For most of my life I had been functionally apolitical. True, like most Americans, every four years, I stayed up late and woke up early, just to see the results of the Presidential election. And, I usually had chosen someone I hoped would win. But it wasn't until the election in 2000 that actually registered to vote. That year I was excited by a candidate who identified openly as a Christian, George W. Bush. The largest issue on my radar at the time was abortion, and Bush was the pro-life candidate. That year, I cast my vote, certain that I had done something that helped advance the values of God's kingdom.
I don't think I started to question that until after the invasion of Iraq. No convincing case was ever made for how it all connected to 9/11 or Al Qaida. Then came the news, about Guantanamo, indefinite detention, "enhanced interrogation," the revelation of black torture sites, lies about WMD, lies to the U.N. about mobile weapons labs, lies about Saddam seeking uranium in Niger. But I think the thing that completely shattered my confidence was Abu Ghraib. By the time the 2004 election came around, I was disillusioned, and chose to sit that one out.
When 2008 came around, I voted for Obama, like most Americans I was ready for change. Though I never bought into the near messianic fever he generated in that election. My intent was to put the breaks on the momentum and direction of the Bush Administration - which the Republican party seemed determined to continue. I remember John McCain's "Bomb Bomb Iran" joke with disgust and revulsion. I knew Barak Obama could never live up to the hype generated by the election. He didn't really have to do or be anything. But I assumed that a candidate who belonged to the other party, might actually follow through on stopping policies he claimed to oppose. I was wrong.
The first sign of this came early, when Obama appointed many of the same people, or same kinds of people, to positions the Bush administration had. The next was when he failed to close Guantanamo. Then, the extension and expansion of spying, the use of drone strikes.
Today I realize, that the problem with politics goes deeper than which party you belong to. If we want to really effect Godly change in our world, we need to go deeper too than that. So I have a plan.
Here is my strategy, and it is very simple.
- Vote or Don't
- Keep Schtum
Karl Barth once said "To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world," a man who confronted one of the greatest evils of human history believed first and foremost in the power of prayer. No political party has God's seal of approval, and when Christians belong to the other party, it isn't because they are evil or stupid, it is because they have prioritized their values differently.
Prayer will ultimately lead to action. But that action may or may not be voting. Voting is not the only valid form of response. And it may not the most effective form at that. In fact recent Princeton study on voting revealed that the popularity of a policy actually has little to no effect whatsoever on whether that policy was adopted. It has roughly a 30% chance of passing no matter how many people support it. Why? Because of all the money in politics (you can watch a youtube summary of that study here).
If prayerful consideration of your options does lead you to vote, you probably shouldn't talk about it. John Pavlovitz recently posted 10 Ways American Christians are Compromising our Testimony in the World. Of these 10 reasons, at least 3 of them have to do with the barriers created by politics. In other words - we are sacrificing the Good for the sake of the less good (or not good), we are sacrificing the eternal for what is temporal. We are perhaps closing the doors of God's kingdom on men and women for the sake of winning an election.
A county fair was holding a weight guessing game. Anyone guessing the butchered weight of a cow would be could win some sort of prize. As expected, the best guesses were by experts. People who made their living off of cattle. The guesses of random people, on the other hand, varied widely. Confident his theory would be proven, Galton performed some additional calculations. He wanted to know just how far of the mark most of the guesses actually were. So he decided to play around with the numbers. One of the techniques he used was to find the median guess of all the guesses - when he did, he was shocked. The median guess of all of these "stupid" people was closer than the best guess among the experts.
This effect has been proven again and again - and is the basis of an amazing parlor trick involving guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar. The magician reads off all the guesses, then is told the median guess and presents that guess as his own. This median guess is almost always the most accurate. Notice the caveat however - that the participants are not allowed to discuss their guesses. This is important because the Wisdom of Crowds depends upon a diversity of opinion coming to bear on a single question. Wildly off target guesses get outnumbered by more reasonable guesses. Extreme forms of reasoning are canceled out by people who reason the extreme opposite. And the most reasonable guesses converge upon the right answer. When people are allowed to persuade one another the group actually looses this diversity of approach and becomes stupider. People defer to someone because they look intelligent, or because they identify with them socially, or perhaps they simply would rather defer to someone elses opinion than their own.
In other words, all of the things that make politics bad and contribute to people making poor decisions, the showmanship, the lies, etc. all of it arises from people trying to influence other people. By the way, this is also what makes politics distasteful to everyone, and so hurtful to the testimony of the follower of Christ. Because when you make partisanship part of your litmus test of "Christian Orthodoxy", you basically shut the door of God's Kingdom in the face of people for whom Christ died, simply because they are different (Luke 6:32).
What would you call a large percentage of voters who are not clearly defined and whose actions cannot be predicted from one election to the next? It actually has a name. It's called a swing vote. Chuck Colson once said that Christians were the most pliable of all of Nixon's constituents.
“One of my jobs in the White House was to romance religious leaders. We would bring them into the White House and they would be dazzled by the aura of the Oval Office, and I found them to be about the most pliable of any of the special interest groups that we worked with.” (The King's Chapel)That basically amounts to us being easy to manipulate. But what if we weren't. If Christians were just a little more coy, played hard to get, Christian values would actually exert a tempering influence on the excesses of both parties - as they competed for our votes. Whereas if we are content to live in the brothel of one party - they can make us all the promises in the world and never live up to them - because we are too afraid to threaten to leave.
So my political strategy is not simply about playing it safe, it is prioritizing the mission of the Kingdom of God. It is responsible, and scientifically sound. So when this election comes around, vote if you want to, but don't talk about it, it really doesn't make a big difference anyway.