Friday, September 21, 2012

To Vote or Not to Vote: The Ballot, the Burden and the Believers

R3 Contributor

I have labored for months to find a biblical and/or spiritual platform to argue for the necessity of people of faith to participate in the political process.  I deemed this necessary because in a place deeply achieved in my soul I have felt it nothing short of sinful (and borderline blasphemous) for faith leaders to consider encouraging their parishioners not to vote

On one hand, I could argue for a prophetic necessity of engagement with the political process.  In light of the insensitive comments that some candidates have spoken on behalf of the poor, marginalized, non-white, non-male, non-rich and underprivileged we can suggest that it is the role of people of faith to stand up for those who are oppressed.  This means the oppressed need someone who is informed, inspired and involved in the political process in order to empower those who have little to no social or political potency.  In this vein, the prophetic element of faith would thereby require one to research a candidates ENTIRE platform, discern who would best serve the needs of “the least of these” and speak truth to power by verbalizing, strategizing and “ballotizing.”  So in one sense, for people of faith who value the prophetic tradition; we sin by not voting, because by voting we speak God’s will for humanity to the best of our ability politically. 

However, probably the most foundational argument for our faithful involvement in the political process came to me yesterday.  Due to technical difficulties, our weekly internet radio show The Pastor & The Professor was unable to air live at our normal time, Thursday at 7pm (CST).  What Professor Joyner and I decided to do was host a live chat via Facebook on our fan page. While I intended on using the Faith Forum portion of our show to discuss the “black vote” relative to people of faith, I decided to take it on via the chat.  I wanted to introduce a new perspective on the black faith vote because the media has made a projection that implies that because of his comments relative to marriage equality, the POTUS might by-and-large lose a substantial portion of the black faith vote.  However, statistically speaking, the POTUS won 95% of the black vote in 2008.  He will arguably win upwards of 85-90% of the black vote this year (if not higher).  And if 90% of the black community identify themselves as people of faith, then obviously, the black faith vote will collectively be a vote to re-elect the president.  And this is in spite of the fact that some leaders in the black faith community are arguably encouraging their congregants to not participate in the election. 

Therefore, last night I emphatically kicked off the Facebook chat with the statement that “...there is ABSOLUTELY NO EXCUSE for ANY PASTOR to ask their congregants NOT TO VOTE... It is a violation of one's moral, ministerial, ethical and social responsibility... Therefore, if YOUR pastor has persuaded you not to vote... FIND ANOTHER CHURCH IMMEDIATELY!”  This was an unction I felt in my loins, but I still struggled to ground it in a sacred text (other than the sacred prophetic rhetorical tradition itself, which can be viewed as textual).  I also know that many people of faith practice Biblical Idolatry - worshiping the bible more than we worship the God that inspires sacred writings.  Therefore, some need scriptural appropriation to affirm any ideology no matter how valid.  But I had not found one...... yet.
Then a correspondent rebutted “is there an excuse for a pastor to ask their congregants TO VOTE?”  It was right there that “the Spirit of the LORD spoke to me...” (For those unfamiliar with the black preaching tradition, this clause is often used to substantiate our gravitas towards an interpretive idea which can assist us in overcoming any source criticism - *insert laugh here*).

What came to me were the two greatest commandments.  Love God.  Love your neighbor.  These commandments merge the spiritual (love of the Divine) with the social (love of neighbor).  Since we exist in a society that functions within a political framework, our theology thereby has political implications by default.  I am not suggesting that a pastor is a politician (unless, of course, the pastor has run for a political office and been elected).  But if a pastor’s theology is disconnected from the political reality in which we exist, his/her theology becomes irrelevant. Therefore, the only way to truly love your neighbor is to accept and fully engage in the processes that connect “us” with “them.” Anything less constitutes a theology of privilege that is counterproductive to the progress of faith. 

The corner stone of the democratic process is the vote.  We know the importance of the vote based upon the attempts by some to suppress the minority vote with subversive legislation. If people of faith seek to connect the divine with the democratic, not voting is sinful.  Not voting also dishonors many of our ancestors who literally hung, bled and died that we would be able to enjoy such a right.  So again I assert that any pastor who does not see connections between the social, political and spiritual is probably misinforming and miseducating their congregation on the reality of the society in which we exist and is thereby part of the political problem and not the spiritual solution. 

Our dear correspondent asked can I find an “excuse” or theological and psychological platform to encourage our people of faith to vote? HELL YEA! I just did.   So please reread this article. Hopefully you can say “AMEN PREACHER.”  Then go out and get registered, get the proper identification and make plans to get transportation to the polls. 


NamuhStay said...

"Therefore, the only way to truly love your neighbor is to accept and fully engage in the processes that connect 'us' with 'them.'"

While I agree with this statement, it must be noted that the political process is only one of many processes that connect people. Just as theologies that do not engage socio-political realities are irrelevant, I would argue that so are theologies that assent to State mediated processes (like voting and political advocacy) as the only viable means of meaningful social connection. If you are advocating that the Church MUST engage the State (on the State's terms) in order to be faithful, then it seems the Church is already irrelevant. To name not-voting as sinful seems to do just this.

The prophetic tradition of the Black Church, as I understand it, distinguishes between the State as savior and the State as means to achieving the ends called for by the Savior. I think the charge for the Church is to think more creatively about establishing its own processes of connecting with the marginalized in addition to engaging the State's processes when appropriate and faithful. I'm not trying to undermine the social, economic, and political power of voting nor am I advocating for people not to vote. What I am saying is that by naming not-voting as a sin, we run the risk of esteeming the State beyond its proper place and making it an idol.

Greg D said...

I think voting is an illusion to make us feel we are really having a say in the political process. But, the way I look at it is that God is the one who places people in authority over us, not us. No matter what button we push on election day, God is going to place into power who He sees fit. But, if it makes you feel good to vote so that you feel you have accomplished something for the good of others, then I say go for it. But, if you vote because you really believe your vote is what places people into power, then you are simply disillusioned. My humble opinion.

Ingrid G said...

4 And next to them Meremoth the son of Urijah, the son of Koz,[a] made repairs. Next to them Meshullam the son of Berechiah, the son of Meshezabel, made repairs. Next to them Zadok the son of Baana made repairs. 5 Next to them the Tekoites made repairs; but their nobles did not put their shoulders[b] to the work of their Lord. ~Nehemiah 3:4-5

Pastor_Earle said...

Thanks for your response. To be clear, by no means do I think the ballot is the be all and end all...but in a democracy (even a broken one like ours) its a necessity... And as people of faith we must exercise ask of our means of liberation and empowerment.

Pastor_Earle said...

Thanks for your response. To be clear, by no means do I think the ballot is the be all and end all...but in a democracy (even a broken one like ours) its a necessity... And as people of faith we must exercise ask of our means of liberation and empowerment.

Pastor_Earle said...

Greg, thanks for your comments...but obviously I disagree.