Think while you vote.
I have never been a political person. I have watched a debate or two, voted in presidential elections, and then moved on. Then came this election, and I have to admit, I watched gleefully as approximately 4,000 people fought to be president. It was a train wreck, and I loved it.
Now we’re down to two major party candidates, and while I still love watching (and tweeting), the conversation surrounding the election and how to make a choice for president has bothered me.
I am a Christian. I graduated from a liberal arts college and later graduated from a seminary in the Pacific Northwest. I cannot in good conscience consider voting for Donald Trump. There are many fellow Christians who say they cannot in good conscience consider voting for Hillary Clinton. Let’s discuss.
For the record, I don’t love Hillary Clinton. I have been registered Independent since my first ever election in 1999, and I only recently changed my registration to Democrat so that I could cast a vote for Bernie Sanders in the primary.
Some Christians may balk at this decision.
A win for Bernie was never likely. A lot of his ideas looked impractical and were unlikely. And yet, they resonated with me.
The Christian life does not call us to choose practicality. It does not ask us to do what’s possible. It does not require that we accept what we can get. Quite the opposite, a commitment to a Christian faith asks you on a moment by moment basis to believe the impossible, to ask for the unbelievable, and to have faith in the unseen. How, then, can this not inform our political choices?
I want to make something clear. My hope of life is not in politicians. My hope is in Christ. Back in 2004, the popular propaganda posters for Obama took on what I saw as a creepy, messianic quality.
My hope was never in Obama. But that didn’t mean I sat out. I voted.
Some Christians have made the choice that because their hope is in Christ, they don’t need to vote. I think the opposite is true. We are asked to make what difference we can on the world. Now, for many Christian conservatives, this has meant taking on the so-called “culture wars” and trying to shoehorn the world into their worldview. But here’s the thing.
This world is not our home (Hebrews 13:14). By the very nature of calling yourself a Christian, your life should stand out radically to the status quo. And for the record, Jesus didn’t make His impact by befriending the influencers of His world. Rather, he expanded his life to include those the power structure didn’t accept. He ignored the normal symbols of power and strength, choosing instead to live in poverty and in constant need of community. Where he could have said, “I am the Son of God Look at all my power and strength,” he instead said, “I am the Son of God. Let me serve you by washing your feet.” (John 13)
We don’t really do foot washing anymore, and I’m not asking for that to make a comeback. But the concept of being literally the most powerful being on earth and choosing to do an unsavory job because it serves somebody else is an important one.
How does this apply to us? Remember, Christian, that God calls us to be a light to the world, not to be the entire sun. We do not have to overcome the world because Christ has already done that for us (John 16;33) . We are called to impact the world in the ways we can. Some of us travel to impact people in foreign countries, and some of us volunteer at the neighborhood food bank. The work, at its core, is the same.
I believe the question put before us as Americans, whether you consider yourself religious or not, is this one: Are you going to vote in the direction of power and prestige, or are you going to vote in the direction of compassion and community?
Obviously I’m no political strategist. I know hard decisions need to be made, and I’m not suggesting that following Jesus and choosing compassion means that we leave ourselves vulnerable to terrorism or any of the other major threats that face the world on a daily basis. But I also think the approach that asserts “the best defense is a good offense” forgets that we are called to live in community and therefore, we are not, and cannot be, alone.
We all know politicians say a lot of things to get elected. I don’t expect Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump to make good on most of the promises either of them made at their respective conventions, but I do believe that both of them will try.
If you consider yourself an American patriot, then I completely understand why Trump’s message may ring true for you. While I consider myself proud and profoundly lucky to have been born and raised in the US, I don’t feel a sense of patriotism the way I often see it displayed. I don’t need to be from the best, strongest, toughest country in the world. But I am proud and blessed to be an American. Trump believes the US is pressed on every side by foreigners wishing to destroy us, and the only way to survive is to become stronger, tougher and richer than we have ever been.
If your first allegiance is to your country, then your country does have to be better, stronger and just more than any other. If your first allegiance is to Jesus and trying to live the way He did, you will be actively making yourself less, so that He can be greater.
Those two tracks of thought don’t line up.
Again, I am not placing my hope in Hillary Clinton. If she is elected, I know she will make choices I disagree with. But I also believe that her main goal, down in her gut, is to help people. Somehow. And I believe that her goal is not to use military or economic might to humiliate or destroy other nations and other people.
I want to stand on the side of compassion. To many people, this may look like weakness, like stepping back and refusing to fight for what is rightfully yours. Forgive me if I get theological for a moment, but Jesus looked weak in the face of opposition. Jesus refused to fight for himself. And if you read the Bible, He was murdered. And what happened next? He won.
He won not by killing his enemies in war, not by removing and replacing them in the seats of power. He won by letting Himself be destroyed and coming back to show His followers how to do the same.
I have found, difficultly, that compassion for strangers can be easier than compassion for people you know. There have been times when my own family needed compassion from me, and I wasn’t able to give it to them. I am trying to do better, and I fail often.
But if your compassion only extends to people who look like you, think like you, or generally keep you comfortable, that compassion will impact little.
Extending compassion beyond your short scope means that some will reject it. Some will abuse it. Try to do it anyway. My job on this earth is not to preserve my comfort, my status, or even my life. My job on this earth is to love people when they deserve it and when they don’t. My job is to feed the hungry, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned (Matthew 25:35–36). My job is to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God (Micah 6:8).
And remember, I have failed a lot, and I will fail again. Publicly, there have been times I haven’t done the things Matthew 25 and Micah 6 ask of me. Personally, my life seems to me to be a repeating story of lots of potential for amazing things followed by disappointment, followed by lots of potential for amazing things, followed by disappointment. If you’re looking for success and continual upward mobility, I am hardly the person to ask.
But you know what my life has been consistently full of? An almost ridiculous amount of love, and a consistent thread of hope. Not a red, white and blue hope in a person who promises to bring change in the next four to eight years, but a hope in a God who asks me to believe in what I cannot see, ask for what I do not deserve, and give freely of everything I have been given.
You may read this and disagree with me 100%. You may be first in line to vote for Donald Trump, or Jill Stein, or Hillary Clinton or Gary Johnson and think I am nuts for saying these things, for not making my choice based on a candidate’s willingness to repeal Roe v. Wade. That’s OK, and it’s one of the best things about our democracy. If you love Trump and Jesus and now you can’t stand me, I won’t fight with you. I won’t demean or try to belittle you. I won’t even try to change your mind. My goal is to make sure we are thinking through the goals of our decisions, and wearing little WWJD bracelets in our hearts. Remember those? They were obnoxious and easy to ridicule. I know, I had one. But the question is a good one. Not, what is best for me? What makes me feel the most comfortable and comforted? But instead, what would Jesus do? No propaganda needed, no bracelet required.
*unless noted, all verses are New International Version