“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”
― Stephen Colbert
When I was in seminary during an election season, several copies of a pamphlet called “Voting God’s Politics” were floating around our classrooms and apartments.
I was irritated by them.
Mainly because I was presumptuous about their content. I assumed they were partisan and assumed they represented the agenda of the party I feel least affinity with.
Now, let me pause to assure you, kind reader, that I have zero intention of entering into political nitty gritty–candidates, propositions and the like–although I certainly have opinions. But I believe that a commitment to social justice inevitably has political implications. I don’t know if we can fully advocate for the poor and marginalized in this world without engaging with the government to some degree.
I also believe following Jesus has had political implications since the first people said, “Jesus is Lord” out loud.
A few years ago I was co-leading a small group of Jr High girls, and we met on Wednesday nights. One week, the groups had the classic “ask your leader whatever you want” plan in place. (Read: the youth pastor didn’t put a plan in place and this is the fall back. I can say this; my husband was the youth pastor.)
So like I said, we met on Wednesdays. People vote on Tuesdays. As in, “ask your leader anything” night was the day after the election.
This was the 2008 presidential election.
With a side of Prop 8.
Can you guess what happened in small group?
“Are we allowed to ask how you voted?!?!” one girl asked. The whole circle got big-eyed and waited.
My co-leader was clearly panicked. But I answered first, “Yes, you can. As long as you’re willing to really have a respectful conversation about our answers and not just freak out.”
“WHO DID YOU VOTE FOR?!?!?!?!?”
My co-leader and I voted 100% opposite. Small freak out.
Then they listened while each of us explained why. Our answers were rooted in our understanding of who God is and how our vote was an extension of our faith. I closed by saying, “What I hope you noticed is that each of us voted how we did precisely because we are Christians. We each voted in ways that we think honor God and are true to his word.”
We must have navigated the conversation decently, because in the days that followed we passed the litmus test–parents calling. No calls, no quitting our group forever.
So back to the pamphlets.
After several weeks, I finally picked one up outside the elevator to my apartment. What I read was from Sojourners’, which exists to articulate the biblical call to social justice and build a movement for change. And rather than dwell on partisan particularities, it asked Christians to be thoughtful about their vote on 21 items across the following 7 categories:
- Compassion and Economic Justice
- Peace and Restraint of Violence
- Consistent Ethic of Life
- Racial Justice
- Human Rights, Dignity and Gender Justice
- Strengthen Families and Renew Culture
- Good Stewardship of God’s Creation
Some of the 21 items resonate easily, like ‘stop genocide.’
Several items were and still are difficult for me, because they invited interpretation. What does it mean, for instance, to engage with the government to ‘establish humane and holistic immigration policies?’ The issue is complex, and you and I may both deeply care about our faith and deeply care about people who are immigrants and 100% disagree about what should be done about it.
So it’s election season, friends. And you and I might have vastly different opinions about the issues and the candidates. But maybe we can at least commit to voting however we vote precisely because we are Christians.
Eight months after that small group session, we closed out the school year by writing affirmations on sheets of paper. My co-leader wrote on mine, “This has been a good year and I’ve enjoyed leading with you. But really, [insert how I voted here]???”
Maybe we can also commit to disagreeing with civility and not assuming that voting opposite of one another compromises our character or commitment to Christ.
Read the full version of Voting God’s Politics.