on voting

Some pieces from a recent discussion...

You're right, "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 do so much damage 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.

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.

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.