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Pledging allegiance.

Electing Not to Vote: Christian Reflections on Reasons for Not Voting, edited by Ted Lewis. Cascade Books.

A round this time four years ago, I found myself having conversations with Christians of many different political and theological stripes about why they were planning to sit out the 2004 election. Several prominent Christian scholars published thoughtful essays arguing that, as Alasdair MacIntyre Alasdair Chalmers MacIntyre (born January 12, 1929 in Glasgow, Scotland) is a philosopher primarily known for his contribution to moral and political philosophy but known also for his work in history of philosophy and theology.  put it, "the way to vote against the system is not to vote."

I was, to put it simply, gob-smacked. Not voting? When so much was at stake? This struck me as irresponsible and perfectionist per·fec·tion·ism  
1. A propensity for being displeased with anything that is not perfect or does not meet extremely high standards.

. I felt my interlocutors were saying, in effect, "Because I disagree with Verb 1. disagree with - not be very easily digestible; "Spicy food disagrees with some people"
hurt - give trouble or pain to; "This exercise will hurt your back"
 both candidates on some core issues, I will excuse myself from the messy contradictions of our electoral politics--but I will still, daily, reap all the benefits of being a U.S. citizen." At the same time, I understood my friends" dilemma: If voting is one way to realize the Christian's responsibility to witness, then voting for a candidate who holds views that sharply clash with yours and those of your church community is difficult. Refusing to vote, in fact, is taken to he a witness itself.

This election season finds many of Its having the same conversations. Some of the more thoughtful and provocative contributions to that conversation may be found in the slim volume Electing Not to Vote: Christian Reflections on Reasons for Not Voting, edited by Ted Lewis. The nine essays included here--which are largely concerned with presidential elections and over which John Howard Yoder John Howard Yoder (December 29 1927 – December 30, 1997) was a Christian theologian, ethicist, and Biblical scholar best known for his radical Christian pacifism, his mentoring of future theologians such as Stanley Hauerwas, his loyalty to his Mennonite faith, and his 1972  unsurprisingly casts a long shadow--raise a good question: When are the options so bad, and an electoral system electoral system

Method and rules of counting votes to determine the outcome of elections. Winners may be determined by a plurality, a majority (more than 50% of the vote), an extraordinary majority (a percentage of the vote greater than 50%), or unanimity.
 so flawed, that Christians cannot in good conscience participate?

Several of the authors helpfully point out that we ought not to reduce our understanding of good citizenship to voting. In other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
put differently
, people who choose not to vote may still be engaged citizens by involving themselves in a host of other civil and political actions, from volunteering in the public schools to marching against the death penalty to withholding taxes. Similarly, those of us who do vote should not rest on our laurels, thinking we are good citizens simply because we cast a ballot once every four years.

YET, OCCASIONALLY I felt the authors were pulling punches. For example, several write that many Americans are unwilling to consider faith-based reasons for not voting because they see voting as "sacred." Obviously, Christians ought not to construe construe v. to determine the meaning of the words of a written document, statute or legal decision, based upon rules of legal interpretation as well as normal meanings.  the vote as sacred. We are in trouble if we think Barack Obama or John McCain For McCain's grandfather and father, see John S. McCain, Sr. and John S. McCain, Jr., respectively
John Sidney McCain III (born August 29, 1936 in Panama Canal Zone) is an American politician, war veteran, and currently the Republican Senior U.S. Senator from Arizona.
 is the messiah, or that voting is going to single-handedly usher in Verb 1. usher in - be a precursor of; "The fall of the Berlin Wall ushered in the post-Cold War period"
inaugurate, introduce

commence, lead off, start, begin - set in motion, cause to start; "The U.S.
 the reign of God. But this means that our problem doesn't lie in voting; our problem comes in what we expect when we vote. (Here let me gesture toward Yoder's observation that it is not politics but political activism linked to a calculus of achievement that is idolatrous i·dol·a·trous  
1. Of or having to do with idolatry.

2. Given to blind or excessive devotion to something: "The religiosity of the

Of the specific arguments put forward in this book, one was especially compelling--the pacifist argument, articulated most persuasively here by John D. Roth, professor of history at Goshen College. How can a true-blue pacifist vote in an election for commander in chief?. Put more broadly, if I know that in casting a vote, I am perforce per·force  
By necessity; by force of circumstance.

[Middle English par force, from Old French : par, by (from Latin per; see per) + force, force
 voting for future practices that I cannot condone, how can I in good conscience vote?

But in that question lies the very reason we should vote: We should vote because we cannot say, with certainty, that the future practices of the president will be those we cannot condone. Our history, and certainly our present, is replete with examples of presidents doing things that conflict with the politics of Jesus (to borrow a phrase). But there are also examples in our history of elected officials using the power of government to love the least of these and to promote peace. Our system does not necessarily produce war, but an election boycotted by pacifists is more likely to produce war than an election in which pacifists vote.

The protest of opting not to vote is a democratic protest that functions in a democratic context. It is a protest that itself implicates the protester in tile democratic polls. What, I wanted to ask the essayists The following is an abbreviated list of essayists, arranged alphabetically by last name (years of birth and death, if applicable, and country of birth, are noted in parentheses).

Note: An individual's country of birth is not always indicative of his or her nationality.
, if we did not have the freedom not to vote? What if we were disenfranchised?

Of course, this is one of the flaws of our electoral system, as several contributors point out--our system, formally and informally, disenfranchises certain people. But is the best form of solidarity with the disenfranchised to sit the election out? Or is it to ask your nanny (who cannot vote, because she is not a citizen) and the janitor who empties your office trash can (who cannot vote because he was incarcerated incarcerated /in·car·cer·at·ed/ (in-kahr´ser-at?ed) imprisoned; constricted; subjected to incarceration.

Confined or trapped, as a hernia.
) who they would vote for, and then cast a vote on their behalf?

I feel about this election as I did about 2004--we are voting not just for ourselves but, because of the foreign policy decisions of the Bush White House, we are voting in an election with consequences for the rest of the world. We should always be wary of American exceptionalism, but since most of the world can't vote in this election, shouldn't we?

The contributors to this volume see not voting as a compelling act of faithfulness, witness, and politics. But, especially in a world where love of neighbor is tied to citizenship, not voting may be equally seen as a kind of quietism--quietism that a Christian who must be active in the world cannot afford.

Lauren F. Winner is an assistant professor at Duke Divinity School The Divinity School at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina is one of thirteen seminaries founded and supported by the United Methodist Church. It has 39 full time and 18 part time faculty and over 500 full time students. . Her books include Girl Meets God and Real Sex.
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Title Annotation:Electing Not to Vote: Christian Reflections on Reasons for Not Voting
Author:Winner, Lauren F.
Publication:Sojourners Magazine
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2008
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