In part one, I explained in detail why I, as a Christian Anarchist, have traditionally chosen not to vote. Today I’ll be looking at the issue from the other side, and considering what some Christian Anarchists have to say in favor of voting. I want to stress that this dialogue is still very open for me, even though it was once a closed case. I’m actively in the process of reading and interacting with more schools of thought even as I write this; so it’s very possible that what I write today may change tomorrow.
Before I get down to nuts and bolts, though, I want to share a very significant challenge that has prompted me to reevaluate where I stand. I’m not sure if my position will end up changing, but I always want to remain open to that with anything I believe, especially when a challenge as big as this one is raised.
On the matter of privilege
A few years ago, it was pointed out to me that maybe the only reason I can choose to opt out of the system is because of my privilege. Like it or not, as a straight white male born in the (lower) middle class and raised in a city voted one of the top places to live in the country and in one of the “whitest” states in America, I have never had to deal with systemic injustice and oppression.* Until I moved to Chicago, the very idea of these things was totally foreign to me. Thanks to some very dear African American friends, especially in classes at my seminary, where social justice was a very important topic, I learned a whole lot about the realities of the dark underbelly of American politics. Many aspects of politics affect minorities, underprivileged, and marginalized people groups far more than they affect the privileged majority.
(Please remember: privilege doesn’t make you a bad person, so there’s no reason for anyone to get offended by the word. It describes a very real set of socio-economic systems and cultural biases that have impacted generations of African Americans, as well as Hispanics, Native Americans, and other minorities. Privilege doesn’t mean you haven’t had struggles and difficulties in life; privilege just means that your skin color [or gender, sexual orientation, etc.] was never the source of any of those struggles or difficulties.)
If I am going to hold true to my convictions and continue to believe that abstaining from voting is the best way to demonstrate faithful witness to the Kingdom of God, as I argued in part one, then I have to take this challenge seriously. If it is true that it is easier for me to opt out because it doesn’t affect me as much - and I think it is - then that fact has to come into dialogue with my other reasons. I’ll confess that I don’t have an answer yet, but I’m still searching. In the meantime, let’s look at some Christian Anarchist perspectives that are positively inclined towards the decision to vote.
The unifying factor
First, it’s important to remember that Christian Anarchist is a very broad term. Theologically speaking, at least, it has been applied to many people who never use it directly but whose views line up with it. It certainly isn’t a club with membership cards - after all, that wouldn’t be very anarchist. Therefore, it’s impossible to find anything like a unified position on the issue, or even to divide everyone up neatly into two or three camps.
Still, voting or non-voting, there is one thing that all Christian Anarchists are united on. Whoever and whatever we vote for, it must be clear that it is not an act of service to the Kingdom of God. In contrast to Martin Luther and Saint Augustine, Christian Anarchists refuse to blend the two kingdoms of God and of Empire - hopefully that much is clear by this point in the series! In fact, this common ground is far from unique; it goes well beyond just “Christian Anarchism” and into most narrative theology, Christian pacifism, and Anabaptist theology (a close friend of C.A.).
The details of what makes for better laws are obviously worth debating, but all Christian Anarchists are clear that no one should vote in order to make the nation “Christian.” We cannot mix the Kingdom of God and participation in (so-called) democracy; Greg Boyd goes so far as to say that if you’re going to vote, you need to totally separate it in your mind from any “Kingdom work” in your life. It’s not just that voting is only one tiny act of service to the Kingdom among many greater ones - it’s that it isn’t an act of service to the Kingdom at all. (Boyd has traditionally abstained from voting, while also suggesting that others have freedom to make their own choice about it, as long as they can keep it in perspective.)**
The case for voting: love of others and solidarity with the poor
From what I have gathered, there only seems to be one real appeal that Christian Anarchists are willing to make in favor of voting, and it doesn’t resemble the reasons most Americans will give as to why they consider voting important. When you boil it down, the only compelling arguments are related to loving your neighbor, specifically by showing compassion to the “least of these.”
Shane Claiborne is a well-known Christian activist, New Monastic, and radical minimalist. He has worked for justice and restoration in underprivileged areas for many years now. His book about his intentional community, The Irresistible Revolution, had a massive impact on the way I understood my faith as a teenager.
For Shane, voting is about standing in solidarity with the poor. “Politics affects the people I love,” he says, and so there is no reason to opt out of the voting process. However, he is quite clear that there is far more to “politics” than mere political office, and the ways in which we stand in solidarity with the poor far transcend who we vote for. In fact, he seems to believe that voting is a very small way to do so, as he stated in this interview with Tony Campolo:
So when it comes to voting, I look at it not as a place to put our hope but a battle with the principalities and powers of this world. Voting is damage control. We try to decrease the amount of damage being done by those powers. And for the Christian, voting is not something we do every four years. We vote every day. We vote by how we spend money and what causes we support. We vote by how much gas we use and what products we buy. We align ourselves with things all the time. We pledge allegiance every day with our lives. The question is, Do those things line up with the upside-down kingdom of our God—where the poor, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers are declared “blessed”?
Relevant Magazine’s article on Voting your faith covers this topic in more detail. One quote that stands out is:
Since we are called to be in solidarity with ‘the least of these,’ treating them as we would Jesus Himself, I don’t see how we can refrain from giving it whenever our government’s policies are oppressing, marginalizing or otherwise discriminating against people who are largely, if not entirely, defenseless.
This goes back to the issue of privilege. It seems that for at least some Christian Anarchists, it is important to consider the potential impact of our voting on the poor and marginalized. Still, some argue that the very act of voting means you aren’t really an anarchist; but again, who exactly is setting up the regulating committee? As a theological system, there is a lot of common ground within Christian Anarchist thought; when it comes to applied ethics and practices, though, there tends to be a lot more gray area. Like Claiborne and Boyd, and unlike Christian Anarchist Jacques Ellul, I’ve never categorically stated that all Christians should abstain from voting, and I’m willing to admit that solidarity with and compassion for the marginalized is a compelling thought.
Sovereignty of the people
Before I wrap it up, I want to offer a nod to my dear friend Bill Hoard, who is an ethics and civics instructor as well as a hardcore anarchist … who votes. I was surprised to find out that he did, and I asked for his perspective on why. He acknowledges that he is in the minority, but he gave a very brief summary of his view, which he outlines a bit more in this article. Unfortunately, I don’t have space to interact in detail with his perspective, but I really wanted to include it here:
I vote because, based on the theory of government we have in the US, sovereignty lies with the people and not with the government. In effect, we have a bureaucracy and that is it. The president is not the analogue to the king - the people are. As a result, I am utterly unable to abrogate that authority (not that I don't want to, but that there isn't a way for me to), and I have to use it as responsibly as possible while recognizing at the same time that the whole system built to facilitate it is a thing of Empire and that I must therefore always be working towards its dissolution.
How then should we vote? (Assuming we choose to do so)
Well, I’m probably the wrong person to ask! But I think it’s important to make a few points that I think would be a good starting point for voting as a Christian Anarchist. As I’ve said before, just because Empire is broken and totally antithetical to the Kingdom of God does not mean that there aren't some ways of doing Empire that are better than others.
In other words, an Empire with less wars and a smaller military industrial complex is better than one with more. An Empire that protects the weak and marginalized on some level is better than one that doesn't - although what this looks like is a matter of debate. My pro-life friends will probably read this as a reason to vote against abortion, my “liberal” friends may read it as an reason to vote for labor laws and social welfare programs, and the folks at Red Letter Christians will read it as a reason to vote against the death penalty. (None of these are mutually exclusive, by the way. They’re just examples.)
Personally, I think one of the better political positions Christian Anarchists could hold (if they must hold one at all) is Libertarianism, since it is the most committed to reducing the power and control of the imperial government. But again, it may be easy for me to say this due to my social demographic. It’s easy to say we should just reduce the Empire’s power when it has never directly threatened or oppressed me.
The question of how a Christian Anarchist (which I am arguing should simply be a Christian) should vote - if we choose to - is obviously open to discussion. I don’t feel educated or qualified enough to give any kind of answer; especially since I have never voted!
Now that I’ve finished writing this article, it’s clear to me that I don’t really have anything even remotely new to say. The issue of choosing not to vote is controversial, whereas trying to argue in favor of it seems rather redundant. Still, my goal wasn’t to persuade or convince, but just to demonstrate - at least for myself, if not for others - that there are consistent ways to hold Christian Anarchist theology and a position in favor of voting. Elections are coming up soon, and much of the political dialogue in our country is focused on issues of privilege, marginalization, and the "least of these."
Still, it's important to remember, as always, that Empire is Empire, and we delude ourselves if we think that we can make it anything else. Even the best candidates are nothing more than a few options (usually relatively close to each other in the grand scheme of things, no matter how much fuel we pour on the fire) between different ways of playing the same game.
* I don’t want to give the impression my life was cushy, though. Between an abusive and dysfunctional household and serious financial challenges - perhaps borderline poverty at a few points - things weren’t rosy all the time. But remember: privilege isn’t about not having difficulties. (see above)
**At least as recently as the 2016 elections, this was his stated position, as I heard in an interview on the Seminary Dropout podcast and read in a few articles. However, a 2020 article from Relevant Magazine (cited above) seems to suggest his opinion has changed somewhat, although it is unclear. Since Relevant did not cite any source for the quotes from him, I have contacted Boyd’s ministry directly asking for clarification. Hopefully, I will get some, and if it prompts any more interesting discussion, I’ll be sure to share it on the blog.