Casting a Weak Ballot
[The following was written by guest blogger, Matthew Morin. May it never be said that I do not offer space, on my own forum, for people to critique me. Or, more importantly, that I am above letting other people help me meet my 'quota' for the month.]
As a rule of thumb, I try not to disagree with people who graciously offer to share their blog space with me. However, I also try not to employ violent speech—and since I have already broken that rule twice (first by using the phrase “rule of thumb” which may have its origins in domestic violence, and second, by knowing this fact as a result of watching The Boondock Saints), I figure it doesn’t matter much if I break the first rule.
In a short essay titled, “A Non-Voting Manifesto,” the Amish Jihadist outlines a number of reasons that Christians are called out of the voting booth and into the tomato garden. A number of his points—like the assertion that the church “is not to buttress the powers that be, but to show them that they are not the church”—are quite right, and deserve our careful consideration. Yet, some of his other claims—such as the statement that “voting is, de facto, an exercise in pride”—seem entirely indefensible. Why must voting be an exercise in pride? Could it not rather be a humble acceptance of our own powerlessness—the mournful acknowledgment of a question whose terms we Christians have not been allowed to dictate?
Indeed, the most widely-read rebaptizing heretic of the past three decades, once suggested as much in a 1976 article titled “The National Ritual.” (Hopefully, this essay will be included in Herald Press’s forthcoming anthology.) Voting, Yoder argues, is no grand exercise in power and autonomy—certainly nothing like Bob Schieffer’s mother would have you believe. Showing significantly more “realism” than the Realists, Yoder reminds us that both dictatorships and democracies rely on mechanisms of control such as “party identities, platforms, campaign promises, (and) appeals to consensus backing” in order to justify their claims to moral rightness. The net effect of this “power process” is to “deepen the dialogue between rulers and ruled.” In sum, “the vote does not mean that we are governing ourselves.”
So what is the act of voting in our day, if not an exercise in self-governance? “It is one way,” Yoder concludes, “one of the weaker and vaguer ways, to speak truth to power.” And since that is the case, “we shall participate gratefully, though with low expectations, in the plebiscite, to the extent that real options, such as real platform integrity or technical competence of major figures, are at stake.”
This is the point on which the entire discussion turns—and regrettably, it is the point that is often ignored by those on the left, those on the right, and that curious blend of left and right known as anarchists. To what degree do the two major candidates differ from one another—to use Yoder’s categories— in terms of platform integrity and technical competence? More importantly, to what degree do the two major candidates differ from one another in terms of militarism and cruelty towards immigrants?
It seems to me that the typical consumer of political theatre in the United States would do well to acknowledge that the candidates are far more alike than they are different (“I support entirely and feel the president was right to up the usage” of killer drone strikes.) Meanwhile the typical Christian abstainer would do well to acknowledge that there are real, significant differences between the two major candidates.
The question then, is not, “should Christians participate in the vote?”—since there is no such thing as “the vote.” There is only “voting now” and “voting here.” The question then, is one of discernment: Would it be more wise (or less foolish) to witness to the peace of Jesus Christ as votersin this particular moment, or to do so by refusing to vote? And since, as Chris Huebner reminds us, Christians “are always already implicated in some form of violence or another,” how do we decide on this matter without any pretense to purity?
No matter how the scattered communities of Christians decide to answer this question—of course only after long, patient discussion with one another and listening to the Holy Spirit, Yoder’s central point must be kept in mind: “To go to the polls is not” (or need not be) “as the Hutterite and the hippie on one side, and the superpatriot on the other contend, a ritual affirmation of moral solidarity with the system.” Rather for Christians, voting today may be one way to proclaim solidarity with other powerless communities. Or, voting may be one weak way that Christians work—not to rule the crumbling Empire—but to help navigate it towards a more “humane denouement” (in the words of Eugene McCarraher.)
Or, perhaps most likely, voting is the thing that Christians do in order to rest our backs between planting tomatoes and moshing to Strongarm.
Matthew Morin works as a strength and fitness trainer in Milwaukee, WI. He insists that you don’t really understand kenosis until you’ve spent ten minutes with a kettlebell.