking.
And I should add that I don’t think protesting the vote, or keeping ourselves clean by not voting, is that deep either. I don’t think it’s a holy decision either way. Voting or not voting is not a hill one should die on. And I think starting from a place where this action is not overemphasized is essential when we talk about this upcoming election, which, in my view, is a rather unique one. If you want to read more about my theology of voting, I wrote two pieces earlier this year about why you don’t have to vote, but why not voting doesn’t purify us.
Voting to love my neighbor as myself
“You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love. All the Law has been fulfilled in a single statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.”—Galatians 5:13-14
Christians can easily be co-opted into being servants of the state, but I don’t think we should align ourselves with any political party. Rather, we should serve God, and herald Jesus as Lord, and allow Christ’s Lordship to inform how and why we vote. Christ’s Lordship calls us to love, but we are free in Christ, nevertheless.
I receive this viewpoint right from Paul. I’m free in Christ, and that freedom moves me to serve others in love, to love them as myself. I don’t vote to save myself, but to serve and love others. And I voted in this election because it seems like a clear opportunity to serve and love others. And for me, it was the clearest opportunity that I’ve ever had.
As a Christian, I don’t vote for the church’s sake, like many of my contemporaries do. I don’t expect the president or any politician to save the church, or preserve its freedom, or even protect it. If we serve God, I expect the world to hate us, like it hated Jesus. Jesus has overcome the world, and so I don’t vote with my salvation in mind, because that’s already covered. Instead of voting for myself, I vote with my neighbors in mind, with the least of these in mind.
Christians around me have outlined reasons for opposition to the current administration in our vote. John Piper suggests that the President’s character is enough to have him write in another candidate. Ron Sider outlines his reason for supporting Joe Biden here. My friend Harriet Bicksler offers her reasoning here.
Why I stood up to Donald Trump at the ballot box: his racism, his polarization, and his lies.
“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’—Matthew 25:34-36
First, his racism expresses itself in many ways. For me, the most personal, is in how he treats immigrants. I remember in January 2017, during our Love Feast, I was leading communion. And as I was, I got word that there were migrants from the Middle East, who were subject to the administration’s immigration ban, stuck in the airport. I felt like I was stuck in the airport too. I led communion, proclaimed the death of Christ with the congregation, and felt a little more hope. But I knew in that moment, something evil was happening and Christ needed to overcome it. I wanted to do my part.
So, he’s added fuel to the flames of anti-Arab hysteria in the United States. His administration separates children from their families for political gain and to date, over 500 parents can’t find their children. He has told his opponents in Congress, some of whom are immigrants, to go back to their own countries.
His words have deadly consequences as well. He has called immigrants animals. He named countries that immigrants come from as shitholes. When the U.S. was hit with covid-19, Trump was quick to blame China, and following that hate crimes against Asian Americans rose. Antisemitic hate crimes are at an all-time high too. Trump is responsible for the words that he uses, and the seeds of hatred that they sow.
Donald Trump uses language that praises his supporters’ genes, exactly in line with Nazi eugenics; this flagrant racism and fascism is not something to be quibbled with or debated. He signaled only immigrants with the “lowest IQs” return for their court cases, another gesture toward eugenics. He fails to resolutely denounce white supremacy, and Western chauvinist groups like the Proud Boys. And he wants to make sure our children are not taught about racism, but rather are delivered propaganda about the U.S.
“In the same way, even though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts wildly.
Think about this: A small flame can set a whole forest on fire. The tongue is a small flame of fire, a world of evil at work in us. It contaminates our entire lives. Because of it, the circle of life is set on fire. The tongue itself is set on fire by the flames of hell.”—James 3:5-6
The issue with all of this reckless and evil rhetoric is that fuels polarization, and Trump polarizes us for his benefit. There has been a lot of talk about how divided this nation is, and Trump has done almost nothing to unite us. Given the opportunity to hold us together, he speaks to his base and his supporters, without regard for the rest of the country. He demeans and insults his opponents, and actually, according to the 60 Minutes interview he published, he does so because it benefits him personally. How he insults his opponents lead to horrific things too; it’s not a coincidence that Trump tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN,” and insulted its governor Gretchen Whitmer, and following that the FBI arrested men plotting to kidnap her.
Instead of bringing the nation together, in regard to the pandemic, he fuels the hostility toward CDC guidelines and toward epidemiologists. If you want to know why it seems like everything is a political issue it’s because that’s the sort of leadership the U.S. has right now. For example, he has made wearing masks one, famously. His rallies famously are maskless (Herman Cane died as a result of this, even). He hosted a superspreader event at the White House, contracted covid-19, and then doubled down on his belief that it’s a small threat that will be taken care of soon. And the reason he’s so tribalistic is because he benefits from his tribalism. The U.S. has never been so polarized, according to Gallup; his approval rating is decidedly more partisan than his predecessors’.
Trump has polarized the church, too. Much of his support comes from white Evangelicals, and their support for him divides our churches. Some young Christians are resisting and creating a church for the next generation, but I’m afraid that the damage to the Christian witness is going to be devastating. And so my opposition to Trump is not done to deepen our trenches, but to remove the man who has dug them.
“You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”—John 8:44
I have often called Trump a liar who relates the Father of Lies. And it’s not without good reason. Just last week, in the second presidential debate, Trump’s lied in an unprecedented way. Now, Barack Obama and George W. Bush also lied in their debates, but when corrected they stopped, but Trump is doing it differently. He double downs in his lies and spreads them. A report suggests that Trump has lied 20,000 times. When it comes to the pandemic, Trump’s lies are also unparalleled.
For me, Trump’s racism, polarization, and lies are enough to make my opposition to him clear. In fact, he’s so egregious, that my normally practical way of voting is being challenged. He has altered the discourse to the extent that voting, for me, feels closer to a moral choice instead of a practical one.
One of my biggest problems with Trump is that he makes voting closer to a moral issue, than the borderline idolatry it is.
— Jonny-O'-Lantern Rashid 🎃👻🦇 (@Jonnyrashid) November 8, 2016
I am grateful then for the opportunity to have my voice heard because not every country benefits from that. And when Donald Trump threatens not to peacefully transfer, or insists on taking the election to his packed Supreme Court, or sows seeds of doubt in our whole process, he is reminiscent of the dictators that lead countries with false elections.
A word about Joe Biden
I’ll end with this. My vote is in opposition to Trump, but I vote for his opponent with a great deal of ambivalence. I do not intend on becoming a political tool for Joe Biden, whose character and record are worth questioning in their own right. I’m not endorsing Joe Biden by any means; but I am committed to opposing the current administration.
I don’t think we will return to normal after Trump because I think the damage he’s done to our peace, civility, discourse will be long and painful. And I don’t think we should put our hope in a nation-state anyway. My vote is not done to save us, but still as a choice between two bad options, and in this case, one of the options is especially bad.
Ultimately, my vote is done in the name of love, unity, and truth. The love of Christ indeed constrains me. I understand that it may be controversial to be so flagrant about my decision, but this feels like a moment unlike any other. I pray for God’s grace in all these things.