The following is a response to Shane Claiborne’s blog about why he does not vote in elections written in 2008 by Jim Wallis, the author of The Great Awakening , editor-in-chief of Sojourners and blogger at www.godspolitics.com. I have removed the paragraphs most directly related to US issues and have changed the wording in a few places to make it more applicable to the Canadian situation. I believe it speaks to Canadian Christians facing voting decisions on October 19.
Hey Shane, thanks for weighing in. I appreciate it. I am so thankful for you and everybody who is asking the question of how to be faithful to Jesus at a time like this–and even in response to an election.
We have a lot of common ground: our first commitment and ultimate loyalty is to the kingdom of God and the church as an alternative community of faith in the world; elections always confront us with imperfect choices; how we live [before and after elections] is also important; and we agree that our responsibility to speak prophetically to the new administration, whoever wins, is key.
I especially like your advice to consult with poor people themselves and [people of First Nations in Canada] about what they think about this election, and ask them how they would counsel us to vote. Very few people, including Christians, would ever do that; but it makes real biblical sense if we are always supposed to listen more to people at the bottom than those at the top.
For more than two decades, Sojourners looked almost exactly like the Simple Way does now, and it was, for us, a school for Christian discipleship; and that’s why I am so supportive of what you and the monastic movement are doing. We both believe passionately in the church’s life as a “political” act, in and of itself, as a radical alternative to the values of the society and the behavior of the principalities and powers. But we also voted in those early Sojourners days and had conversations in our living room with John Howard Yoder about how the two kinds of engagement were vitally connected. In our sincere attempts to offer an alternative style of life, there are some mistakes we can make and, to be honest, self-conscious “radical Christians” like us often have.
One is to say that there is no real difference between electoral choices. While the choices are often imperfect ones, deciding not to vote is still making a choice. Our non-participation is a form of participation that makes us complicit with the outcome. Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of difference between the candidates, but, even then, it is usually worth the short time it takes to vote for the sake of the differences that are there, especially as the choices impact the poor. But I do want to say that in this election of , I believe the choices between the [prime ministerial candidates and their parties] are more clear and stark than any election in my lifetime. Again, consult with the poor.
Second, you’re right to say that role of commander in chief stands in sharp contrast with our Jesus vocation of peacemakers. But again, history has shown that there are real differences between the commanders in chief we have had. Some are more likely to use diplomacy to try and resolve the inevitable conflicts in the world, and others are more likely to go to war. In recent elections, the choices voters have made have clearly led to war and to so many lives being lost. I understand that the commander in chief will always be prepared to defend the [Canadian] people if they feel that it is necessary, and not “turn the other cheek.” But I would prefer a [prime minister who operates on a basis of compassion and hope rather than insecurity and fear]. Voter choices have enormous impact on the lives of so many people [besides ourselves].
Finally, there are biblical roles for both the church and the state, and both are necessary according to scripture, in good Christian theology, and even in the Anabaptist tradition which we are both attracted to (including my living room talks with Yoder). The body of Christ must demonstrate what the kingdom of God looks like and offer a prophetic witness to the state. But churches, by themselves, cannot provide for “the common good” as government is supposed to, in conjunction with many other institutions in society–including the churches.
I’m glad you’re not endorsing a candidate either, and nobody should pressure you to do so. But I do think you could call upon your listeners to vote, no matter who they vote for, and then ask them to get busy in showing the nation how Christians are supposed to live and hold whoever wins accountable to the agenda of a movement. You’re an important part of that movement Shane, and I am grateful to you for that. Let’s pray for what happens to our country on [October 19]. It will really make a difference.