How Should We Vote?
Saturday, October 13, 2012 at 02:33PM
Paul Brink in Election, Election Day Advice, hope, justice

First of all, we should vote.  I join others in saying that to vote is actually part of our Christian calling.  Given the responsibility of the state to pursue justice, the chief goal of democracy is not to give citizens the right to determine the state’s purpose, as secular justifications for democracy might suggest.  Rather, when citizens vote, they share with their fellow citizens the duty to discern and pursue together justice and the common good.  This is a responsibility we may not ignore.  It’s a remarkable privilege—and a daunting one.

Second, we should vote biblically.  I’ve been impressed over the past nine months with how my partners in this conversation have worked to consider how biblical givens can be brought to bear on some of the most controversial issues we face in American society.  This is really hard work, particularly when people I respect come to conclusions with which I disagree (Mr. Teetsel comes to mind!), but who are evidently seeking the same goals as I am.  Clearly, this is a matter that requires yet more conversation and yet more prayer. 

Third, we should vote politically.  In these conversations, I have also been reminded that  political morality is only one dimension of morality.  Not all moral questions properly belong to the political—not all moral questions require a legislated response.  This means, among other things, that we should resist the temptation to see our principal task to be one of judging the personal morality of candidates.  Personal morality can shed some light on questions of character, but it pales in significance compared to the task of determining candidates’ political morality.  We need to consider programs, policy positions, and political principles as a way to gauge how candidates see the state to be implicated in the various questions we face as a nation.  This too is a lot of work.  No one said that citizenship is easy!

Fourth, we should vote to pursue public justice.  This means, for one thing, that our vote cannot be determined by calculations of self-interest (lower taxes for me, lower fuel prices for me, preserving my favorite tax credit).  So, for example, if we believe that justice requires that all members of society have an opportunity to participate in our common life, this will imply that in our efforts to confront our coming fiscal crisis, the burden should not be borne by the most vulnerable members of our society.  I believe that we need a more progressive tax system than we have currently, but regardless, a commitment to shield the most vulnerable may mean that I have to pay more taxes in the not-too-distant future.  I don’t relish paying taxes, but I must love my neighbor in that way, if that is what justice requires.

Finally, we should vote in hope.  Like many of my correspondents, I am not enthused about the options before voters in November.  Over the long run, I’d love to consider how structural changes to our electoral system might provide better choices.  Yet I know in politics what I also know to be true in the rest of life: that Christ is risen.  A politics of the resurrection means that the long, slow work of pursuing justice is not a work in vain, and that even a choice between two less-than-sterling candidates is still a choice that has kingdom significance.  Politics is messy, and American politics is particularly so, but the kingdom hope that is found in the resurrection can carry Christians through the messiness of campaigns, into the voting booth, and on into the rest of their political lives.

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