The following is based on an open letter by Jim Wallis, the author of The Great Awakening , editor-in-chief of Sojourners and blogger at www.godspolitics.com in which he responded to Shane Claiborne’s blog about why he does not vote in elections. It was written for the American election in 2008 so 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 21.

I am so thankful for you and everybody who is asking the question of how to be faithful to Jesus during an election campaign.

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 very 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 and First Nations people 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.

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 vote and have conversations about how the two kinds of engagement are 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 vulnerable people.

Second, you’re right to say that the role of a national leader stands in sharp contrast with our Jesus vocation of peacemakers. But again, history has shown that there are real differences between governmental leaders 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. I would prefer a prime minister and a local candidate 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 and good Christian theology, even in the Anabaptist tradition which I am part of. Previous generations of Mennonites often did not vote based on their desire to be separate from the world. But the body of Christ must demonstrate what the kingdom of God looks like and offer a prophetic witness to the state. Churches and charitable organizations, by themselves, cannot provide for “the common good” as the government can, in conjunction with many other institutions in society–including churches.

I believe it is good to vote, no matter who you vote for, and then get busy in showing the nation how Christians are supposed to live and hold whoever wins accountable to the priorities of Jesus in advocating for the most vulnerable of our society.

Not only should Christians vote; it is also good to do some careful discerning about who to vote for in this coming election. More to come on that!

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