How to Follow Jesus and Love Our Neighbors Without Voting (Guest Post by Samantha E. Lioi)

(I am thankful to have a guest post by a new friend, Samantha Lioi. Things like Justice, Peace, and Community, are not just ideals to hold for her, but are integral parts of her life. I thought it would be helpful to have a countering perspective to the model I presented earlier, for which I have not completely sold myself on nonetheless. I’m thankful for my sister’s radical and anti-imperial witness in the midst of complacent and comfortable approach to politics. Enjoy! – Drew)

“Love does not enter into competition, and therefore it cannot be defeated.” Karl Barth[1]

 

The acts of love we must undertake as disciples of Jesus, the risen Christ, are much riskier than voting.  Using our voices—our real-time, audible voices—and standing with our bodies in the way of injustice (for ex., standing with someone at an immigration hearing, sitting with a family whose son was arrested on false charges, walking with a community whose right to exist is threatened by neighbors or armed corporations) is much different from thinking of voting as voice.  If we consider our vote to carry our voice, we must consider whether voting functions this way for members of society whose voices are routinely set aside or completely unheard.

 

I’m grateful for the written voice of my friend Nekeisha Alexis-Baker, whose family immigrated to New York City when she was in grade school and who is a naturalized citizen of the United States.  In explaining her choice as a black woman not to vote, she questions this idea of voting-as-voice, and points to what I find to be a compelling trend from the Civil Rights era.  “Between 1955 an 1977, acts of civil disobedience decreased, and the number of black registered voters and elected officials increased. In this period, legislation favorable to blacks also decreased, and economic positions of black people deteriorated.”[2]  It may be that direct action involving physical risk is much more effective in moving lawmakers toward justice than electing a representative we believe will enact justice or attempting to direct current lawmakers through our votes.

 

It is important for Christians to ask the practical question, “What actions and collaborations with God and others will contribute to increased well-being for the weakest, most at-risk members of our society?”  It is equally important for us to realize this is a question about how we use our power, and when Christians think of power, we should think of the upside-down, unreasonable power of the cross and resurrection.  We are easily seduced by our belief in our ability to make things happen.  I do not want to dismiss effectiveness; however, I do want to remind us that the cross did not appear anything close to effective as a way of bringing deliverance to the Jewish people.  It was, quite obviously to all onlookers at the time, a defeat—a shameful, final defeat, the kind from which people turn away their faces.  I know you know this.  But we are human and we forget.  This is the Gospel we proclaim; this shameful, strange, violent death and the equally shocking rising of Jesus is, for his followers, the undeniable picture of our God, the God who dies in human flesh and the God who breathes life in places of death.  And voting for President of the United States of America, a participation in choosing who will have the highest seat of power in our government, does not immediately appear relevant to the cross and resurrection of Jesus.  It is often a way of claiming power over those with whom we are at odds (including other Christians), and it is a turning over of our power to someone more influential, to someone higher up.  Jesus surrendered his power only to the One who sent him, and drew his healing power from this One, and we are to imitate this way of living.

 

I have heard some say they fear that if we don’t vote, we who are most privileged (and I include myself in that category—in terms of racialized identity, education and access to financial resources) will disengage, because more often than not, our lives are not significantly affected by changes in the Oval Office.  But apathy and complacency among those most comfortable is a constant problem in every society, and as I observe our behaviors, voting does not address this problem.  We privileged one’s vote and feel we have done our duty.  Having voted for a man we believe will best support the nation’s common good, we can then disengage from the day-to-day struggles and lives of people who lack the social, financial, and cultural padding we enjoy.  If we take time at all to struggle with the questions around voting, perhaps we will choose to act, showing up in the flesh to work for widespread well-being.

 

Still, I admit it is sometimes true that getting certain people into office helps the immediate cause of vulnerable people.  And I have deep respect for those who choose to vote because their daily, direct work with vulnerable people makes it impossible for them to imagine not voting—especially when those vulnerable people—because of legal status or other barriers—have no possibility of voting themselves.  In cases like this, I understand that voting feels like the action with the most integrity, and there is a sense of acting on behalf of specific people, friends, with faces and stories one knows like one’s own.  At the same time, let us also admit that this situation and this amount of thoughtful deliberation is not descriptive of most U.S. Christians or their reasons for voting.

 

Whether we choose to vote or not, as the people of God we do not arrange our lives around the timetables of elections but around God’s year-round actions of reconciling love, remembered in the story of the Divine taking on flesh, growing up as an ordinary child, teaching, healing, dying, rising, and sending the Holy Spirit.  Nor do the decisions of elected officials limit the boundless plenty of the Creator, from whose open hand the desires of every living thing are satisfied.  Whenever and wherever the needs of God’s creatures are not filled, it is ours to partner with this ever-creating God to see that the plenty is justly shared.  This partnership is not dependent on voting or upon any other human institution, including church institutions.

 

The acts of love we must undertake are much more costly than voting.  Let us encourage one another in the risky, full-bodied love of the Risen One.


[1]              Quoted as an epigram in Lewis, Ted. Electing Not to Vote: Christian Reflections on Reasons for Not Voting (Eugene, Ore: Cascade Books, 2008).

[2]              Nekeisha Alexis-Baker, “Freedom of Voice: Non-Voting and the Political Imagination,” in Lewis, Electing Not to Vote, 36, emphasis mine.

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Does Simplistic Opposition Against “the Other” ever work?

Can we all just stop for a moment? Amidst all the yelling and arguing, finger pointing, partisan-political emails, TV News propaganda, YouTube video conspiracy theories, and anger, we must all ask ourselves one little question… has any of this helped in anyway other than to strengthen the resolve on both sides that the other is the enemy???

Can’t we see that when you aggressively oppose the agenda or act of “the other” we actually end up strengthening their cause. The end result is always the opposite of what one’s original motivations were.  This cycle of madness is done on both sides of the aisle, and we are all to blame.  In a desire to see one movement stop we simplistically oppose it and in return strengthen the resolve and tactics of the other side.  It’s time to step back from these simplistic oppositions and begin to engage in healthy dialogue as though we are all created in God’s Image.

People are complex, issues are complex, society is complex.  When you apply simple answers to a complex world, you do not always get the results that you originally intended. If you want someone to change their mind on an issue… probably yelling at them while holding mean signs is not going to get it done. If you somehow miraculously convince one out of a thousand people through those means, the other 999 will develop greater resolve and become more organized in responding to your tirade.

Here’s an idea… why don’t we try the slow yet proven method of REAL conversation. Sit down over a cup of coffee, a beer, or a sweet tea and share your stories, experiences, and how the issue that you are passionate about hits home for you. Uh but wait, remember that conversation takes two to work, so you need to allow the other person to share their own stories and experiences.

Now I know that crusading around opposing everything may feel more like the right thing to do, but in the end we look back and must ask ourselves what have we really accomplished. No, for those who actually want to see change come are going to have to do it the old fashioned way… by rolling up those sleeves and investing yourself and much time in people and communities as you begin building bridges of mutual trust, respect, and understanding.

If not we are destined to the continuing escalation of resistance, tension, and division that has defined us as a people in America.

I’m Just Sayin!

Can we ever disagree without hateful and dehumanizing language???

I don’t think that civil conversation is possible in the American arena and context.  So much hatred, bigotry, and ignorance has overwhelmed all chances of truly human interaction.  There are some deep ideological differences in our country, and they will never be bridged with the atmosphere of racism and apathy that currently exist.

When I heard what happened to civil rights leader John Lewis I wasn’t  even surprised… and that is what scares me.  It’s like the last year has pushed us backwards in racial progress, rather than forward as many people expected (I actually didn’t).

I must be the only one sick of all this, I just might have to move to the West Indies…

I Never Expected This… What An Honor!

Well I didn’t win a noble prize… but another blogger and frequent guest to my site has awarded me with this GBA award!!! Speechless. Well I don’t want to thank God first for the inspiration, my Mom and Dad who believed in me, my wife for all her support, and all the other little people who made this possible!

Thanks Pam (from Notes Along the Path blog) for joining the cypha over at freestyle theology and for your generous award!

Is race a factor in Health Care reform?

Race seems to always be a touchy subject on my blog. This is due partly because there is a wide variety of perspectives, ideologies, and theologies coming together to dialogue, which I think is a good thing.  Rather than avoiding it, I think continual dialogue is needed.  So I thought this video of Tim wise talking briefly on the subject could open up the discussion. Before anyone completely rips everything he says to shreds, please LISTEN first, and try to hear what he is saying.  Also lets all continue to work on being respectful to one another, treating one another with dignity.  Imagine us less worried about proving our point and supporting our parties ideology, and more concerned with building unity, understanding, and empathy, as we all move towards the goal of mutually benificial progress.  Freestyle with me, how has race impacted American politics?