Voting for the Sermon on the Mount
Pope Benedict XVI and Catholic Cardinal-designate Raymond Burke both recently characterized voting as a moral act with spiritual consequences.
The pope said that "decriminalizing abortion is a betrayal to democracy," since he believes the procedure denies rights to the unborn. Burke called voting a "serious moral obligation" and added that Catholics "can never vote for someone who favors absolutely what's called the 'right to choice.'"
If Catholics largely disregard the church's teaching (the 2008 Catholic vote for president went to pro-choice Obama), does what the pope says matter? Is voting a religious act or purely political?
Shortly following the 2008 election, the late Arthur Gish, a noted peace & justice activist who is from the Church of the Brethren tradition, visited our campus. Assuming that Art was as excited about the election results as most at our college, a student asked him how he felt.
"I feel the way I did before the election, during the election, and after the election. The election didn't make any difference to me. My hope is in G-d," Art replied.
While I don't go as far as Art did in downplaying the importance of election results - nor do I ascribe to the more extreme Amish practice of avoiding electoral politics altogether - I do believe that there is some wisdom in putting our hopes "in G-d rather than humans," not discounting that G-d also works in the political process. I do have my political preferences, and I do believe that certain policies are better than others. But I also have lived long enough to see that giddy euphoria over one candidate's election over the other is typically followed by disappointment that the reign of G-d was not ushered in on the back of partisan politics!
That said, I do believe that voting - and engagement in political activity - is also an extension of ones religious and spiritual practice. Quakers don't separate life into "sacred" and "secular." All of life is the stage on which we should strut and fret our deepest beliefs and commitments. As William Penn once said, "True godliness don't (sic) turn a person out of the world, but enables him to live better in it and excites his endeavors to mend it." One of my students, recently turned on to early Quaker "spiritual warfare," would chastise me if I don't also mention the early Quaker "Lamb's War" attitude of combating perceived wrong within and without through spiritual means. I believe those means can also be the use of the political system - or at least attempting to influence the political system. Heck, otherwise the oldest registered religious lobby on Capitol Hill, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, is seeking Quakerly agreement on legislative policy to inform its lobbying policies in vain!
Okay, so "no;" I don't think voting is primarily a religious or spiritual exercise. Our spiritual muscles need to be exercised in deeper ways. But, I would also say "no," the religious person should not extricate himself or herself from concern for the political systems of the world. G-d moves through those processes, too. May I give the typically muddy, middle ground answer of Quakerism: "We are called to love the world with weaned affections," again citing William Penn. Be in the world but not "of" it.
Or maybe just cite Psalm 33:
A king is not saved by his great army;
a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
The war horse is a vain hope for victory,
and by its great might it cannot save....
Our soul waits for the L-rd;
he is our help and shield.... (NRSV)
We aren't saved by the ballot box, and by the great strength of political forces we are not ultimately delivered. But our lives can be made a bit better by one party's policies over another! And sometimes that means I have to hold my nose and vote for candidates through whom I believe G-d's purposes might better be served, recognizing that ultimately the "reign of G-d" isn't going to be brought about "on earth as it is in heaven" through politics alone, but largely through the actions of a people transformed by G-d's love - politicians included - into a blessed community working for the kind of world described in the Sermon on the Mount and the writings of the prophets.
I vote for that kind of world.
Posted by: Christ-centeredQuaker | November 2, 2010 9:39 AM
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Posted by: nunivek87 | November 2, 2010 1:53 AM
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