Mennonite Voting Tips (or “To vote or not to vote, that is the question)

I found two pretty good artiles that discuss voting from a Mennonite perspective. The first takes a pretty radical position (but one that was pretty common during much of Anabaptist history), that of non-participation in secular government. 

Anabaptist.org: Polls Apart — Why Believers Might Conscientiously Abstain from Voting – by John D. Roth (from the conference “God, Democracy and US Power” held at Eastern Mennonite University, September 23-25, 2004)

The most compelling argument made by Roth is this part (emphasis added is my own)…

Not voting in the presidential election might be understood as a practical expression of our pacifist convictions. Those in the believer’s church tradition are agreed that the decision to become a Christian involves a choice, one with genuine consequences for our most basic understanding of reality. The heart of that choice is an affirmation of Jesus Christ as the One who saves us from our bondage to self-centered (or nation-centered) pride, and who offers in His life and teachings a model of the true nature of power—a power, as Paul writes, “made perfect in weakness.” Becoming a follower of Christ implies more than just a “quantitative” change in our actions (where we become a little more moral, decent or honest than everyone else); rather, it assumes that we will engage the world in a “qualitatively” different way. Indeed, every aspect of our lives should point to Christ’s new understanding of power, expressed most dramatically in love for our enemies.

As Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, the president is explicitly charged with the duty of maintaining the military, defending our borders and preserving national interests through the use of violence if necessary or expedient. If I, as a follower of Christ, could not conscientiously serve in that role, then how can I in good conscience cast my support for someone else to do that in my stead?

Another article that takes a pro-voting stance, but more of an inclusive idea of what “voting by The Book” looks like, is one that I received in an email forward that was originally from the Mennonite Peace & Justice Support Network (emphasis added is my own)…

Voting with our faith in mind

On what criteria do Christians base their voting decisions? Life experiences? Sunday school or small group discussions? Common sense? The Bible?

Christians who vote based on their understanding of the whole Bible might evaluate a candidate through the lenses of the Christian principles below, outlined by Leo Hartshorn, minister of peace and justice for Mennonite Mission Network, in an October 2004 PeaceSigns
article: http://peace.mennolink.org/cgi-bin/m.pl?a=126

1. The earth is God’s good creation (Genesis 1). We are stewards of creation.
2. God has created humanity in the divine image (Genesis 1:27). We are to foster the dignity and rights of all peoples and the sanctity of life.
3. The state was created to serve human welfare (Romans 13:4). We are to call upon the state to serve its more noble purposes.
4. In Jesus Christ, God has revealed a way of peace, nonviolence, justice and reconciliation (Matthew 5). We are to live in the way of peace and justice.
5. All human reality has “fallen” from God’s purpose (Romans 8:22-23). We are to live in that creative tension of being “in” the world, but not “of” the world.
6. The church, as a signpost of God’s reign, is the primary arena for Christian “politics” (1 Peter 2:9). We are to be the church, an alternative community or polis.
7. God’s mission is for and within the world (John 3:16). We are to engage the world reflecting God’s compassion.
8. God has compassion for the most vulnerable in the world (Proverbs 31:8-9). We are to welcome the stranger and seek economic justice for the poor and the marginalized in society.
9. Security is in God (Psalm 146:1-6). We are to place our ultimate trust in God.
10. God’s reign transcends peoples and nations (Revelation 7:9). We are first and foremost citizens of God’s rule.

Studying and prayerfully evaluating candidates and their views on a wide variety of topics is time consuming. However, it doesn’t take long to realize that no candidate will bring about God’s kingdom on earth. That’s not the job of government–that’s God’s job. The church
is here to proclaim that some government laws and policies–and the candidates and politicians who pass them–bring more justice and peace and some bring much less. That’s the goal of voting in a democratic society.

Here are resources to help you gather biblical voting information:

* Mennonite Central Committee, Congressional Voting Record (PDF download)
* Sojourners, Voting All Your Values (pdf download)
* “Guiding principles for Christian political engagement” by Leo Hartshorn (PeaceSigns, Oct 2004)
* National Council of Churches: Christian Principles in an Election Year (PDF download)
* National Association of Evangelicals: For the Health of the Nations, An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility (PDF download)

I myself am not sure that I’m ready to take the more radical perspective of the first article, but at this moment the arguments for not voting seem more in line with Mennonite teachings than do the arguments for voting.

Also on a sidenote while I’ve been in Canada the last 2 days, I’ve been struck by how patriotic folks are here. The Canadians are just like the US Americans in this regard, and it seems equally arrogant and idolatrous. Canada does some things very well but it is no liberal utopia. In fact, Canada treats their poor people and their American Indians about as crappy as the US does. Seeing this makes me wonder why the Mennonite Church in their big merger a few years back (turning two bi-national denominations, The Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonites, into two national denominations, Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada) split on national lines?

I thought we were a community that transcended national borders? It seems like the decision to form national denominations contradicts that ideal.