The Common Good

A 'Postmodern Negro' Perspective on Not Voting

I'm voting in this election, not with naivete but with sincere enthusiasm. Not with any messianic hopes, but with a deep sense of moral responsibility as a shareholder or steward of the richest, most dominant, and most well-armed nation in the world. I had another long talk with a friend a couple weeks back who, on religious grounds, is passionately against voting. He had read my earlier posts on the subject, but wasn't convinced to vote. Nor was I convinced by his counter-arguments to practice voting abstinence. But this piece posted on the emergent village site by Anthony Smith [a.k.a. Postmodern Negro] made me want to nudge my nonvoting friend once more. Anthony offers better reasons to vote than the ones I shared with my nonvoting friend -- who like me is a privileged white guy.

Responding to some thoughts posted by David Fitch, who in turn was responding to some statements by Stanley Hauerwas, Anthony said:

I live with a tragic history that remembers the failure of churches to be more determined by color than baptism. A reality we still wrestle with today. But a part of that tragic history is how fellow Christians, on this continent, refused to let people of color in on the conversation called America. What they didn't know was that we already had our own conversation, and we wanted them in on it. Even though we had our own conversation going since the beginning of sojourn, we still wanted to join in as fellow citizens and broaden the conversation. We wanted to bring our gifts to the table. We wanted equity along racial lines. A piece to the puzzle to achieving such equity was the practice of voting.

Voting, as it is oftentimes seen by historically marginalized groups, is a precious gift. It is not seen, within the language game of the prophetic black church, as a form of violence. That voting is seen as a means of violence can only come from Christians who don't know what it is like to be without the gift. This is why the loudest voices for political disengagement on Gospel grounds tend to be of lighter hue. It is another form of advantage to eschew voting. I profoundly agree with Christians engaging in anti-imperial practices or pro-kingdom activities that give sign to another world in our midst. But understand my suspicion. I am postmodern, after all.

Anthony makes an important point. Similarly, when I hear folks in the U.S. dissing voting as dirtying ourselves with the business of the empire, I keep wondering, "How would somebody in Zimbabwe respond to that kind of talk?" Or considering how few votes in Florida it would have taken for George Bush not to have been elected in 2000, I wonder how bereaved and maimed Iraqis -- and Americans -- would respond to Floridians who decided to make a religious statement by not voting? Anthony continues:

I have this habit of being suspicious whenever white Christians tell me what to do. I think it has something to do with history. Not sure. Pray for me. But the history doesn't look too good, for the most part. Yet I am a part of the emerging church postmodern conversation. Here I am, and I am hearing more and more voices say things that leave me in a state of tension. When I hear them say, "I am not voting because I am a Christian," I also hear the guttural cry of slaves in the cotton fields of Alabama praying for freedom from oppression. When I hear them say, "Voting is one more means to be about the business of Empire," I also hear the voice of an assassinated prophet say, "We must have our freedom now. We must have the right to vote. We must have equal protection of the law."

I hear something different than those who suggest voting is a mechanism of Empire. It may have something to do with the place from which I cast my ballot.

Voting isn't the only expression of our faith in public affairs, of course. But it's hard for me, even more so in light of Anthony's words, not to see it as an important first step, as an expression and solidarity with my neighbors in the U.S. and around the world, which is inherent to my faith in God and gospel.

Brian McLaren is an author and speaker and serves as Sojourners' board chair.

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