So I haven’t really posted much about electoral politics this season. (Deep inhale.) I tend to agree with Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw of Jesus For President and Ordinary Radicals notoriety that “It’s not what you do at the ballot box on November 4 that matters, but what you do with your life on November 3 and November 5 that really counts.” I started thinking this way after 9/11. I was radicalized, really, once I saw how quickly common grief over terrorist atrocities transmuted into virulent nationalism and war-drum beating. Before I knew it, I signed the Kingdom Now 95 Theses and began looking into Anabaptist and Quaker traditions of nonviolence and even anarchism. [A technical aside – how do you all feel about the Snap Previews feature? In general I like it but I don’t like how whenever I link to my main site, zoecarnate.com, it always shows the top of the page – I actually link to specific sub-sections, say, nonviolence and anarchism sections just now. Of course, this owes more to the ghetto-fabulous design of my site than Snap’s deficiencies…] I considered my friend Andy’s advice not to vote, seeing it as an act of violence against people and idolatry of the State against God (consider vote is the same root as votive, as in votive candle – or devotion. Casting the ballot as an act of worship) . But in 2004 I just couldn’t stand by – I had to vote (Andy help me).
But maybe I shouldn’t feel so bad about voting. After all, respectable anarchists like NoamChomskyvote, sometimes. And I have a difficult time getting all Hauerwasian when listening to people like Anthony Smith, aka the Postmodern Negro, share why it’s awfully convenient (and white) to eschew voting for an ideological high ground.
Sooo I’m voting. And I’m voting for Obama. This isn’t even controversial in some quarters, as Obama’s appeal to younger Christians such as myself is pretty well-documented. Nonetheless, even Don Miller catches heat for this from some quarters, as have I. (Not that I’m equating myself with Mr. Miller) Mostly on abortion. I get that. I hope that my friends – from far-left anarchists to center-right Republicans and Libertarians – can forgive me for making what they might see as a grievous mistake.
I hope my old college buddy, whom I’ll refer to here as Billy Bob, in particular can forgive me. He just emailed me the other day after we saw each other at a frolicking-on-the-hillside reunion my alma mater has every year. Billy Bob writes:
Perhaps I’m just itching for a debate, I don’t know. But I recently ran across this letter from Huntley Brown, a black man, on why HE isn’t supporting Obama.
So help me understand… why do you support him? What is it about this man that rallies support from Christians like yourself?
*Not actual name
Now by “Christians like yourself” I don’t know if BB means “otherwise upstanding exemplars of faith and practice” or “scum-sucking, devil-worshipping, soulless maggots.” I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
Here’s some of what I replied:
Thanks for asking, Billy Bob! I guess I should say first off that I am disappointed by Obama‘s stance on abortion. Really and truly. I wish he were ‘consistently pro-life‘ like me – that is, like a growing number of followers of Jesus, being against abortion, war in all forms, and the death penalty, and for life in all its forms. And I’m not particularly jazzed up about national politics in general. I lean toward anarchism really, so any trip to the ballot box is with some ambivalence. That said, I’m a rather independent voter, certainly not a party-line kinda guy, whether that party has elephants or donkeys in it. I was raised Republican, voted for Libertarian Harry Browne in 2000 (after considering Nader), and Democrat Kerry in 2004.
So why Obama? I’m a firm believer in not restating things that others have said so much better, so I’m gonna direct you now to my friend Brian McLaren. Brian’s taken a lot of heat for being so darn particular in his national election endorsement this year, but I trust his integrity in this decision. He felt like he soft-pedaled things a bit in the 2004 election, and as a result the full range of values people of faith care about weren’t really represented at the ballot box. (Not just ’cause of Brian – but, y’know, him and others like him). So he’s done this great, concise job of talking about the reasons for his support of an Obama presidency.
When it comes down to it, when I’m choosing to participate in national electoral politics, I’m pretty much a pragmatist. Do I believe Obama is the Messiah? No, but I like the guy, and I think he will be good for the this land’s imagination, this land’s psyche. Untold damage has been done to American self-perception and perception abroad. Obama-the-Man can’t possibly undo all that damage, but Obama-the-Idea can certainly inspire others to do so. I think a heightened personal ethic and community sensibility would prevail in an Obama administration, and I think he’ll be a particularly good role model for children – especially minority children. Again, I hold this in tension – I believe citizenship in God’s Kingdom utterly supersedes national boundaries – to me, nations and boundaries don’t exist. But insofar as we’re in the process of being healing balm for the nations, we are in a state of becoming – as individual nations, as a global people. We need to avail ourselves of every peaceful tool in our toolshed to be the change we need – and this year, I feel voting for Obama is one of those tools.
There ya go. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Check out these links, and write me back sometime.
As I’ve reflected on the myriad of ‘values’ commitments I have, the trifecta of life, ecology, and economy keep coming into play – and really, the latter two are different ways of saying ‘life’ – life for our poor, our ecosystems, our sick, our children, and our great-great-grandchildren. Here are some significant blog posts that have helped me think and pray my way through the challenges of being for all life in an election year.
I want to go again and look at all your links when I have more time, but this is a great summary as we begin looking towards the election in a week and a half.
It is not a complicated issue,just a bad law. In Michigan where I now call home, there were ads on the Radio insisting that John McCain was opposed to Roe v. Wade and if elected would take steps to have it overturned by appointing new supreme court justices, etc. The innocent lives that could have been lived, the joy that could have been in this world, and the human potential for education, advancement in technology, peace on earth, can not even be imagined. What if one of those little babies that have never breathed our air had been the doctor that would save your life when you get terminally ill? What if a preacher? What if a teacher? What if a writer? What if a singer? What if a psychologist? What if a language interpreter. Sure, you could go on the negative approach. What if one was a Hitler, or other Antichrist? Still there would be more potential for good if evil people are stopped from destroying lives. Do you understand what I mean? I think you should take time to consider other ways people can get a positive role model. What would Jesus do?
Jonathan, while a law would probably cut down on abortion, our social, educational and health care structures exacerbate the problem. Just because abortions are outlawed doesn’t mean people will necessarily stop having them. It just goes underground, which I find frightening. We have to deal with the causes in our society the make abortion a viable choice. Republican politicians have shown they are unwilling to take these steps as of now, which tells me they’re using this issue to gain votes, not to save lives. So I think Mike is right in saying this is a complex issue. It’s not as simple as outlawing abortion, even if we find that possibility appealing.
Mike, great thoughts and great links. I’ve been thinking of the role of Christians in an election, and I keep coming back to the thought that we need to clear the air, point to truth where we find it, and hold politicians on all sides to high moral standards on all issues. I think you’ve done a good job of that here.
Good stuff Mike.
You know, one thing that’s interesting is I’ve found myself becoming not an advocate for Obama (though I’ve voted for him and AM an advocate for him) but rather for a faithful choice, and that’s something I think you’ve made.
Here’s what I mean:
I want Christians, or people of faith in general, to address politics from both an informed perspective, but also a faithful perspective. That viewpoint, that discernment process, may lead them to a radically different decision that me, but ultimately will be one that is from their center.
If people are doing that here’s what I suspect would happen…some won’t vote–out of faithfulness, some will vote for McCain–out of faithfulness, some for Obama, and some will vote independent or write in a name (“real” or otherwise) all out of faithfulness; and I believe, out of obedience.
That perspective encourages people to take on these issues and address them from a place of integration.
I really do hope that there are more out there like you and others who have weighed these issues and personalities seriously in the context of their spiritual journey in order to come to an obedient choice.
Personally, I am an anarchist. As such, the state is an illusion, and it really doesn’t matter much who you vote for. I’m going to vote third-party, just to protest the two-party system.
We could imagine vastly better government than we have (a truly nonbiased libertarian government, a truly multi-party system, a system where politicians were actually honest), but none of those alternatives are going to happen in America anytime soon. And without a major MAJOR change, the Federal Government will collapse in our lifetimes.
Thus, any vote for democrats or republicans is a vote for the hastening of the Federal Government’s inevitable demise. Any vote for a third-party is a protest of the Federal Government.
So…any way you vote, you’re voting anarchist!
The inevitable fall of the Federal Government isn’t a horrendous tragedy to be feared, but a natural change to be anticipated, and prepared for…so that we can create a better society on the other side.
Preparing this future society should be our real task.
This is timely, Mike. I as well just posted a review of Ordinary Radicals (at http://www.film-think.com). I took the easy way out and avoided the actual point of the film.
I don’t want to pull the lever this year because I have problems with either candidate, and I have been using my Hauerwasian leanings to justify maybe scribbling out a goofy write-in. A few links you posted have chastened me.
What I think is going to be the most important thing about this election for the church is how many “younger evangelicals” like my wife and I have sat around and talked about what kind of issues we think are important – and discovering lo and behold that the Republican party has nothing for us. We are a base, and we have shifted. That is some pretty mind-blowing fallout when considered on a national scale.
Thanks, Mike, for your explanation of endorsing Obama. I admit that I was shocked by McLaren’s open support of him (even going so far as to make that commercial that aired during the DNC). I know it’s a week away, but I’m still struggling with what to put in the ballot, and I’m considering protesting the whole system, but I’m wondering if that’s a bit naive. I keep coming back to what a prophet like Isaiah or Daniel might do. What would a man who was supposed to serve the king without compromising the values of God’s kingdom do. How have you resolved that within you own life?