There’s an election in a few days. Have you heard? This will come as a shock to no one who has ever visited this site, but I will not be voting this year. I also didn’t vote four years ago. Or four years before that. Or…you get the drift. As a committed old, tried and true Christian anarchist, I have watched the campaign season very closely, the way I might watch a really interesting football game, or a Spike “world’s most unbelievable car crashes” marathon. Politics–infinitely more than contact sports and traffic accidents–has proves itself again and again to be irredeemably violent. Beyond that basically standard pacifist complaint, however, I would like to offer three reasons why I, as a Christian, am not voting and, wait for it, why I encourage other Christians not to vote either. If you’re not a Christian, you should vote; it’d be a shame if you didn’t. (Not nearly as big a shame as it is that you’re not a Christian, of course.) In any case…
One of the most common arguments I hear in favor of the notion that Christians have a duty to vote is that by not voting we are allowing society to slip deeper and deeper into the quagmire of sin. By not casting my vote–typically in this scenario for the Republican candidate, but it can go either way–I become culpable for constructing a society in which school children can see a man kissing another man on a taxpayer funded field trip to an abortion clinic. (Or, if you prefer, I become culpable for constructing a society in which a misogynistic plutocrat can oppress the poor, shackle his wife to the kitchen–metaphorically or literally–and deny life-saving medical treatment to his cancer-ridden, home-schooled daughter because God told him to.) Setting aside entirely the philosophical issue of moral culpability in the absence of intention or action, there is a more obvious problem here with the way Christians have come to understand their role in constructing a moral society.
It is simple enough to begin this argument with the rather inoffensive statement that God is omnipotent. As a subset of this omnipotence, it also seems fairly obvious to indicate that it is within God’s capability to prevent people from doing evil. For those of us committed to the notion of free will (and I’m sure I’ll lose some of you here), that God choose is not to prevent people from doing evil is an expression of a moral truth no less crucial than God’s omnipotence: compulsory goodness is no goodness at all. God, in structuring the world, has made it evident to humanity that agency is a prerequisite for morality. That is why Jesus went to such great length to convince people of the value of the ethical teachings he proclaimed. Had he wanted to, ♫ he could have called ten thousand angels ♫ and told the world, “Love one another, or else.” But he didn’t. Christ, the great king, unlike every government devised by man put morality in the hands of human agents and tried to persuade them to make the right decisions.
You can see where I’m going with this, and it sounds nice in theory. But you’re a good, Bible-believing Christian. If only there were a verse that clearly stated that it wasn’t Christians’ job to police the morality of the world. Enter Paul:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
I give you the context there so you can understand where Paul is coming from. There is rampant immorality in the church in Corinth–quite unlike the pure, wholesome churches of America–but it would seem that the Corinthians still seem more interested in condemning those nasty pagans with their nasty habits. Paul will have none of it. The purity of the world is none of his concern. He understood then what so few seem to understand now: it is foolish to expect non-Christians to act like Christians. You might as well beat your head against a wall. It would certainly elicit more sympathy than trying to beat the gay out of people.
The responsibility for Christians to construct a moral society is simple. The church is holy, and it is our job as Christians to keep it holy. The world is not holy. It has been given over to the lusts of impure hearts, to dishonor, to self-destruction, and to folly. Christians can purify the church; God will purify the world–with fire, no less, but don’t tell limp-wristed, left-wing, bleeding hearts like me that…we can’t handle the imagery. God is not interested in forcing people to behave. You can choose to live as a Christian or you can choose to live as a pagan. According to Paul, the only thing the church needs to worry about is making sure that it is composed only of those who are choosing to behave like Christians.
As for the residents of the rest of society, they are going to keep having abortions. They are going to keep going keep stealing, embezzling, defrauding, and withholding while people literally die in the streets. They are going to keep debauching themselves in inventive ways, videotaping it, and distributing it for a small monthly fee on the Internet. They are going to keep getting drunk, stoned, and…well, I lack the appropriate drug vernacular to put together a good list, but you see where I’m going.
Society will continue to be the Roman society that existed in the days of the apostles. The only difference between Paul and Christians now is that democracy has led us into the delusion that, having failed to do the difficult work of convincing the world that God is good and sin is bad, we can just pass a law and make everyone righteous. It won’t work. We shouldn’t try. It’s wrong.