The Common Good

What Is Your Vote Based On?

All of us who choose to vote must base our vote on something.

For some people, it's party. They're Democrats or Republicans and from election to election, they support whomever the party serves up. For others, it's a litmus-test issue -- abortion, homosexuality, war, whatever. For others, it's fear or hope or some other "gut-level" appeal -- whoever scares or inspires them the most gets their vote. And for still others, it's a "group thing" -- they belong to a group (a race, a religion, an interest group, trade union, a social class, or whatever) that issues a statement on which candidate is most attractive to their group, and that's who wins their vote.

For many of us, none of these factors are satisfying.

My faith and commitment as a follower of Jesus won't let me decide based solely on party, litmus test, emotional appeal, or group affiliation. Rather than voting along party lines, I evaluate each candidate on his or her merits. I don't have a single litmus-test issue -- I see a wide range of issues that are all in play with varying degrees of weight. (More on this in a future post.) While I realize that both hope and fear have a role in all my decisions ... I don't want to be swayed by emotion alone. And because my faith commits me to a concern for "the common good," I can't simply let the interests of the groups I am part of determine my vote, but I must have a special concern for the poor and vulnerable, and must even take the needs of my enemies into account.

That, by the way, means I can't simply vote on what's best for Christians, or Protestants, or evangelicals, or whatever. My Christian commitment obligates me to ask what's best for Muslims, Jews, atheists, Buddhists, and others. And my understanding of environmental stewardship obligates me to ask what's best for birds of the air, flowers of the field, and fish of the sea too. Since they don't have a vote, I need to try to speak on their behalf. And as a citizen of God's kingdom, which transcends all national boundaries, I can't simply vote based on what's best for U.S. citizens: My vote has to have in mind the good of Mexicans, Canadians, Iraqis, Iranians, Chinese, and Burundians as well.

In this way, my faith doesn't make my voting easier ... it calls me away from a broad and easy highway to the voting booth to a rough and challenging path. Harder, yes, but for me, better by far.

Brian McLaren is an author and speaker and serves as Sojourners' board chair. You can learn about his books, music, and other resources at brianmclaren.net.

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