Christ Inside the Curtain
I miss the old voting booths. I remember a jittery 21-year old standing in line on a windy November morning in Tacoma, Washington to cast my first vote for president. The atmosphere was intimidating and exhilarating. When my turn arrived I walked up to a woman sitting behind an enormous computer print out and nervously said my name. As she looked through the list I imagined myself in front of Saint Peter waiting to see if my name appeared in the Book of Life. It did. So I was escorted into the high school gymnasium and up to a phone-booth sized voting machine that looked like an airplane cockpit. Levers all tilted the same direction waiting for me to manipulate each one to align with my budding worldview. As I stepped inside there was a large lever and the lady behind me instructed me to pull it. As I did the gears screeched and a blue curtain closed behind me. This was it. My moment. I was all alone. No one to see or comment on the choices I was about to make. No one…but God. And I knew it.
When I emerged from the booth I was filled with a sense of pride for a country that allowed me the privilege to participate in such an orderly, honest and egalitarian process. I relished the fact that my choices carried the same weight as the candidates themselves. On this day, in this little booth, we were absolute equals. One person – one vote.
I miss those days. I now live in a state that has adopted mail-in balloting. Gone are the lines of waiting citizens joking and enjoying community as they prepared to carry out an awesome responsibility. Gone is the moment when you find yourself on the list affirming that you had registered and showed up to take seriously this supreme privilege. Gone are the screechy voting booths, the smiling polling place volunteers, the cookies and the little sticker you proudly wore on your lapel that said ‘I Voted, Have You?’
In their place our ballots arrive by mail, stuck somewhere between the gas bill and the Cabela’s sales flyer. We sit and fill them out by coloring in little circles reminiscent of the SAT exams we loathed so many decades ago. And then we just send it off in the mail along with the payment on the Sears card and the Ducks Unlimited membership renewal. And that’s it.
I know statistics show that this form of balloting has not decreased the response rate, but I believe it has stolen some of the dignity of what is becoming a choice far too many make with little thought or seeming consequence. My concern in this blog is not with the loss of a voting method (although I do miss my cookie) but with the loss of a sense of gravitas, of privilege, honor and, most importantly, a loss of the duty we have to steward this quadrennial moment of supreme and sacred obligation.
Sacred? Yes. Any right that cost the lives of so many to secure and preserve carries with it a sense of the sacred. But it is more than that. It is sacred because it engages us in a process that requires us to demonstrate the reality of our faith. One way or another, our vote bears witness to our morality, our ethics and our worldview. Regardless of the anonymity of the actual process, we make a declaration in the presence of God. Our vote is more than a political statement, it is an indication of our true colors as a follower of Jesus. For this reason, it is also a sacred event.
Behind the blue curtain where the political and sacred become indistinguishable, I believe we are witnessing a sort of Satanic incision designed to excise our faith from our voting decisions. While the source of the artificial dissection is our cosmic enemy, the champions of it are many who call themselves Christian. It’s as if the advertising slogan, ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’ is being applied to the voting booth, or in our case, the kitchen table.
This is a supreme failure of stewardship. The freedom to cast a ballot is a stewardship issue. We have been granted the rare privilege of voting, and we dare not do it with anything less than our fullest commitment to faithfulness in this task.
So how do we steward our vote? How do we ensure that our ballot selections reflect our biblical convictions? Here is a simple three-step guide.
Step #1 – Reject the Temptation to be an Owner-Voter
As in every other area of our life, we will make a decision to vote as either an owner or a steward. To vote as an owner is to believe that our vote is our vote. We may say we believe that God owns everything, but that somehow stops in the voting booth. Jesus may be lauded as the Lord of our life, but when it comes to our political involvement, He is politely asked to remain outside the blue curtain.
Owner-voters may be sincere but they do not allow the leading of the Holy Spirit to influence the way they vote. This may be due to an intentional desire to ignore such influence or it may simply be that it has never occurred to them that God cares about their ballot decisions.
I fear that what is labeled the ‘evangelical vote’ is nothing more than the abdication of our steward responsibility in favor of an ownership approach to voting. We are witnessing a rejection of a Spirit-led evaluation of the candidates in exchange for the application of a criteria that is extra-biblical at best, and un-biblical at worst.
To be faithful stewards of our privilege to vote we must start by rejecting the idea that the values we demonstrate by our vote are somehow divorced from the values of the kingdom of God in which we claim to live and serve. Instead, we must embrace the call to be steward-voters and bring our balloting decisions under the sovereignty of God and the authority of His kingdom.
Step #2 – Know the Will of the True Owner
At the risk of sounding trite, we need to ask, ‘how would Jesus vote?’ That is, if God is the owner of everything including the vote we cast, then how is His will reflected in the values of the candidates our votes support?
We are told in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Does glorifying God in all we do include our voting decisions? If so, how do we steward our vote in a way that brings glory to God? For starters, I suggest we ask the following of the candidates we will support:
- Do they stand for values that align with kingdom values?
- Do they reflect a character that is influenced by God’s reality and presence?
- Do they acknowledge a genuine faith in God and a desire to be led by Him?
- Do they espouse plans that will not hinder the work of the gospel?
- Will they work for peace, protect the vulnerable and pursue justice for all?
You can add your own items to the list to be sure you have a criteria that best aligns with God’s requirements for faithful leadership.
Of course we know that many candidates are not believers, or at least do not exhibit a life that witnesses a desire to follow Christ. Do we only vote for known believers? If so, our ballot may remain mostly blank. While we may not be required to vote only for committed believers, are we not at least responsible to withhold a vote from candidates that promote values that conflict with kingdom values and live lives that are in contradistinction from godliness and a sense of sincere reverence?
Can we be faithful stewards if we claim allegiance to the Kingdom of God while at the same time voting for candidates who will work in opposition to the values of that same kingdom? Being stewards of our vote means we will diligently seek to support candidates that align as closely as possible to kingdom values. How else could God be glorified in our vote?
Step #3 – Define Success in Kingdom Terms
What is the ultimate goal of our act of voting? Is voting an act of faithfulness or do we seek only to ‘back a winner’? I have heard faithful Christians move away from godly candidates to vote for morally questionable ones merely because they had a better chance of winning. While this may be strategic, is it faithful? Does God ask us to back winners or be obedient and faithful in our choice of candidate?
What would our voting record look like if glorifying God was our sole motive and faithfulness was our only motivation? What would the ‘evangelical vote’ look like if every follower of Jesus were stewards of their ballot and voted ‘as unto the Lord’? And who might we put in office if every American who called themselves Christian voted for the values that name represents?
Today, in high school gymnasiums and fire fighter halls across the country, evangelicals will be gathering to vote. Let us pray that they will steward their votes as faithful followers of Jesus seeking to glorify Him in their selection and supporting candidates that best reflect the values of His kingdom. And when our turn comes, may we invite Christ inside the curtain and do the same.