Monday, November 5, 2012

Pious Rhetoric and Elections: Does Voting Matter?

Over the last few weeks Christian friends, liberal and conservative, have attempted to proactively console themselves by suggesting we remember that whoever wins “Jesus is still King and God is still on the throne.” Well, OK. But excuse me if I don’t find this particularly consoling. The problem with this bit of pious rhetoric is that it implies it doesn’t matter how we vote. Whether Romney or Obama wins “God is still on the throne” and, evidently, in control of things to such an extent that nothing bad can happen. But Jesus was king and God was still on the throne when the extraordinarily foolish and ostensibly Christian rulers of Great Britain, France, German, Austria and Russia plunged the world into the bloodbath we now call World War I. Jesus was king and God was still on the throne when Lenin led a successful Communist revolution in Russia. Jesus was king and God was still on the throne when Stalin starved and butchered his own people and when Hitler’s Germany shot, gassed and starved Europe’s Jews. Jesus was king and God was still on the throne when Harry Truman made the ghastly decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Of course, the gruesome litany of murderous and foolish decisions made by leaders could be extended to the present day. Names like Vietnam, Cambodia, South Africa, Northern Ireland, Rwanda, Bosnia and Iraq continue to haunt our dreams.

Claiming comfort from Jesus-is-still-king-and-God-is-still-on-the-throne risks our becoming passive and indifferent in the face of difficult decisions. Standing idly or smugly by, shrugging our shoulder in the face of defeat or victory is not a sign of spiritual maturity but spiritual blindness. It does not amount to stoic acceptance but sheer irresponsibility. The fact is that God has empowered us, his creatures, his people, to work for the healing of the world or press forward in its destruction. The God of the Bible is not the unmoved mover of Aristotle or the irresistible force of the neo-Calvinists. The God of the Bible is frequently frustrated with his people’s failures to live up to his commands and follow his ways. He starts the world over with Noah and threatens to do so with Moses. He rages over Israel’s infidelity (see Hosea) and warns of impending judgment. He does not force the kings or the people to do what is right and good. He rather warns them of the outcome of disobedience. The world is not running on an auto-pilot set by God—quite the contrary. Although God will redeem and renew the world, it is now in the not always particularly capable hands of flawed human beings. It is also in the hands of the church. Our gospel, our compassion, our hope, our love are supposed to make the world a different, saner, more beautiful, more just place—tasks the church has frankly botched. But for whatever reason, God has entrusted us with his world. What we do matters. We can make the world a better or much, much worse place.

There is a saying that the first person to cite Hitler in a political argument loses. I think the comparison of either candidate for President to Hitler is frankly idiotic. But, having said that, many Germans who found Hitler distasteful, supported him for Chancellor because they thought he would improve the economy and stand up to the Communists and because they thought he would settle down when he got into power. They were, in many cases literally, dead wrong. We have the great honor and harrowing responsibility of being co-creators of the new creation, ambassadors for Christ. God, as Paul puts it, is making his appeal through us (see 2 Corinthians 5). Our involvement in this world, for good or ill, matters. Our attempts to be agents of healing and justice, matter. Our votes matter. We are partners in what the Jews call tikkun olam—the healing of the world. Let’s not fumble the task.


  1. I appreciate this, but I am curious how you think we can best engage in politics in a way that promotes healthy dialogue and does not vilify those we disagree with? Because it seems to me that many Christians take elections very seriously and may be hurting the Church's witness in the process. It seems that we are so focused on issues on which we disagree, we've lost sight of what binds us together as followers of Christ.

  2. Jay, thank you for lending us such great perspective! But I do have a question: Can our opting out of an unhealthy political process be a path that can also contribute to world healing? I realize this could easily be an excuse for laziness, but what about those who seek to work through an alternative means of cultural/political engagement?