The Library Basement
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Electing Not to Vote (5): Michael Degan

This is the fifth in my series of interactions with the essays collected in Electing Not to Vote: Christian Reflections on Reasons for Not Voting. Michael Degan provides an essay entitled “Electing Not to Vote: Whether Choosing Red or Blue, Politics Is Love of Mammon.” Degan's approaches the issue of voting subjectively.  That is, he examines the issue mostly in terms of how the political process affects individuals.  He opens with the following question:

Was the vision of God's kingdom for which I was ostensibly working, hoping, and praying - and voting - honored by participating in a political culture that seemed to bring out the worst in me; that lead me to demonize those on the other side of my views; that caused me to think, feel, an sometimes act, in a word, unchristianly? (50)

Therefore it seems Degan's critique is particular to certain political climates, as exemplified by the 2004 presidential election in the US.  The essay first examines the Mennonite principle of nonparticipation in government.  This has been largely abandoned within Mennonite communities, however, and too many Christians have subscribed to the "red/blue divide." Also, Degan fears that Christians might see the state as the means establishing God's kingdom, that the great commission has been "reduced to merely putting like-minded Christians in charge of everything." (52)

Degan proposes a twofold justification for not voting within the Anabaptist tradition: two-kingdom theology and nonresistance.  As I have noted before, I find the concept of Christian nonparticipation in government incredibly problematic.  If the governments are ordained, and if we are called to pray for our leaders, how could government service be unacceptable?  With regard to nonresistance, it echoes an argument John D. Roth made in the first chapter of this collection: if you think violence is unacceptable, you can hardly commission someone (namely the US President - the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces) to do that on your behalf.

Degan moves on from here to once again discuss how voting had an adverse effect on him.  He also laments the problems with gerrymandering and other flaws in the American electoral process.  In this the essay becomes a bit muddled.  On the one hand, he makes a theological point that Christians should not vote.  On the other, he talks about his subjective experience, some particular problems with voting in the US, and the fact that political participation can consume too much of a Christian's energy, none of which have anything to do with whether or not Christians should be voting in principle.

Indeed, he closes the essay by admiting there is nothing intrinsically wrong with voting, which makes me wonder why he spent so many words explaining the Mennonite traditions. I think there is another approach to voting which Degan has not considered.  In his description, voting forces people to not love their enemies.  The way I see it, enemy-hating is something that each person brings to the vote.  That unruly passions are brought to bear on the vote, and that these passions lead to sin, is not a necessary part of the voting process.  I believe that Christians can vote dispassionately.  That is, they can make an informed decision based on the issues while still loving their opponents.  One can vote for A or B, or abstain, and do it with a clear conscience.  However, the same clear conscience tells us that voting may be more a matter of personal preference than right and wrong.  Dispassionate voting is becoming the basis for my understanding of Christian participation in democratic politics.

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