In Canada, we’re days away from electing a shiny, new federal government (U.S. friends, you’re pretty much always in an election cycle so this post likely connects with you too). My wife and I were talking about the dilemma of voting in this next, or any, election.
Looking over the different party platforms, Betty was sharing how she is pulled in by different planks in each of the various party platforms, by unique qualities in different leaders. But there are also a number of elements in each party and leader that rankle and feel disjointed. My wife is not a dual citizen in Canada and therefore won’t be voting in this election, so maybe we can chalk what she’s feeling to her lack of Canadian citizenship – but that’s not the dual citizenship I’m considering here.
This sense of unease she describes, of not aligning with any political platform or party, is a fair summary for the Christian experience in society. If you find your faith so identified with any political agenda or movement, its probably time to examine how your faith has been co-opted. Jesus won’t play the mascot for anyone’s political agenda.
That’s the rub of being a spiritual dual citizen. The gospel makes a Christian confounding and inexplicable to most people in our world, striking the political right as far too liberal and smelling to the political left as too conservative. And it likely means you wince a little as you cast your ballot.
Christians are citizens of another Kingdom and citizenship in God’s Kingdom shapes your politics.Yet that’s not a passport we quickly flash. Many Christians can more closely identify with a particular political party or agenda than with God’s Kingdom. We have grown very comfortable in the polis of this world that we can easily forget we are citizens of a heavenly city.
Since the Kingdom of God and this world are intertwined, a shared space at this time, we don’t abdicate engaging the political realm and opt for complacency. Rather, political participation, including the important privilege of voting, is engaged as an act of faith and done with a distinct posture, allowing the bigger vision of heaven to direct our living and shape our hopes.
For example, there’s a recognition that real change won’t happen through the next government – whichever party forms the government. Every government tends to rearrange the furniture. When the Avett Brothers sing out “your life isn’t changed by the man that’s elected,” that’s not political cynicism but sober realism. It’s quite natural to place serious hopes in our political system and leaders. But history, and the scriptural record, demonstrate again and again that the next occupant of 24 Sussex Dr. will not be a messiah to right the world. Our hope is in someone else.
Then there’s our primary call – to follow Jesus and not the ideology of any party nor the lure of the halls of power. Too many hopes gets dashed and so much disillusioned cynicism grows because people, including Christians, see political power as ultimate. But followers of Jesus understand politics as penultimate, a potential servant for the Kingdom Jesus is bringing. The particular posture of a Christian won’t be found in how one votes (so please don’t christen any party or candidate as God’s chosen); it’s always been found in the daily, ordinary re-enactment of Jesus’ self-sacrificial love.
But yes, this way of Jesus does shape a discerning vote. It fosters a faithful calculation of what you can put up with or what you can let go of in order to pursue God’s vision for the greater good. Dual citizen voters understand that political leaders are asking for more than a simple vote; they’re asking for your heart, your allegiance to a specific vision of common life. But that issue is already settled for a dual citizen. So what political vision can you most align with even as you affirm your prior allegiance to Christ the King?
Here are a few thoughts on how the way of Jesus might shape a faithful, discerning ballot-box decision:
- Love your neighbour: This concern for the flourishing of one’s neighbour, the other, was central in the life and teaching of Jesus (he was serious about that “do unto others” thing). And he demonstrated a special care for the weak and the vulnerable in the neighbourhood. In Robert Farrar Capon’s memorable phrase, his eye was on “the last, the lost, the least and the little.” So explore each party platform for the care it provides for indigenous peoples, immigrants, refugees, the poor, children, the unborn and those nearing the end of life. How are the vulnerable being protected and uniquely served? Will the party you vote for treat others the way you would want to be treated by the government, by society?
- Birds of the field: creation is the treasured background to the Jesus story. He is the creator of all things, after all; in him all things hold together. For any follower of Jesus, creation is holy and any desecration of it is a smear on the Creator. The environment and climate change is THE big issue, a generational issue for our time, yet one that is getting scant attention. Which party is promoting wise care for this glorious gift? Who is creatively challenging Canadians to deal with climate change in the strongest ways?
- Selflessness – Jesus said “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Those words run counter to pretty much every slogan or promise we’ve heard in this election. It seems the operating assumption of most political leaders is that we are self-interested automatons, concerned only about our own welfare. Instead, ask yourself, which party invites me to live sacrificially, for the sake of others? Which has the courage to call us out of our self-absorption for the sake of others? Who has the guts to ask us to do with less now so that next generations might flourish?
- It’s the economy, stupid: Jesus talked much about money. He knew how quickly it becomes an idol that bullies us into servitude and blinds us to its ultimate demands. You catch sight of this in how most parties make economic issues central, in how convinced leaders are that what moves us is what’s left in our pockets and accounts. But which of the parties dare to place some things higher than the economy? Anyone? Beyond the idolatry of the economy, which party values the created good of work. Who has a competent plan to spur innovation, cultivate conditions for all to flourish, and create jobs that give dignity and a living wage?
- Humble leadership: Jesus was pretty big on servant leadership, measuring real strength in the capacity for humility. That’s a hard commodity to discern in an election campaign, which are rah-rah, sound-bite measured, peacock affairs. Good governance, as opposed to getting elected, requires another skill set – a humble capacity to find common ground, finding and fostering willing partners, acting with transparency and extending trust. Who is best able to seek compromise for the common good? Who among the leadership hopefuls has demonstrated this character, along with a compassion of spirit, a hopeful imagination, a reticence to polarize, someone capable of carving out a middle space where a coalition for the common good can gather?
It’s the simplest of actions – marking a plain X. But it’s an act of faith, hope and love, rooted in the self-sacrificial way of our King, Jesus.
(and here’s the Avett Brothers “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise” video)
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/23238876″>Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user6939819″>Jason Mitcham</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>