I took advantage over two weeks ago of the opportunity to vote early and so I am grateful that I can say that I have now voted in every presidential election since I became eligible to vote in 1976. My good father preached to me the importance of exercising the privilege of voting; “If you don’t use it,” he said, “you’ll lose it.” I am proud that both of our children have already voted, too; I hope they compile a perfect participation record over the years of their lives.
Voting is, I believe, a patriotic privilege that I share with all Americans, regardless of our economic status, ethnic background, or religious commitments. The pollsters and pundits like to talk about voting blocs like “the Jewish vote” or “the Religious Right vote” or “the African-American vote” or “the Soccer Mom vote” or “the Joe Six-Pack vote” or “the Left-Handed Steinbeck-Reading Limbaugh-Listening Stenographers vote” and I know that certain categories of people may tend to vote in certain ways. Still, I remain thrilled by the idea that when I go into the voting booth my one vote counts just as much as any other person’s one vote. That’s why it is so important that every voter’s vote be accurately accounted for; otherwise, as far as I’m concerned, the whole system is a fraud. I hope we have as few such problems as possible this time around.
I still believe, despite some nudging in the other direction by some recent reading I’ve done that suggests that Christians are called to be so counter-cultural that working “within the system” has little or nothing to do with being the kingdom of God, that it is my Christian responsibility to participate in the process. I believe that a Christian should be a responsible and contributing citizen of the nation in which she or he lives and, in the constitutional republic of the United States, voting is foundational to such responsibility and contribution.
It is true that we make a fundamental mistake when we confuse any kingdom of this world with the kingdom of God and when we try to make any kingdom of this world coterminous with the kingdom of God. It is also true that in a sense we Christians are strangers in a strange land; we are exiles who live far from our true home. But our Bibles give us guidance as to how to live in such circumstances. Between the first deportation of residents of Judah to Babylon in 597 B.C.E. and the second one in 587 B.C.E. and in an environment in which some prophets were telling the exiles that they would be going home soon, the prophet Jeremiah wrote a letter to the exiles. The advice he gave them is instructive for us citizens of heaven who live on earth: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). In our American context, surely engaging in responsible citizenship is one way to “seek the welfare” of the nation.
My sense of patriotic duty is supplemented, then, by my sense of Christian responsibility.
Still, I resist the notion that I belong to some kind of voting “bloc” because I am a Christian; I reject the idea that all Christians are bound to arrive at the same conclusions regarding issues or regarding candidates. I do not want to be so stereotyped and I have no desire to engage in such stereotyping. I am not one of those people who aver, “I just don’t see how a Christian could vote for…”—and I hear that said in every election cycle.
In America, each individual has the privilege and responsibility of studying the issues, evaluating the candidates, making his or her choice, and then voting his or her conscience. One person casts one vote and at the end of the day we are still one nation—that’s the way it is supposed to be and I pray that at the end of the day tomorrow we will somehow find a greater sense of unity.
I am a realist—I recognize that a President can make only so much of a difference and I don’t put too much stock in human leaders, anyway.
But I am also an optimist—as I have written previously, I have some hope that, regardless of which of the two candidates wins, change will be in the offing. And I hope that it is positive and productive change.
I’m not naïve, though. In the movie Dick, a charmingly outlandish take on the events of Watergate, as President Nixon is flying away following his resignation, the two teenaged protagonists, Arlene (Michelle Williams) and Betsy (Kirsten Dunst) are watching the helicopter. One says to the other, “They’ll never lie to us again.”
We all know better.
My one hope, though, is that whoever is elected President will work toward more cooperation and more bipartisanship and more openness in government. After all, he will be the one President of this one nation and greater unity in these challenging times is something we most desperately need.