For over a year, I have been wrestling with a decision. The wrestling began with a parishioner’s comment following a sermon in early 2011. At that time Wisconsin was in the midst of a blazing budget battle. In the liturgy at Trinity that particular morning, there were people who clearly supported the Wisconsin Governor’s position on what had to be done to bring the state’s finances in order. There were also people who would be directly and negatively affected by the pending legislation. My usual Sunday pre-sermon anxiety was amplified to the point that my typically cold hands were dripping with sweat. My heart was doing double time in my chest.
I did my best to preach the Gospel, as I understand it, faithfully that day. I believed then (and still believe now) that the identity given us in our Baptism cannot be submerged under the partisan categories of Democrat or Republican. The comment I heard at the door was, “Gary, you’re trying your best to drive down the middle of the road, but your left turn signal is on.” Clearly the parishioner thought I was critiquing one party and supporting another in the situation. My intention in the sermon was to challenge all of us who name ourselves as Christians to remember that our baptisms took precedence over a particular partisan allegiance or policy perspective.
I began voting in 1977. I believed it was my duty and privilege as a citizen of this country to do so (the public school civics classes did their job!). Through the years, I have voted for Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. I have voted in local, state and national elections. Since I have been ordained, I have done my best to speak to the politics of the Gospel as I understand those politics without in any way publicly supporting any particular candidate.
It seems we are now a part of a perpetual partisan campaign cycle in this country. We barely elect one person to an office before those who intend to oppose that person in the next election begin lining up at donor events in order to ascertain their prospects for ousting the newly minted incumbent at the earliest available opportunity. As I peruse the mainstream media and my social media feeds, one thing has become abundantly clear to me. We have lost any sense of civil discourse. Debate has been swallowed up by invectives. People who already have their minds made up are busy yelling at other people who have their minds made up to change their minds. From where I sit, Democrats and Republicans appear to be equal opportunity offenders. I will not be a part of it.
We spend a fair amount of time every four years debating the presidential candidates’ religious preferences. It’s a farce, really, because in the end, we don’t want anyone’s religion to get in the way of making the decision that will be in keeping with our particular opinion about what would be “in the best interest of the country”. This is how “born again, evangelical” candidates can consistently back policies that further marginalize the poor in the name of a free market economy and a mainline Christian President can authorize murder by remote control (euphemistically called “drone deployment”) in the name of national security. Christians line up on the left and on the right and take their best rhetorical shots at the candidate on the other side of the argument. I’m done.
So, let me be perfectly clear (a phrase oft-used by a Quaker President once upon a time). In 2012 I am choosing not to vote. I realize that for some who read this, this choice may be more blasphemous than any sort of theological error I might commit. I am choosing to do so, not primarily as a result of my frustration with the process or my disagreements with any candidate. I am making this choice for the good of my soul. In my baptism I didn’t promise to accept a political party as my Savior and Lord. I promised to follow the One whose preaching and ministry did the one thing I’ve been afraid to do — challenge the presumption of any government that would seek to arrogate to itself the powers that only belong to God.
By choosing not to vote, I am hopeful that my preaching and teaching will become bold and impassioned as I will no longer be constrained by the worry that folks will think I am somehow advocating for any particular partisan position. Call me left. Call me right. I don’t care anymore. I’d rather someone call me Christian.