Throughout the history of movements inspired by Jesus, there are complicated theologies and philosophies around civic engagement, participation in government, voting, etc. In some eras, the church has found itself a tool of the state. During other eras, faithful Christians found solace in prophetic disengagement. The believing community has always had to faithfully navigate their context – the signs of the times they were living in, the powers that controlled, and the injustices they saw.
Do we see voting in this upcoming election as part of our Christian responsibility? Is voting a part of our theological understanding? What does voting, or not voting, say about our faith? Where does voting fit into our Christian walk?
I have noticed that some of our white brothers and sisters were taught to stay away from politics. I have heard them reflect that they were instructed to not discuss it at the dinner table, with guests, or in the pulpit. Perhaps Christian decency suggested that they ought to exchange their opinions and perspectives on voting for a wider Christian unity that transcends the politics of the day.
I have always found this to be odd. In reality, politics drives a lot of our lives. Not just national politics – which can seem polarizing and unnecessarily volatile – but also local politics which can have a direct impact on our families and children.
The Black Church tradition has taught me that politics is personal, and that Jesus is interested in personal areas of my life. I was taught that there was no area of my life that I was not supposed to search my faith diligently as I engage. Even if this includes socially uncomfortable topics like personal finance, parenting, sexuality, or even politics.
The elders and ancestors taught me about voting specifically. Namely that voting is the way we show up in the world and a chance to care for our neighbor. Voting is a way to love your neighbor, because we have a way to vote in and out policies that help or hurt the vulnerable.
Voting was also a communal exercise for me growing up. It was a way to connect with neighbor, come together against injustice, and together try to hold up God’s common good in the world. Voting was a way to organize community and share a collective voice despite our differences. We were able to lift up local leadership and keep everyone encouraged to stay in the fight for justice.
Lastly, voting was a way to encourage young people. I will never forget when Philadelphia, the city I grew up in, elected its first black mayor. The event elevated the aspirations of young people and was one of the few times we saw ourselves in power and leadership within the city.
I am not saying that there are not many good reasons to be frustrated with the federal government, voting policy, or candidates. I am saying that deep within my tradition is a call to faith and action at every moment, especially one as critical as this.
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