The road to the election: Questions of Commitment

To think Christianly about voting, especially in a presidential election year, is a difficult undertaking. Politics has become highly polemical and polarizing in our country. Just listen to talk radio. Read newspaper editorials. Watch cable television. We can easily collapse into party politics, assuming that one party is more (or less) Christian than the other. Hence, what can one do to begin to think a bit more Christianly about voting?

Perhaps a starting point may be an awareness of our “multiple citizenships” (In full disclosure, the seeds of my thoughts can be found in a past Windows on the World presentation by Dr. Robert Seiple, president of the Institute for Global Engagement, Dr. Seiple noted that many of us hold at least three (3) concurrent citizenships, each of which involves deep-seated commitments. How aware then are we of this reality? What happens when our citizenships are in conflict?

Since we hold multiple citizenships, we can often be unaware of their inherent tensions. We may elevate one over the other; we may confuse one for another; we may even ignore one over the other.

The first citizenship is a national one: we belong to a country. For those who are U.S. citizens the question is: What responsibilities does one have as a citizen in a democratic country? What does it mean to be “patriotic”?

Second, we also hold a global citizenship. Even if we do not have a passport or have never travelled to another country, we are nonetheless global citizens. The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman makes this point precisely in his best-selling book, The World is Flat. We sometimes forget what the “www” stands for as we surf various web sites. The question here too is: What responsibilities does one have as a global citizen? How is my citizenship linked to people living around the world?

The third and most important citizenship–for those who have made a commitment to follow Jesus Christ–is: we are citizens of the kingdom of God. New Testament scholar Tom Wright translates (rightly) this phrase as “God’s reign” to avoid any Christian (or Christian institution) thinking that Jesus meant an established national kingdom here on earth. Jesus himself addressed this issue with a prominent national leader (John 18:36). We are to be salt and light (Matt 5), ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Cor 5), and good citizens (Rom 13). This citizenship ought to be our abiding one.

Perhaps we should view these citizenships not as building blocks stacked on top of each other, but rather more as a Venn diagram, with some overlapping commonalities as well as distinct differences.

So what remains for the thoughtful Christian voter is: Am I aware of the value systems of my national and global citizenships? Do I sense any tension with these citizenships in view of being a citizen in the kingdom of God? Am I committed to striving towards being a more authentic and courageous citizen of the kingdom of God (Matt 6:33)? Much more can and should be said about this topic. I don’t have a Christian voting scorecard to send to you for the November election. Generally, these are highly polemical and polarizing. I don’t think we need one, since we already have a scorecard, so to speak, a revelatory and authoritative narrative that can begin to deeply shape our understanding of the world and our role in it, regardless of our political affiliation.

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