Getting Beyond Presidential Politics

September 20, 2012J.Stoner

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Americans face another presidential election in 2012. This confronts people of conscience and compassion with difficult decisions.

We are told that we must choose the lesser of two evil candidates in order to avoid the greater of two bad consequences to the citizenry of our country and the world.

But what if this move demonstrably and inevitably strangles the motive and energy to take up the necessary struggle to find the practices which would achieve minimally acceptable and sustainable consequences for the citizenry and world? We are seeing that in one election after another, damage control replaces global sustainability.

We face a recurring flood situation. There is a big dam on the river. Year after year the local residents struggle to plug breaks in the dam by throwing truckloads of construction debris, refrigerators and tv’s, logs and cement into the breaches, but every year the breach is bigger. Meanwhile, none of the citizens are building the twenty to fifty small dams upstream which would actually work to prevent the flooding of the one big dam.

But, make no mistake, the citizens think that their frantic struggle to hold the big dam is important and urgent, and essential proof that they really care about the fate of the people downstream. Oh yes, they believe that with all their hearts.

Then it came to pass in the 2012 presidential election year in the United States that certain people asked what mature human behavior would look like in the midst of crises of violence, capitalism and degradation of the environment. Prospects for the next 50 years of human existence looked grim, and beyond that time frame, grim seemed willfully deceptive as a description of what could be expected.

Two men running for president of the empire which claimed the right to global domination enforced by the violence of nuclear weapons, drones and foreign military occupations each claimed that their program was best for their nation and the world (although in truth neither said much about what would be best for the world as a whole).
Millions, no billions, of people in the world struggled for survival while another handful of uber-rich showed no shame in claiming that the capitalist system and the way they ran it was the best possible of all economic systems. Massive evidence of global heating, dead zones in the oceans and toxic pollution resulting from heedless greed in human consumption and production was routinely denied by those who claimed the right to determine the destiny of humanity and the planet itself.

In this situation a few people in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, USA, asked what should or could be done–as indeed common people across the globe were asking.

In particular, they asked whether either of the two candidates for president of the United States of America deserved the attention they were getting or the support and vote of people who cared for the future of planet earth. They asked whether the military, economic and environmental policies of either of these two men and the political parties they represented offered enough good, proposed enough change, and engendered enough hope for the human spirit to deserve or demand the faith of good people.

In the most focused and narrow terms, they asked whether voting for either Obama or Romney was a meaningful exercise of human dignity, spiritual maturity and democratic action, or might such a vote betray a serious, or should we say probably fatal, lack of imagination, courage and determination to do something more bold, costly and hopeful.

It is fair to say that at that moment in history millions of Americans wanted to do something, anything–at least something–to make the world a little better rather than a little worse. And as things were, or at least as they looked, the best way they had to do something was to vote for one of those two candidates. But were things actually as they looked?

Vaguely or clearly, who knows which, those few people in Lancaster County remembered earlier times of crises in human history. They
reviewed tiimes when human options seemed frighteningly constricted, the choices narrowed to the bad and the worse–times when people of conscience earnestly wanted to do at least something for the good of all, but felt constrained to choose the lesser of two evils, or have no choice at all.

They remembered one such time when a new voice entered the scene–one strange and lacking any party endorsement–a voice saying with astonishing boldness, “beware the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod” (Mark 8).

Oops! He said, you’ve got two choices. Neither one of them is good. Neither one is good enough. Beware of them.

Jesus is the one who said that.

But wait, the Pharisees and Herod represented the distilled wisdom of two great systems, of Israel and Rome. A great and powerful religious system and a great and powerful political system. Surely one of them was better than the other. Neither was perfect, but surely the fate of the average person was in better hands with one than with the other. If you had to choose, and surely you did, you had to choose the one that was less evil.

In that situation Jesus said that the people were like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9).

Oops again! Without a shepherd? Is that any way to describe the great shepherding systems of Rome and of Israel? It seems that Jesus thought so. Looking at his historical situation, Jesus said that a slightly more judicious implementation of profoundly mistaken ideologies will not be good enough. And hoping it is so will not make it so. That was
clear to Jesus–is it clear to us?

Profoundly mistaken ideologies are not side issues in national elections. Where ever there is the opportunity for truly democratic elections (and not just a charade and pretense of such), the voting public has a duty to implement a sustainable ideology and worldview. And if nobody knows exactly what that is (and they don’t), they still have a duty to do the best they know and not sell out to false alternatives which are profoundly mistaken.

Which brings us to the particulars–three of them–in which Obama and Romney (and the one toxic worldview and empire both represent) are profoundly mistaken. Their wrong answers to these fundamental questions of human existence and humanity’s future are not good enough.

First, there is the question of what to do about enemies. Or, less ultimately, what to do about human differences and conflicts. Here, as usual if not always, we can be both simple and clear. The choice is between violence and nonviolence. It is between homicidal violence, the willingness to kill people to improve the world (“redemptive violence” in Walter Wink’s words) and creative nonviolence, or compassion.

Obama, Romney, the dominant ideology and the empire believe deeply and ultimately in the efficacy of violence to improve the world. In this they are profoundly wrong. As Martin Luther King said: the choice is between nonviolence and nonexistence. This is because violence, and most specifically justified homicidal violence, is ineffective, and ultimately suicidal. The not-so-infrequent eruptions of multiple shootings in the schools, theaters and temples of America are catastrophic but predictable enough eruptions of this national ideology of “redemptive” violence.

The only way that can succeed in the end is compassion, the “feeling with the other” that recognizes the interconnectedness of all humanity and creation, and finds the ways to sustain rather than breach and destroy those connections. Humanity and its governments will learn this truth or perish. That is the crossroads of violence at which we stand.

Second, there is the question of what to do about bread. Bread, in the language of Jesus in his day, is about all that sustains life, including earth’s fecundity and the economic and financial systems which try to manage the distribution of earth’s goods. Obama and Romney think that Wall Street is too big to fail, but it is not. Capitalism as it is being practiced is a profoundly mistaken ideology, a sure path to destruction. Are we seeing the warning signs?

When Jesus said that he is the bread of life, he was claiming that he knew how to manage the earth’s goods. What to do about bread? Share it! Any approach to the earth’s fecundity and running an economy which is not fundamentally committed to the implementation of sharing in a just manner will not work in the long run.

Third, there is the question of what to do about the earth itself. Is the earth an endless resource arbitrarily sustained and renewed by God, or a system as fragile and vulnerable as the human body itself, easily destroyed but sustained only by diligence and care? Romney and Obama present no bold plan to teach humans to “live lightly” on the earth, restraining their consumption and bringing their behavior into a sustainable relationship with the unyielding realities of this one green planet.

Jesus announced the reign (kingdom) of God, which was the language of his day for replacing the domination ideology reign of kings with the compassion- guided interrelationship of all things as originally created by God.

Does this leave us without a choice in a U.S. presidential election? It well may, and what if it does? It does not leave us without a voice, unless we deliberately and lazily choose the fiction that “voting” is the beginning and end of public voice.

We are looking at presidential candidates and a total system which will leave us totally and abjectly without a voice sooner than we think if we continue to buy their deceptions and compromise with their evils. These people and this system will not ask us if they can take our voice from us, they will just do it. There is a certain implacability about historical forces which is not as genteel as we would like our options to be. And if we have not already seen those forces at work in the crises of violence, economic oppression and ecological disaster which are upon us, we may well be beyond hope in our blindness.

This essay is not, however, about giving up hope, but about how to sustain it and act upon it. The message here is that our hope cannot be in a blind, blinding and corrupt system which destroys all in its way, but must be in the power of the people to do the right thing, overcoming evil not with evil, but with good.

Finally it must be said, there is more pride, dignity and hope in dying with and for that compassionate people than there is in joining the train toward destruction, no matter how distanced from its worst features we may imagine ourselves to be. To “lose” in the short term with the tools of compassion is worth more than to “win” in the long term with the tools of destruction.

  • Clayton

    elections are a form of non-violent decision making; a means of working out disagreement and are in that sense an expression of the Kingdom and hence worthy of participation. Jesus is certainly not on the ballot and neither presidential candidate will lead us beyond the empire or where we need to get to protect the planet but the gulf between them is substantial and one mitigates toward justice noticeably more than the other.

    • paul munn

      Marking a ballot may be non-violent, but the results of the election being discussed here is definitely enforced by violence. The authority of the elected leaders in our country is backed up by soldiers, police, prisons, etc. Voting is helping to empower someone with that far-from-nonviolent authority.

      • goingthruchanges

        The article was great, and the discussion that it produced (mainly between Kathryn and Paul) was also fascinating since both of them express themselves so well. But because I was born into empire, hearing all about the “need” and reasons in favor of voting, I was/am especially curious to hear the logic behind the idea of NOT voting. Thank you Paul, in particular, for patiently presenting such a strong case.

  • Jason Winton

    Another unjust aspect of voting, besides the so-called “choice” between the lesser of two evils, is the coercive function it serves. Our votes seem to legitimize the “majority rule” over others, which might be another form of violence in and of itself.

  • Mary

    Beautiful article! Thank you! I should’ve guessed it was written by a Mennonite; I am so proud of my long heritage of Mennonites. I get so frustrated with all this political back and forth, when I feel that both are wrong and neither are the solution, but I never know, am I supposed to vote, or am I supposed to not vote? Thank you for this article!

    • Ann Margaret

      Thank you Jesus Radicals for opening my eyes to the peaceable kingdom of democracy. I’ve never considered voting before but this article has changed my opinion. I’m excited to be a part of the movement for peace and justice this presidential election..

  • Kathryn Price

    And what does not voting do? It makes you feel better because you didn’t
    participate in any of it, but what does it actually do? The difference
    between “the lesser of two evils” might mean the difference between life
    and death to hundreds of thousands of people or more. We don’t always
    know in advance, but we certainly have some strong clues about which
    leader might be more likely to engage in war. Beware of your
    conscience’s wish only to be clear and thus to become engaged in nothing
    more than the justification of itself, as Bonhoeffer warned.

    Jesus couldn’t vote. We can; voting in a democracy is not analogous to the reign of a king, or of choosing between the Pharisees and Herod (neither of them were the result of a choice).

    • paul munn

      You’re right, Kathryn. “Not voting” doesn’t do anything. The critique is that voting does do something, which is help empower someone who will use that power lethally (perhaps more, perhaps less) as every president has done, and every presidential candidate assures us he (or she) will do.

      But, yes, “not voting” is no great accomplishment. The question should be, how to address the problems around us in a better way than voting, without helping empower politicians who will destroy many in their attempts to solve problems with the power of the gun and the tax man. For example, instead of supporting a politician we hope will only engage this nation’s armies in a few wars, maybe we could support individuals and groups that work directly to reduce the causes of conflict (like ministries to gang members, or groups that offer aid in areas where great need leads to political unrest). Or instead of empowering a politician who will take money by force from taxpayers to fund poverty relief programs (which then make the poor jump through some pretty humiliating hoops to get help), maybe we could support direct voluntary aid to help the poor. Or, better yet, get involved with such work ourselves. Those are the kind of things we could do, instead of voting.

      Not sure why you bring Bonhoeffer in here (though I do like a lot of his work). He was willing to get his hands dirty, but the results of his experiments with that don’t seem to vindicate his beliefs on the subject. He certainly did something, certainly got his hands dirty, but what did it actually accomplish? Anything good? Besides giving a good excuse for the violent retaliation that came to him and the others involved: “you tried to assassinate me, so I’ll kill you”?

      • Kathryn Price

        I referenced Bonhoeffer because my thoughts on the subject of conscience were not my own and although paraphrased, I wanted to attribute them correctly. It was Bonhoeffer who made me aware of how conscience can become caught up with trying to escape guilt, which Bonhoeffer believed none of us can escape if we are responsible human beings in the world. He believed that we cannot set our own personal innocence above our responsibility for our fellow beings.

        I (not Bonhoeffer) will phrase it this way: is the greatest commandment to maintain a state of perfection and guiltlessness in life? Or is it to love our neighbor? If I refuse to vote, I have preserved my innocence. And I ask myself: so what?

        I went to Israel and Palestine this summer. I looked into the eyes of people who live behind walls with no rights of citizenship in their own land (Palestinians), and more than one said, “Please. Go back home and tell our stories to others. The U.S. is the only one who has the power to influence anything.”

        What should I do? Not vote because I live in the empire? Sure, the vote is not my voice and there are many other things I can do and will do. But because the U.S. is powerful, the way we vote can change things for many, many people in the world. That is a power. I can choose to ignore it. I know the empire will use it for both good and evil. And I choose to risk the guilt of action rather than to be safe. What do I tell the people in the world who can’t vote? That I didn’t vote because the candidates aren’t pure enough (including the one who might help to change things)? Did we imagine that any leaders ever are? Do we imagine that we are?

        • Ann Margaret

          Wonderfully put Kathryn, I agree that voting is not just a moral obligation but a faithful duty for those who are less privileged than ourselves.

        • paul munn

          “The U.S. is the only one who has the power to influence anything.” So do you believe this?

          If so, then yes, you should vote. I think this is badly mistaken, a message that we’re constantly being fed that we need to stand up against. We love others much better by showing them that the U.S. is most definitely not the only one who has the power to influence anything.

          • Kathryn Price

            Paul, I should have completed the thought: “with Israel.” The people we spoke with — both Israeli activists who seek to end the occupation as well as Palestinians — said that the U.S. is the only nation who has enough influence with Israel’s leaders to move Israel to work towards an end to the occupation. They said, “Israel will listen to the U.S.” They even said, “It’s up to the U.S.” And yes, I will vote.

          • paul munn

            Yes, I suppose activists (there or here) would see it that way. Seeing the solution as primarily a governmental one. But Jesus also lived under an occupation, and loved people who suffered under an occupation. And his response did not seem to be primarily hoping for a governmental solution. He offered a response to real needs, healing, food, and freedom that did not come from a government.

            And isn’t your “key to a solution” also the one who is funding and arming Israel? Do you think the president you vote for will not continue to do this? So your vote supports this exercise of power as well.

            You ask: “is the greatest commandment to maintain a state of perfection and guiltlessness in life? Or is it to love our neighbor?” What I wonder is why you think these are in conflict, or even two separate things? Bonoeffer may have separated them, but Jesus didn’t. The way to best love your neighbor is to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” as Jesus showed us.

          • Kathryn Price

            Jesus couldn’t hope for a governmental solution. When you say he offered a response to real needs and “freedom that were not granted by a government” I fear you’re passively advocating for a continued occupation. What did Jesus mean when he announced his mission to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free? Were those just spiritual metaphors? Why was he executed? Surely if he intended to keep people satisfied in their occupation, with their “real” needs met, he was no threat to the empire. The empire would have invited him to dinner and encouraged him in his efforts.

            I already acknowledged that the government will use its power for both good and evil. But one administration may be more inclined to justice than another, and it may mean, literally, life and death to people in other countries. I have the luxury of worrying about whether I should vote and if that is a Christian thing to do. Either way, my life will go on pretty much the same after the election. Most likely no bombs will drop on me. A lot of others do not have that luxury. Our bombs may very well drop on them. It does matter who is president to them, probably more than it does to us. Yes, I may get it wrong. That is the risk.

            “Be perfect” is given in the context of how to love, not just returning love only to those who love us. The reason that perfection as a virtue, or the wish to avoid any choice that might put my virtue at risk can come into conflict with loving our neighbor is because the focus in the former stance, if placed above all other considerations, is all about protecting me.

          • paul munn

            Yes, Jesus certainly threatened the basis of the empire’s power, but not the way activists do. Jesus pointed people to a power that was not the power of empire (or “the power of the people”), which could free them from dependence on empire. He showed that they could find real food and freedom without bowing to or begging empire for it. That does threaten the power of empire, but more importantly for the people involved, it offers real help now. Not when governments get around to granting any help (which, to paraphrase you, is always help mixed with hurt).

            The activist approach, and voting with it, just reinforces the message that “the U.S. [or 'empire'] is the only one who has the power to influence anything.” Which is the same message that empire is always preaching.

            No one’s saying we should “avoid any choice that might put my virtue at risk.” We’re saying that real love never puts our virtue at risk, but is the embodiment of true virtue. “Being perfect” is loving our enemies, as Jesus said. The president you vote for (either one) is not campaigning on anything like that message. We’re saying that encouraging anyone to look to him for the solution is not the loving thing to do.

            Ethnic conflict in Israel is not a new thing. It was present in Jesus’ time as well. And we have stories about how he responded to it, like with the Samaritan woman at the well, or his parable of the good Samaritan. Personal responses, not political. Why not use those as examples for a truly loving response to such conflict?

          • Kathryn Price

            Jesus wasn’t an activist? That’s not the impression I get. And he was encouraging resistance to injustice, or encouraging insistence on justice, which is what got him into trouble.

            You are misinterpreting my statement, which I didn’t write well, that “the U.S. is the only one who has the power” to mean that the activists I met with have no belief in personal power. They do — they’re living it every day. One of them said, “No one takes responsibility for the human side of things.” He has taken up that responsibility. But they acknowledge that the U.S. is the only country who has the leverage to influence Israel’s stance — though other countries are trying. I realize that presidents don’t campaign on messages to love your enemies. But I disagree that looking to a government for the solution is not the loving thing to do. We must demand justice from the political bodies that exist and are in a position to make such decisions. How is that not loving? Because these leaders aren’t Jesus? I wasn’t imagining that they were.

            What’s going on in Israel is more than ethnic conflict. It’s ethnic cleansing and apartheid. And once again, the world will ignore the cries — we, who are in a position to have a voice and a vote in our government! I can’t agree with you that the loving thing is only on the plane of the personal, never political. And I am convinced that history will judge us severely for sitting by while it happened. History will be too late, of course, for those who are living it now.

            I think you and I will simply have to disagree about the political vs. the personal and what constitutes the loving approach.

          • paul munn

            The political bodies that give you a vote in this matter are not guided by “demands for justice” but by the demands of the majority. And it is those very demands that make it impossible for a president (like Obama) to stop sending weapons to the Israelis. The same system that gives you “a voice” is the one that prevents any elected official from offering a truly good response. It’s not just that Obama isn’t Jesus. It’s that the only way he can get into that position of power (or keep it) is if he sets aside the enemy-loving way of Jesus.

            That’s why I think love calls us to point people to a different power, a power that is not in conflict with goodness but is one with it. Jesus was offered political power (on more than one occasion, as I recall) and he rejected it. He chose to demonstrate a very different power, encouraging people to trust in God’s power instead. A power that can deliver now, and without compromise.

            I’m not trying to contrast personal and political. I’m trying to focus on Jesus’ response as opposed to what we see all around us, in politicians and activists alike: the constant struggle to control and use the power of empire. Voting is part of that struggle.

          • Kathryn Price

            “A power that can deliver now, and without compromise.” I disagree that political engagement is compromising myself. I can support and criticize any official, as necessary.

          • paul munn

            But do you think voting in our two-party system doesn’t involve compromise? I thought that was a given…

            You said before, “I already acknowledged that the government will use its power for both good and evil.” Helping to give someone that power, while knowing it will be used for evil (and not just vaguely, but knowing some of the specific evils that will be done, like further arming Israel, drone strikes, SEAL team assassinations, etc), you don’t see that as compromising?

          • Kathryn Price

            No, I am not compromising myself or my voice by making a choice in an imperfect system. Refusing to vote evades responsibility and if we all opted for that choice, we’d be giving power to someone. Would we be better off with just one party and no choice? I am a citizen of this country and I benefit from that citizenship, so I’d also better take some responsibility for it. Jesus is not running for president. Good.

            You don’t have to vote, Paul. I see that you’re uncomfortable with it. And I’m uncomfortable with not voting. The president is not entirely analogous to the Roman emperor. The emperor didn’t have to answer to the people or make a case for his leadership. I gather from an earlier reference that you are also opposed to the power of the people. It seems to me you’re making a case for passivity in life, based on a perception of Jesus that I don’t quite follow. I don’t think Jesus was abhorrent of personal or political responsibility. He didn’t remove himself from the fray.

          • paul munn

            I don’t understand this: “Refusing to vote evades responsibility and if we all opted for that choice, we’d be giving power to someone.” How would we be giving power to someone if we didn’t vote for them?

            And why do you think we have a “responsibility” to vote? Because we are citizens? Who has decreed what the responsibilities of a citizen are? And must I accept that definition of myself, with its duties and responsibilities?

          • Kathryn Price

            No, you don’t have to accept the definition of yourself as a citizen or take any responsibilities of citizenship. If we all chose not to vote, someone would step into that vacuum — we’d be passively giving power to someone. It probably wouldn’t be pretty.

          • paul munn

            It sounds like someone would be taking power in that case, not us giving it. Yes, there will always be those who will struggle for political power over others, and always those who will fight them for it. The question is whether we as Jesus followers should get into that fight.

            We don’t give someone power by not voting. We do give them power when we vote for them. Power in a democracy comes from the people. Even if we vote for the loser, our participation indicates our acceptance of the system that grants power to the winner.

            Jesus’ power, on the other hand, did not come from the people. The real power he demonstrated was not greater when people supported him, and not less when they abandoned him. That was the power of God. And that’s the power we should be demonstrating, not the power of the vote.

          • Kathryn Price

            I’m a follower of Jesus and I’m getting into that fight.

          • paul munn

            Do you see Jesus getting into the struggle for political power?

          • Kathryn Price

            Did you hear the drumbeats of war amp up overnight? So if one candidate resists pressure to leap into war, worked to get better access to health care while the other says “let them go to the emergency room,” — to name just a few differences — I’m supposed to see this as no choice and wash my hands of the matter because this is political power?

            Jesus did struggle with the political powers and with political matters. He didn’t seek to be become king, and neither am I. He was in a monarchy, not a democracy. As another commenter here, Clayton noted, elections are a form of nonviolent decision making. If I have a choice that might bring more justice, not less, I’m supposed to say it’s beneath me as a follower of Jesus? Since it won’t be 100% justice on my terms, I should let others make all these decisions because Jesus won’t let me?

            I keep thinking of the poem, “Apolitical Intellectuals” written by a Guatemalan poet, Otto Rene Castillo, who asked, “What did you do when the poor suffered, when tenderness and life were dangerously burning out in them?” I don’t want to become an apolitical theologian. As Castillo wrote: “No one will ask them [the apolitical intellectuals]… about their futile struggles against ‘nothingness’ or about their ontological way to make money.” They will only ask, what did you do? I think about that in terms of theologians and our theologies.

            Sometimes there are political solutions, Paul. But it seems that you’re saying since political situations involve power, they can never be used. As Walter Brueggemann has written: “The shapers of these texts spoke and believed as if God had to do directly with issues of power and justice, politics and economics. The text keeps our faith close to the decisive human realities. In addition, this same combination keeps biblical faith always open to ideological usurpation, so that this gospel of grace and of messiah is readily available for and vulnerable to all sorts of subsequent ideological use. A variety of evidences might be cited in our own times for the ways in which powerful, authoritative religious claims are politically useful in demonic ways. That is the inescapable character of biblical faith. We are not permitted to escape into pure religion that has no risk of contamination.”

            I agree with Brueggemann’s conclusion that we are not permitted to escape into pure religion that has no risk of contamination. Religion that concerns itself with “decisive human realities” does have that risk. I accept that.

          • paul munn

            I agree that the question “what did you do?” is what matters. And so I’d rather look to the example of Jesus’ action, rather than the arguments of theologians and intellectuals (apolitical or otherwise), and act like Jesus showed us.

            I also agree that Jesus struggled with the political powers and with political matters. But I’m saying he didn’t get into the struggle for political power, to try to use it to accomplish his purposes. In that I see his example as markedly different from politicians, political activists, and from voters.

            You seem to have noticed that using political power to achieve our goals always results in some collateral damage. For example, Obama seeks to use the power of the presidency to pressure Israel to change its policies towards the Palestinians. But in order to get (and keep) control of that power, he has to satisfy the US voters and allies, and so use US power to oppose the Palestinian bid for statehood in the UN, and use US power to continue to provide weapons to Israel, weapons used against Palestinians. These are some of the actions we help empower when we take the action of voting. The collateral damage.

            Jesus will let you vote. He would also let you become a judge or a police office to “bring more justice.” But those are all attempts to wield a power that Jesus chose not to use. Instead, he wielded a power that could not be used for evil, and did not leave collateral damage. So I’m saying we should also reject political power as a tool and seek and demonstrate the power Jesus did.

            Empire tells us we are citizens and we have certain responsibilities and we have to choose between the two candidates set before us. Empire tells us we have a duty to participate in its exercise of political power (thereby making us all accomplices).

            But Jesus showed us we don’t have to let empire tell us what our duty is. And we don’t have to use the power of empire, or become its accomplice, because the power of God is available to us. What is the power of the vote next to that?

          • Kathryn Price

            Jesus was in a particular context. He demonstrated nonviolent direct action in that context. Did he condemn all forms of government for all time? The power of God is available to me and so is the opportunity to vote.

          • paul munn

            You speak of voting as an “opportunity” now, when before you presented it as a responsibility. A responsibility for which we should be willing to accept personal guilt, knowing that we would be helping empower a president that would, not possibly, but certainly do evil with that power. That doesn’t sound like an opportunity to me.

            Maybe that’s the thing that bothers me most, that you seem to accept that voting necessarily involves guilt, yet still tell others to do it. Using Bonhoeffer’s idea that none of us can escape guilt if we are responsible human beings in the world. Not only did Jesus contradict that with his teaching, he proved it false with his life.

          • Kathryn Price

            I used the term opportunity here because no one is forced to vote. Regarding guilt: inherent in free will and taking responsibility in life is the possibility of error. Have you ever had to make a choice about anything and wondered if you were doing the right thing? Anything at all, Paul? I’m guilty every day of my life. I’m guilty when I eat. I’m a vegetarian — but I should be vegan — because of the horrific way animals are treated in our food industry. (You want to talk violence?) Also, I have always considered animals friends. I’m not going to eat my friends. I’m guilty when I drive my car. Every day I make choices and all of them have a moral dimension. Those who think eating and driving don’t involve responsibility are people who believe that food magically appears in the grocery store and gas at the pumps. And I haven’t even brought up the subject of who picks our tomatoes and how much they are paid.

            I understand that you think voting is wrong as a Christian. I disagree, for all the reasons I have already given. I think we’ll have to leave it at that.

          • paul munn

            As I said before, we’re not talking about the “possibility” of the president using the power of the US for evil, we know he has done so (not accidentally either, Bin Laden wasn’t shot accidentally, troops weren’t sent into Afghanistan accidentally) and will continue to do so. So voting is not a question of “possibly” empowering evil, but whether the evil done by the person we help empower will be worse than the other guy would have done. And, as you say, we don’t have to vote. We don’t have to help empower either guy.

            I do appreciate your candor about how you see guilt. Though I think that “guilt everywhere” view of the world has a lot of false guilt mixed in, and that Jesus does offer us true freedom from guilt, even in this day and age. But that’s another discussion (like this one from last year).

            I hope it’s been clear that I’m not trying to accuse anyone. Just insist that we don’t have to settle for the choices our society offers us; we can take the different way Jesus showed us.

          • Kathryn Price

            Thanks for the link. I am Facebook friends with Nichola after I linked to a different article she wrote here last year and a Facebook friend saw my link and “introduced” us. I’ve been following her work with Occupy Oakland.

  • rdhudgens

    I agree with all of John’s points. I’m not seeing an argument against voting, but a warning against thinking that voting is “a beginning and end of public voice.”

    think it’s ok for Christians to vote. Saying it’s “ok” is
    different from saying its mandatory or a spiritual duty. There can be
    legitimate reasons for not voting and John has presented one possible
    argument for that. Nevertheless I don’t believe that voting is always
    wrong or somehow a betrayal of our Christian faith (or our
    anarchism). I’m also not convinced that voting “demonstrably and
    inevitably strangles” our motivation for the broader struggle.

    is a tactical and not (always) an ideological issue.

    make it solely an ideological issue is (to my mind) to misunderstand the
    nature of “anarchism” – and perhaps Christianity. Voting is a
    tactic. It is a tactic allowed by the state; just as driving a car,
    owning property, or paying social security is a tactic. I can opt out
    of any of these state-controlled activities. I am not however
    obligated to do so (yet). I can use my state issued driver’s license
    for good things and I do not have to feel as if I am compromising my
    virtue by doing so. I can own property (I don’t) and use that
    property for good things without feeling as if I am entirely in the
    government’s back pocket. My father can pay into social security and
    receive a check without feeling like he’s nuzzled to the tit of the
    whore of Babylon.

    I go to the polls I am never asked to pledge allegiance to the flag,
    nor to bow before the golden idol of Wall Street. When I am asked to
    do so then I will stop going to the polls. I’m doing something that I
    am allowed to do. I didn’t ask to be a citizen. I can do whatever I
    want with this opportunity even though it is of course severely
    limited, insufficient, and part of a very corrupt and violent system
    of governance.

    So much that we should do is far more important than
    voting. It is not the most important thing that we do – but it is not
    therefore completely unimportant. Sometimes it does make a difference. Often times it doesn’t. God’s work doesn’t depend upon our vote, but neither does it depend upon our ideological purity.

    is a tactic. It is just one thing that we might do among a myriad of
    things that we must do. Voting is neither the mark of the beast nor a
    key to the kingdom. It is just voting.

    told me I could vote. I voted.

    on to the more important work that must continue to be done
    regardless of whether my vote made any difference or not.

    • Kathryn Price

      I like how you’ve framed this: “God’s work doesn’t depend upon our vote, but neither does it depend upon our ideological purity. Voting is a tactic. It is just one thing that we might do among a myriad of things that we must do. Voting is neither the mark of the beast nor a key to the kingdom. It is just voting.” Well said.

      • rdhudgens

        Thx Kathryn. I expanded that comment into a longer “essay” here: . R

        • Kathryn Price

          Great essay. You write: “Many have struggled and died for the right to vote. Peoples around the globe oppressed by the forces of military neoliberalism would expect me to vote and to vote on their behalf.” And that’s how I’m seeing it. People around the globe can seem abstract as we consider our choices here, but they became very real to me this summer. As I’ve said elsewhere here, the results of our election will probably be far more important to them than to us.

        • Don Whitman

          This is in answer to your blog article called Voting as a Tactic. The article above is about voting in presidential elections and about voting for one of the so called major party candidates. The president of the united states is the foremost terrorist in the world. To vote for either of the major party candidates is to vote for that terrorism. That is obvious. If there is any dispute about that I don’t know why. You say that even though they agree on the major “issues” there are differences on other issues. The major issues that they agree on are the continued murder of small children by drones and the maintenance of the global predatory economic system that enslaves billions. There are of course differences on issues that greatly matter in the lives of people and that may even be life and death issues. However, one cannot predict what will happen.

          Which one will slaughter the most people? No one really knows. When it comes to death educated guesses are bankrupt. You and others could very well vote for the candidate that will initiate global nuclear holocaust while if the other candidate had been elected that would not have happened. Democrats are always having to prove how tough they are by killing people. To vote for either of the killers is playing dice with the life of every person on earth.

          In 1962 the world came very close to nuclear holocaust because of the missiles in Cuba. The Kennedy brothers employed their notorious macho streak. Read Seymour Hersh’s The Dark Side of Camelot. Nixon, with strong anti-communist credentials, may have simply negotiated an end that did not come close to holocaust. On the other hand if Nixon had been president those of us alive at that time, including me, may of ended up dead. As I say no one knows.

          You and Kathryn Price seem to be very concerned about people feeling “ideologically pure” by not voting. I know many people who don’t vote, mainly people who are in communities that live in the poorest sections of towns and serve people and engage in politics as Jesus leads them. I don’t know one who has ever expressed feelings of “ideological purity” concerning not voting. Their reasons are loyalty to Jesus by not being complicit in terrorism although I am not saying that no one has ideologically pure feelings.

          The main reason for not voting is the Realm of God. We are not to be complicit in imperial violence. To suggest that we should be goes against the entire worldview of the New Testament that of course has God at its center. In the political realm we are to be led by the Holy Spirit. That there is even a question about voting for major party candidates for president is amazing.

          • KathrynPrice

            “You and Kathryn Price seem to be very concerned about people feeling “ideologically pure” by not voting.”

            Don, because anarchy is an ideology. Some comments here concerning not voting (I am not referring to John Stoner’s article but responses to it) consider whether voting in itself might be violence. I was addressing these comments when I wrote my initial comment asking what does not voting do (and I should have addressed that initial comment to the individuals to whom I was responding). Is loyalty to an ideology (anarchy) the same thing as following Jesus? Is the highest commandment (love God and love your neighbor as yourself) fulfilled by and/or equal to taking an anarchist position? I will have more to say about this, but I may not be able to write more until later this weekend.

          • Don Whitman

            I was not taking an anarchist position. As I replied to Ric above I was only referring to presidential elections because that was what the article was about. Of course we do disagree about that.

          • rdhudgens


            I agree w/John’s essay above and I agree w/your perceptive and passionate comments here. I am not recommending that anyone vote for either of the two major presidential candidates for reasons similar to what you have noted (and quite a few more actually).

            I also believe there can be very good reasons for not voting at all.

            My essay is about whether voting in any election is always totally forbidden at all times. I believe that conviction goes too far and takes the generic act of voting far too seriously. It sounds as if that is close to John’s view as well..

            If you believe that voting is always forbidden on any issue (including presidential politics, local government politics, referendums, etc) then we do in fact disagree.
            It’s good to have you back on JRad! We’ve missed you.

          • Don Whitman

            Thank you for your clarification and your kind words. I was writing only about presidential elections. As a matter of fact I do not think all voting is wrong. School board elections and the like certainly do not raise the issues about imperial politics and the Realm of God that presidential elections and other elections do. Thanks for your response.

  • endwartax

    This is just a test of the system, or maybe my intelligence. Yesterday I wrote a substantive comment and tried valiantly, I thought, to enter it through all the hoops, and imagined I’d succeeded, only to discover it not there.

    • Andy A-B

      It is there now. For some reason a spam filter caught it.

      • endwartax

        thanks, Andy!

  • endwartax

    OK, so this test comment shows up just like I saw my comment yesterday. But what happened to that one overnight?

    • taxwar

      I propose we start a campaign to make anonymity illegal on this site! We can culminate this campaign with a vote next week.. Are you with me!!! btw wtf is an “earthkeeper”

  • Don Whitman

    As disciples of Jesus we cannot support imperial violence or any other kind of violence. This has nothing to do with purity. Voting for either of the murderers makes us complicit in their murders. To vote for either one is an act of violence. The president along with the military and intelligence apparatus is the main support of the predatory global economic system which slaughters millions of people every year and keeps billions in poverty. If Jesus wanted us to support those that use violence the gospels and the entire New Testament would be a very different story.

    To vote for those that kill is to say that God has no power to bring us the New Heaven and New Earth that we are to help bring about. We are to witness to the violence of the demonic empire and to give our lives if necessary but we are never to be complicit in the violence of that empire. Our task as disciples is to follow the Holy Spirit every day and to create authentic community no matter how impractical it may seem. It is God who knows better than we do. We also cannot identify with being citizens of empire. Those that follow Jesus are members of the Reign of God which is opposed to all empire and all imperial violence.

    • KathrynPrice

      I think it is inaccurate if not a bit of romantic fantasy when we talk of empire to make no distinction between our position and that of a minority living in the first century Roman empire as if the two are completely analagous. They are not. We are not subjects. We can determine our leaders through a process of analysis, debate and reason. We have freedom of religion and freedom of speech. We can criticize our leaders and vote them out. Yes, the U.S. does behave in imperialistic ways, but we are neither subjects nor victims of empire. We have agency here.

      This morning I was greeted with headlines about Romney’s advisors urging him to remove the ban on “enhanced interrogation techniques” that Obama implemented. His speech at his convention was noted as “saber rattling” by many observers. He really does believe in empire. I don’t think Obama believes the U.S. should act aggressively. I don’t think Obama believes “deeply and ultimately in the efficacy of violence to improve the world.”

      Maybe I am trying to create authentic community. Maybe I’m saying to the people who will either breathe a little easier after our election or brace themselves for more war and oppression that I went back to my country, where I do have agency, and I cast my vote against more of the same for them. It is not the only thing I will do. But it does have weight. If it were a close election, it would have a lot of weight.

      Call me complicit with evil; maybe I am. But I am trying to follow the Holy Spirit, too.

      • Berry Friesen

        Yes, of course of have agency. John is calling us to exercise it. And he is asking whether the importance we attach to the presidential election is serving to enhance or hamper that exercise.
        Those of us who organized are not attempting to articulate broad moral principles. We are in the first place making an observation: that the two leading political parties, while articulating very different approaches to various matters, each is leading us toward a moral abyss in which an oligarchic elite use their overwhelming military and economic power to kill, pillage and control while we passionately argue with one another about whether one path over the edge is better than the other.
        Under such circumstances (as we understand them), there is no moral obligation to join the debate “because this is a democracy”. Certainly one can still vote but we should not think of it as a morally significant act.
        In the second place, we find in Jesus a politically relevant alternative. We are grieved that the church has chosen to be silent during election campaigns rather than giving voice to that alternative. We hope that as people step back from their allegiances to either the Ds or the Rs, the church’s voice will again emerge.

        • KathrynPrice

          I went to the link and read the posts. I agree with you that the church has largely chosen to be silent regarding the turn our country has taken towards oligarchic elite and an acceptance of a kind of rogue mentality of the state; acts that once would have been prosecutable are now taken as the norm. Yes, the church’s silence is grievous. Last year I was tempted to quit the church over its failure to address Occupy Wall St. in a significant way.

          I am currently taking a class called The Public Witness of Congregations. We are looking at how congregations can take up prophetic witness as our true calling. I will think about what I’ve read at the link, pray about it, etc. I still plan to vote, but I will continue to consider the content of these articles and why you made the the choices you did and what you are hoping to do with this pledge.

          • Berry Friesen

            Kathryn, thank you for your generous response. Your focus on “the public witness of congregations” is also mine. Just yesterday I had a conversation with a lay leader in my congregation about what role we envision for a pastor we are calling. I asked that it include responsibility for public engagement (“prophetic witness”).
            We (the goup who published have found it difficult to gain traction with the church because our analysis is so dependent on discerning the direction of events on the world stage. By definition, that is a very slippery endeavour and one the church doesn’t seem to have much interest in.

      • Don Whitman

        Your comments about Obama are very surprising to me. I have read that he killed, in his first year in office, more civilians than George W Bush killed in his first year in office and in his last year in office. I don’t have the source but I will look for it. However, the list of Obama’s atrocities is endless which is in addition to the normal killing that every administration engages in to maintain the empire.

        My concern is God and the Realm of God and what it means to be a disciple. I draw my conclusions from the New Testament and what I hear God saying to me. The New Testament states clearly that empires are the enemy of God. This ends and is more fully drawn out in Revelation. It is God who ends empires. We are to witness to the truth of the reality of the compassion and mercy of God and in the name of God stand up for the victims of empire no matter what the cost to ourselves. I see no where becoming complicit in the reality of empire. If we follow the way of Jesus it is all in God’s hands.

      • Ann Marie

        “If it were a close election, it would have a lot of weight.” Exactly!! thank you for saying this Kathryn. It also needed to be said that we are responsible for electing leaders who will not terrorize other countries with our advanced military capabilities as Romney seems intent on doing. While Obama may not be perfect in all aspects of his policies he is at least sensitive to the plights of those who are not part of the privileged classes and countries. If the election is close and Romney wins… well, I wouldn’t want live with the guilt of knowing my vote may have been the deciding factor between a more just world and a world of increasing violence and oppression.
        I’m a bit put off by what seems to be a “more holy than thou” attitude of some of the articles on Jesus Radicals. A little humility may go a long way towards making us more “radical” disciples of Christ. The truth is we are privileged to live in this country, we have the power to impact many lives in significant ways with a single vote, by not voting you’re simply choosing not to help those less privileged than yourself.

  • Kathryn Price

    Thanks for pointing me to this link, John. It helps me to see what led to your decision and that you have decided not to vote as a specific, active decision and as a protest. I find the differences between the candidates substantial enough to cast a vote, but I respect your decision.

  • paul munn

    Saw this recently and thought it might be appreciated here…

  • rdhudgens

    John, The links on that voterwitness page are really helpful. What a great bibliography of articles you all compiled. Thx. Ric

  • Jonathan Montan

    Well written and thought out post. I agree that choosing the better of two evils is piss poor theology at best.

  • rdhudgens

    Katy Resop over at A Pinch of Salt just posted a great essay on not voting “Confessions of an American Anarchist: Why I’m Not Voting in the US Presidential Election”:

  • J2P29910

    Beautifully said. Thank you!

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