"Not voting" as an act of prophetic resistance

Last week someone gave me a CD of a sermon by Lou Engle, a well-known charismatic preacher who’s also a leader in the “Apostolic and Prophetic” movement. The sermon was entitled “Voting as an act of divine governance.” I was so impressed by the title that I thought I should make the title of my rebuttal sound equally spiritual. If voting can be an act of “divine governance”, then certainly not voting can be an act of “prophetic resistance.” If I ever get to interact with Engle or any other leader of the “Apostolic and Prophetic” crowd, I wonder if my not-so-subtle attempts to co-opt their language would make them more likely to hear me out?

Sarcasm aside, I was deeply troubled in my spirit as I listened to the sermon. While I appreciate the fact that Lou Engle mobilizes tens of thousands of young people every year to pray for spiritual awakening in America, I often wonder if the prayers are misdirected. The underlying assumption is that if God were to answer our prayers, then we would be the ones with all the political power. The “we” by the way is very specific. It means “pro-life, anti-gay marriage” Christians. And the “pro-life”, as you probably know, does not mean pro-life after the womb. It only means pro-life before the womb. You’ll never ever ever ever ever hear these guys speaking out against innocent civilians killed in Iraq and Afghanistan as a result of U.S. foreign policy. They also actively promote the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Now I guarantee you that they would tell you otherwise (after all, who wants to say they support ethnic cleansing?), but the reality is that every time a U.S. president asks the Israeli government to halt the expansion of Jew-only settlements–settlements built on home demolitions and private property land confiscations–they scream bloody murder.

For my friends that think of themselves as progressive evangelicals, if you think I’m writing this to make us all feel smug in our supposedly enlightened views of a “consistent ethic of life.” Think again. Lou Engle did say something that got me thinking, and thinking hard. He said that if you knowingly vote for someone that sanctions murder, then you’re just as guilty as the person you voted for. In the context of the sermon, Engle was saying that Christians have a kingdom duty to vote for anti-abortion candidates. Not voting is simply not an option in Engle’s worldview. But the more that I listened to what he was saying, the more I felt that Engle was actually making the case for not voting.

I’ll admit. I think of myself as sorta kinda “progressive” in my political views. A lot of evangelicals that think like me were appalled at the lack of respect for human rights demonstrated during the Bush Administration. We saw the hell and destruction unleashed on the Iraqi people. We saw Abu Graib, Gitmo, waterboarding, the Patriot Act, extraordinary renditions, the supporting of totalitarian regimes, and we concluded that it would be hypocritical to call ourselves “pro-life” and then turn around and vote for someone who supported things like torture and pre-emptive war. We justified voting for Obama, even though he was “pro-choice”, because we honestly believed that from a human rights perspective he was the lesser of two evils.

Now that we know that Obama has continued many of the Bush policies, and in some cases has increased them (as in the case of drone attacks killing civilians), can we really say that we support a “consistent ethic of life” and cast a vote for Barack Obama in 2012? Might we be guilty of the same hypocrisy we accuse the other side of? I realize that one key difference is that most of us that voted for Obama weren’t deluding ourselves into thinking that our vote was an act of “divine governance.” But still, even if we recognize that our vote has absolutely zero to do with expanding God’s kingdom on earth (after all, the Kingdom of God as revealed in Jesus is a non-coercive kingdom) voting is never morally neutral. So, thank you Mr. Engle. I may not vote in this next election because of you. May God lead us all to follow the dictates of our conscience in 2012.

Posted on November 21, 2010, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Great thoughts, Aaron. I've been thinking about this for some time also. Claiborne's J for Pres really altered my understanding of what it means to be political. We can't just stand against certain things, but most also stand for greater answers. Those answers most be originating out of the Body of Christ and her love for others in a very concrete, unique, and often small way. And for that reason its hard to see how voting for a president could be prophetic at all. Although fighting for the DREAM act could be. As you can guess, this makes for a lot of gray area and fuzziness. Because of this gray-ness, I get a bit nervous when I read Jim Wallis talk about starting a movement. But I've avoided doing the research because i've been so busy.What are your thoughts on the greater politics of voting?-Dan Sidey

  2. Good question Dan. I think that one of the problems with voting is that we align ourselves with earthly political parties, thus becoming stakeholders in power. We overlook injustice in different areas so that "our" people can stay in power because we think that "our" people are more in tune with "our" issues than other issues. Have you noticed how both sides of the political aisle do this?I think that not voting could give us the prophetic distance so that we can challenge the powers that be on every justice issue, not just specific ones. I think this still leaves a lot of room for taking up specific causes, whether by reaching out to people on a personal humanitarian level or by exposing injustice to the broader culture. And, if appropriate, I think demonstrations and protests are sometimes in order. But I would use these sparingly for greater effect.These are some of my initial thoughts. They are by no means complete.What say you?

  3. Good perspective on the issue Aaron. I'm impressed with your thoughtfullness, conscience and ability to articulate them clearly. If the political parties would engage in this kind of thoughtful dialogue maybe we wouldn't find ourselves at such odds with those we consider our enemies in the Middle East. What you're putting on the table are the crux of frustration that's felt in the Middle East with US policy. Waiel A.

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