NOT Voting: A Christian Perspective, Pt. 12

In my previous post, I mentioned a comment made by president Obama during a recent interview, which he spoke as he was exiting the stage:  "There's no excuse for not voting."  The host, Jon Stewart, offered his ditto to this remark saying, "That's for sure!"  I've already made the point that this series I'm writing is NOT a list of excuses to abstain from voting but rather, a bunch of good reasons.  I want to respond to the president's comment once again and ask here, "What is the purpose of voting?"  This question leads me to my next point in this series:

Point #12: Voting cannot fulfill the role of or replace repentance.

For Christians, the New Testament concept of repentance is found in the Greek word μέτανοια (metanoia), which carries the idea of recognizing a wrong or transgression (against self, other, or God), confessing that transgression, and then turning away from and abstaining from that transgression.  Repentance is, in once sense then, the overcoming or destruction of transgression.  Stated more positively, the aim of repentance is to live more in harmony with self, other, and God.  Repentance is a means of making one's life and one's world a better place.

So, let me return to my question just above:  "What is the purpose of voting?"  If you were to ask any number of people, you are quite likely to have them give some sort of response that suggests the purpose is to make this country a better place.  Some would even say that a vote in America is a vote to make the world a better place.  Okay, so this begins to raise some questions and suspicions for me.  It does so because I am well aware that as a Christian, there is nothing that can fulfill the role of or replace repentance. In other words, there is nothing, not a vote, not an election, not a president, not an administration, that can fulfill the role of or replace repentance.  

For the Christian it is repentance before God and then living in line with the nature and character of GOd that can begin to bring about holy change in this world.  God reacts to repentance.  We see this clearly all throughout the Bible, whether it be repentance from his covenant people or those who previously had not known him.  The more I look at this election and listen to the rhetoric, the more I become convinced that Americans are being led down roads of deception.  I sincerely hope that Christians are seeing (and hearing) right through all of this mess.  No president or candidate can fulfill our repentant petitions and no political official has the means of replacing what only God himself is able to do.  So, I continue to pledge my allegiance to God alone, not a political platform, a flag, a country, or any other king or kingdom of this world.  But I'm getting ahead of myself here because I'll say more about that in the next post.

(Please NOTE: I am currently taking a break from Facebook and will NOT be commenting on responses to this post made there.) 

Other posts in this series: Pt. 1Pt. 2Pt. 3Pt. 4Pt. 5Pt. 6Pt.7Pt. 8Pt. 9Pt. 10, Pt. 11


NOT Voting: A Christian Perspective, Pt. 11

So far in this series I have made 10 points in relation to NOT voting.  Before moving on to the eleventh point, I think it will be good to bring to memory the previous ones.  I will simply include today's point at the end of the list (click on any of the "points" to open those links).  Here it is:

Point #1:  Choosing between the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil.
Point #2:  NOT voting can be a VERY American thing to do.
Point #3:  Being a good citizen, even a politically active citizen, is not confined to voting.
Point #4:  Voting has the potential to divide the church.
Point #5:  Voting can cause you to compromise your deepest held beliefs.
Point #6:  Voting has the potential to become idolatrous.
Point #7:  Voting has the potential to be blasphemous.
Point #8:  Voting in this election would actually silence or negate my voice and views.
Point #9:  This election is a gross misrepresentation of politics in action.
Point #10:  Even politicians abstain from voting at times.

Point #11:  Voting is often a means of trying to dominate/have power over others.

At the core of Jesus' life on earth was a servant mentality.  This is not only explicit in the fact that he gave his life for others, but also in his claim that he came to serve others.  In fact, these two are brought together in Mk 10:45 where Jesus himself says, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."  I think that having a look at the few preceding verses really drives the point home that Jesus was not a power-monger who sought to dominate others.  These words also provide the basis and template for how Jesus' followers should think and act when it comes to power and relationships.  Let's look at the larger literary context:

"Jesus called them together and said, 'You know that those who are regarded as the rulers of the Gentiles lord it (power) over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you!  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mk 10:42-45)

This directive from Jesus comes on the heels of several of the disciples arguing about and contending for the seats of distinction and authority and power in God's coming Kingdom.  Of course, throughout Mark's story we see such discussions take place on a few occasions (cf. Mk 9:33-34 and 9:38-41).  One of the morals of the story here is that Christians are not to be power-hungry so that they might lord that power and authority over others.  This is not to say that Christians cannot be in positions of power and authority, instead, the point is that seeking power with the intent not to edify others but to dominate others is not something Jesus would do or sanction!  Jesus expressly forbids this.

When I look at the atmosphere of divisiveness created by this election, I see persons attempting to gain power over others.  Just last night in an interview, Obama said that one of his goals was to get as many Democrats in the White House for as long as possible.  If you have listened at all to Mitt Romney, he says just the opposite as he vies for Republicans.  Their drive is to keep power on their side; they want to have dominance and rule over the other side; they want to call the shots.  Unfortunately, so many Christians seem to sideline their "Christianity" during elections like this one and they buy into the rhetoric and hype of power and dominance.  Jesus said to his followers, however, "Not so among you!"  Why do we fail to listen?

One last thing:  Just last night, during Obama's interview with Jon Stewart (he was on Letterman too), the last words of the current president were, "There is no excuse not to vote."  Stewart echoed that sentiment saying, "That's for sure!"  I hope it is clear that what I have been offering up in this series is not a string of excuses but rather, some reasoned responses as to why Christians might abstain from casting a ballot.  As I have suggested here, one of those reasons is that I do not wish to attempt to lord power over others via my own political leanings.  I hope many others will begin to think along these lines as well.

(Please NOTE: I am currently taking a break from Facebook and will NOT be commenting on responses to this post made there.) 

Other posts in this series: Pt. 1Pt. 2Pt. 3Pt. 4Pt. 5Pt. 6Pt.7Pt. 8Pt. 9, Pt. 10


NOT Voting: A Christian Perspective, Pt. 10

As I continue this series on NOT voting, I offer here my next point:

Point #10: Even politicians abstain from voting at times.

I bring up this point because I realize that this series in general has the potential to offend many groups.  Historically African Americans and women have had the ability to vote withheld from them and suggesting not to vote could be viewed as me taking for granted my privileges and overlooking their struggles.  Legal immigrants, those who have worked hard to become American citizens and who have been granted the ability to vote, might also have a similar sort of feeling.  Just as well, there are many who believe that those who have served in the military could be offended.  The notion here is that they risked life and limb so others could live freely and vote.  I might also bring up convicted felons here, those who have had their rights to vote stripped from them.  Not casting a ballot might be controversial enough, but encouraging others to consider the same course of action can seem very offensive to some.

However, I believe that in addition to the other 9 posts I've already written in this series, my 10th point here is especially apropos.  Let me give a few examples.  Back in April when the "Buffet Rule" was up for discussion and Obama wanted to impose a high tax on the super-rich, four political officials did NOT cast a vote.  Another example of this took place back in June when the "Disclose Act," the "act" that reveals where election funds have come from and gone to, was up for consideration.  Once again, four political figures did NOT cast a vote.  I should reiterate point #10 here, namely, that even politicians abstain from voting at times for various reasons.  Part of the political system is the understanding that voting is NOT a requirement but rather a choice.

Here are a few more examples.  In the recent past, a number of senators did NOT vote when the "Dream Act" came up for discussion.  This is the "act" that seeks to provide "Development, Relief, and Education to Alien Minors."  Also in the recent past when amendments to the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations" motion came up in congress, some did NOT vote.  Way back in January of 2012 when the "Stock Act" came up in the senate, five officials did NOT vote.  When discussions about amendments to a national defense bill and the detainment of terrorists came up for discussion a number of months ago, once again, a number of political leaders did NOT vote.

Now, I know their may not be anything especially "Christian" about the nature of this post other than the fact that I am a Christian who is writing it.  Still, I believe the main point here remains:  Citizens should not feel pressured to vote or feel as if they are somehow squandering their privilege or being lazy by not fulfilling some politically mandated requirement.  Indeed, there are many times and many cases when and where politicians themselves do NOT vote.  There are also many reasons as to why they choose not to vote in specific circumstances.  While they may or may not choose to vote for the president, that same choice is afforded to you as an American citizen.  And in keeping with good politics and the nature of our political system, as I have stated all throughout this series, I am enacting my right NOT to vote in this election.  Why?  Because I as a Christian do not believe either of the candidates are worthy of my ballot!

(Please NOTE: I am currently taking a break from Facebook and will NOT be commenting on responses to this post made there.) 

Other posts in this series: Pt. 1Pt. 2Pt. 3Pt. 4Pt. 5Pt. 6, Pt.7, Pt. 8, Pt. 9


NOT Voting: A Christian Perspective, Pt. 9

In this short post, I want to give one more reason as to why I will not be voting in this election.  Here it is:

Point #9:  This election is a gross misrepresentation of politics in action.

I realize that this point will likely be quite controversial.  What I'm getting at, however, is the difference between using political rhetoric and giving political speeches and actually engaging in the political process by doing something substantive.  Of course, I'm not suggesting that either the Obama or Romney camps are apolitical.  But let me just give an example of how I see each group talking the talk but not walking the walk.

Many folks have pointed out that in terms of finances, this election is already in the books as the most expensive one ever.  To date, it is suggested that the Obama administration has had nearly $7.55+ million in election funds come through the door while the Romney campaign has had about $7.10 million come in.  That's about $15 million or to be precise, a total of $14.65 million.  That's right, we have seen nearly $15 million dollars pumped into this political race.

But here's what gets me:  Economists and relief organizations have projected that extreme world poverty could actually end with just $40-60 billion.  Here, "extreme world poverty" is defined as those who live on LESS THAN $1.25 per day.  In other words, we are talking about many of my dear friends in Ethiopia and much of Africa.  We are talking about people without access to daily bread.  We are talking about kids having to be sold or often times leased out to the military or sex trade/child trafficking so that they can get their next meal or their family's next meal.  When we eradicate extreme world hunger, we also begin to eradicate things like the child sex trade, prostitution, child abandonment, HIV/AIDS, etc.  There is a domino effect here.

As a Christian, it makes me sick to know that while so much of the world goes on living in extreme poverty, the American presidential candidates are pushing millions upon millions into an election.  $15 million could go an incredibly long way in putting a dent in this world crisis.  It is beyond absurd and it is beyond having gotten out of hand at this point; honestly, it is simply unjust.  Sure, we could all do more to help the crisis and I include myself in that.  But in my household we have adopted a child from Ethiopia and we sponsor three children who live in some of the most destitute places on earth.  Even more, we do this while my wife is the bread-winner and the only one with a full-time job.  I am a full-time student without a job!  We also participate in a ministry whose main function is to get family's sponsored and to bring job skills to women in Ethiopia.  We are trying to do our part.  

Why?  Because this is our call as Christians.  This is following the example of Jesus who came not to be served, but to serve.  So, when I look at the 2012 election and then I look at the world poverty crisis, I cannot help but see discontinuity, injustice, and hypocrisy.  I simply refuse to participate in this election that is a bunch of talk and no action.  Oh yes, candidate Ryan, you can force your way into an Ohio soup kitchen for a photo-op of yourself cleaning already clean dishes, but I don't buy it.  If you were really interested in the poor and poverty, if your running mate were really interested in such matters, and if the current administration were really interested, why not quit wasting all the money on lavish trips around this country in your padded jets and buses, and instead, base your campaign on something more noble and honorable and just, something that is actually in line with Christian values?  So, there you have it, just another reason I will withhold my ballot from this year's election!  But remember, I don't do so out of spite, rather, I do so as a witness to the world around me that as a Christian, I will not participate in this injustice.  My silence at the polls is not a silence altogether (thus, I'm using my voice here on this website even!), however, rather it is a form of standing up and speaking out against rampant political double-speak and corruption.  As a Christian, that is my conviction!

Other posts in this series: Pt. 1Pt. 2Pt. 3Pt. 4Pt. 5Pt. 6, Pt.7, Pt. 8


NOT Voting: A Christian Perspective, Pt. 8

In this brief post I want to offer another reason as to why I will not be voting in this election.  Here it is:

Point #8: Voting in this election would actually silence or negate my voice and views.

One of the problems with the whole American electoral system is that it is built upon and runs upon a two-party system.  In this framework one party selects a nominee who, along with their vice presidential pick, will represent their party.  For this election, the Democrats have Barack Obama and Joe Biden, while the Republicans have Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.  While each of these candidates have some views that I agree with, they all also have views and policies that I am strongly against.  As I have already stated in this series, I refuse to vote against my own conscience and therefore, I will not vote for any of these candidates.

My beef with this whole process is that we only have two parties and I'm simply out of luck if I don't agree with them.  I believe many others feel this tension too because I've heard a lot of people talk about "voting for the lesser of two evils" (see Point #1 for more on this).  I absolutely refuse to vote for a candidate or an administration with pre-packaged values and policies that I completely disagree with.  This is precisely what I'm getting at when I say that voting in this election would actually silence or negate my voice and views. 

Keep in mind, there is no place on the ballot to express my views.  I am not afforded the opportunity to express what I do or do not agree with.  There is no question area asking what changes I would like to see or what issues I feel most strongly about.  To vote against myself, that is,  to vote against my conscience, would be an act of silencing or muzzling myself.  I ask you, is that freedom?  Is it freedom that when I enter into the poll booth I am essentially forced to choose one of two administrations and their prepackaged ideologies and ideals?  (Yes I am aware that I can write a name in and I am aware that there are "other" candidates such as those in the Libertarian Party that I can vote for, but as we all know, that amounts to nothing.  I've done that before and know already what the result will be.  Further, I don't have enough confidence in the system to believe that even if enough people voted Libertarian that such a candidate won the election it would actually play out that way.)  With my choice narrowed down and limited to two administrations that I do not agree with, my vote is a vote against myself and frankly, that's just not something I'm willing to cast a ballot for.

Other posts in this series: Pt. 1Pt. 2Pt. 3Pt. 4Pt. 5Pt. 6, Pt.7


NOT Voting: A Christian Perspective, Pt. 7

In the previous post of this series I spoke about the fact that voting has the potential to lead to idolatry.  It seems to me that some of this might have been committed by folks yesterday when the vice presidential debate was held in the county that neighbors mine (about 20 minutes from where I live).  Everyone was obsessed with it.  Anyway, to reiterate once more, I was not saying that voting is by default idolatrous, nor was I suggesting that anyone who votes is by default an idolater.  Instead, I gave several ways that voting could lead someone down that path.  In this post I want to address something of a related matter.  This leads me to my next point:

Point #7:  Voting has the potential to be blasphemous.

As we saw with idolatry, the concept of blasphemy as shown throughout the Bible is multifaceted.  On the one hand we can commit a form of blasphemy that Mk 3 refers to a the "unforgivable sin."  This is the sin not simply of denying the Holy Spirit, but rather attributing the good work of the Holy Spirit to Satan.  There are also, as Mk 3 tells us, lesser form of blasphemy.  This however, does not mean that they shouldn't be taken less seriously.  One notion of blasphemy, which covers a great deal of the discussion across the biblical canon is, in my view, defined along the lines of the following definition:  The replacing, attaching or mixing of anything vain or unholy to that which is holy.

As you can see, this understanding is not too far from the notion of the "unforgivable sin" because there, one is replacing the Holy Spirit with the Evil One.  A more common example of blasphemy would be an attempt to mix the Triune God with other gods.  The whole notion of "taking God's name in vain," which is commonly thought of as the "G-D" curse word in American culture, is problematic not because it is a "cuss word" but because it is mixing vain speech with the name of our holy God.  So, how does this all fit into the conversation about voting?

I want to suggest here that voting has the potential to be blasphemous because it can be understood as the mixing of the hope that should be placed in our holy God with fallen and failed humans.  Just as well, it can be mixing our faith, which should be pure and holy, with politics that are corrupt and vain.  This is especially the case when those politics either inform or override our theology/beliefs instead of the other way around.  Even more, voting has the potential to be blasphemous because people try to mix the ushering in of God's Kingdom, an event that will be lead by Jesus himself, with the notion that the next president will somehow bring that about (whether through apocalypse or in a messianic and vindication-like sort of way).  On even more of a practical level, the whole practice of mixing what should be Kingdom rhetoric coming from the mouths of Christians, that is, speech that is pure, holy, and life-giving, with American socio-political rhetoric, which is hate-filled, lined with lies, corrupt, incredibly vain, shallow, empty, and divisive, this is all terribly problematic.

I will not place my trust in a presidential candidate.  My trust is reserved for God alone.  I will not offer my allegiance to a political party.  My allegiance is to God and him alone.  I will not place my hopes in a fallen politician or political system.  My hope is in God, who is sovereign and perfectly holy.  I will not replace the promised presence of the Holy Spirit in my life with the vanity and fleetingness of the political zeitgeist of our age.  My reliance is on the Holy Spirit.  I will not mix messianic ideals that belong only to Jesus with some modern politician.  My confession is that Jesus alone is the Messiah and Jesus alone will usher in God's Kingdom when God so sees fit.  I will not vote and lapse into blasphemy.  My vote is to NOT vote for anything that stands contrary to the perfect nature and character of God.  I refuse to commit blasphemy against God in the name of American politics.

(Please NOTE: I am currently taking a break from Facebook and will NOT be commenting on responses to this post made there.) 

Other posts in this series: Pt. 1Pt. 2Pt. 3Pt. 4Pt. 5Pt. 6


NOT Voting: A Christian Perspective, Pt. 6

In the previous post of this series I suggested that every four years when the presidential election rolls around, some people end up sacrificing their deepest and most cherished beliefs and convictions on the altar of American politics. This leads me to my next point in this series.

Point #6: Voting has the potential to become idolatrous.

Now, I realize that some will read that and immediately snub their noses at such a comment but please, hear me out for a moment.  What I am not saying here is that voting is idolatrous.  I am also not saying that if you vote you are, by default, committing idolatry.  I'm not saying either of those things.  What I am suggesting is that there is a very real "potential" (because it has happened many times and to many people!) for voting to become idolatrous.  Indeed, I believe that even now, for some folks, voting really does take on a form of idolatry.

Typically, idolatry is described as "the physical worship of an object as if it were God."  The Bible bears this claim out.  There is, however, much more that constitutes idolatry.  For example, in 1 Cor 8.1-11.1, Paul speaks of eating idol meat as a form of idolatry.  In Hosea idolatry is portrayed as marital infidelity.  In Exodus and Deuteronomy idolatry is conceived of as misrepresenting God visually.  Just as well, the wrong or improper kind of worship of God can be viewed as idolatry.  Breaching the notion of monotheism also can constitute idolatry.  For Christians, anything less than a Trinitarian view is idolatry.  In other words, the Bible itself gives us a multifaceted definition of idolatry.

In some ways, when it comes voting, each of the above ideas of idolatry can come into play.  For example, some people do treat presidential candidates as if they were God or the messiah.  We hear jokes about this all the time but to be sure, there are some Christians out there who believe that if the wrong person is elected they will bring on the apocalypse and the end of the world.  On the flip side, they think that if the right person is elected, they will be God's harbinger who brings a "word from the Lord" and they will deliver us from tyranny.  Not only is this an eschatology problem, it can also bleed into idolatry.  Exalting a human on such a high pedestal that they can be thought of in these terms is idolatrous.

Just as well, while most of us do not eat meat sacrificed to idols here in America (a practice still common in many parts of the world), one of Paul's underlying points here is that mixing God with the profane (a point that will be further elaborated on in the next entry in this series) can constitute idolatry.  Now, don't misunderstand me.  I'm not suggesting that God or our theology should be absent from informing our politics; they should not!  Yet, having our theology inform our politics is different than mixing God with our political system in such a way that the two seem blended together so that they become indistinguishable, or as in some instances, the "body politic" or the "political system" takes precedent over God.  This, of course, is not unrelated to the point I made in the previous entry:  Voting can cause you to compromise your deepest held beliefs.

Further, the whole notion of misrepresenting God is an important one.  While doing this visually was terrible in the eyes of the Israelites, doing it via word or action was also looked down upon.  If you can step into a poll booth and misrepresent God by casting a ballot, perhaps you have lapsed into a form of idolatry consonant with this description of it.  In short, if you are voting things that are contrary to the nature, character and person of God, you are misrepresenting him.  This is not too far from the whole notion of failing to properly "worship" God with our heart, mind, soul and strength in all we do.

In this election the whole notion of breaching monotheism and Trinitarianism is a big one, especially with Mitt Romney being a Mormon candidate.  Mormons do NOT believe that Jesus is part of the Trinity.  Mormons directly reject this idea.  I would suggest that all Christians who want to place their support behind a guy who is the leader of a cult are doing an incredibly dangerous thing and need to really reconsider.  No, I'm not suggesting to vote the other way, rather, as the title of this post suggests:  I'm suggesting NOT voting at all because it might be likened to you being viewed as a harlot who has prostituted yourself out to politics.

As I have stated, there are varied definitions and understandings of idolatry across the biblical canon.  I think many of those notions can come into play with people who choose to vote in this election.  To be clear once again, I am NOT saying that if you vote that automatically makes you an idolater.  Just as well, I'm not saying that if you cast a ballot idolatry has been committed.  What I am saying is that the potential is there and it may be time really consider that.  After all, sometimes the maxim "better safe than sorry" really is true.

(Please NOTE: I am currently taking a break from Facebook and will NOT be commenting on responses to this post made there.) Other posts in this series: Pt. 1Pt. 2Pt. 3Pt. 4, Pt. 5


NOT Voting: A Christian Perspective, Pt. 5

In the fifth entry of my "NOT Voting" series I want to make a point that, to many, will likely seem obvious once stated. 

 Here it is: Point #5: Voting can cause you to compromise your deepest held beliefs

This point is not unrelated to the first point, which was choosing the lesser of evils is still choosing evil.  On the one hand, I am not at all surprised that so many people are so quick to turn a blind eye to what they espouse as their deepest beliefs and convictions in the name of a political party, after all, putting Christianity on pause to pursue self-interests is quite common these days.  On the other hand, however, I would hope that many who identify themselves as Christians realize that the one thing nobody can ever take from them is their faith/beliefs; the truth is, only you can choose to let go of them.  Every four years when the presidential election rolls around, people get behind one party or another and in the process, sort of sideline their convictions, or put differently and more bluntly, sacrifice them on the altar of American politics (more about that in a later post).  

Let me come at this topic from the angle of logic.  In the field of logic there is a rule known as the "Law of Non-Contradiction."  This is a logical law that all of us should be aware of.  The "Law of Non-Contradiction" says this:  "Something cannot be both true and false/not true at the same time (in the same context)."  In other words, in the context of a police officer asking you, "Did you help rob the bank." your response cannot be both "yes" and "no" for that would be a contradiction; your answer must be either "yes" or "no."  Or, if someone asks, "Do you believe Jesus is the Messiah." you cannot answer in the affirmative and in the negative at the same time; it must be one or the other.  The attempt to give both a "yes" and "no" answer puts you in a state of contradiction.  A contradiction, of course, is a logical fallacy.  My question is:  When it comes to the presidential election, why are so many so-called Christians willing to put aside their deepest held beliefs and convictions in the name of politics?  Stated differently, how can persons vote for someone they don't agree with or for something they don't truly believe in?  Further, is voting against one's conscience and theological convictions an action that honors God or is it an action that falls prey to American peer-pressure and guilt-trips to vote?

Several days ago, at a fundraiser event, President Obama told the audience that the only way his party would win was if, over the next 30 days, his advocates were obsessive about the election.  Of course, Romney wants the same thing from you.  In short, they both want your allegiance and they want you to be obsessed with their politics.  Not only is this request unhealthy for Christians, as I said in the previous post in this series, it is a request that has the potential to divide the church in general and possibly to divide you in particular from the church.  This is even more the case if you're caving in and voting for things that you do not agree with, things that your conscience rails against, things that transgress your morals, and things that you do not believe honor God.  If you do this, you are living in a state of contradiction.  If you vote for someone/something that you believe stands against God, then do you not believe that this upsets God?  Or, do you believe, like so many so-called Christians that, after you sacrifice God on that altar of politics right along with your beliefs, you can come back and play the "forgiveness card" and all will simply be well?  I've got news for you, that theology of cheap grace does not bode well with God and it is something that Paul addressed when he said in Romans 6:1-2:  "What shall we say then?  Shall we go on sinning thinking that we can just keep using God for his wonderful grace?  God forbid!  We have died to sin! So, how can we (who claim to be Christians) live in it any longer?"  And yes, that "any longer" can certainly include the few moments you might spend in the voting both sidelining God and your beliefs, and not to mention, contradicting your own conscience.

(Please NOTE: I am currently taking a break from Facebook and will NOT be commenting on responses to this post made there.)

Other posts in this series:  Pt. 1Pt. 2Pt 3, Pt 4


Rethinking Halloween: A Christian Viewpoint (Repost)

It has become somewhat of a tradition to repost here on Pisteuomen a piece I wrote a few years back regarding the relationship between Christians and Halloween.  Each year I have posted this, great conversation has been sparked and I hope that the same will be true this year.  So, if you are a Christian who is debating whether or not Halloween is right for you and your family, please, check out this post because it may just help you out.  Happy reading!

It's not uncommon these days in North America to find some Christian somewhere who makes it their agenda to moderate and critique holidays. Currently, this can be illustrated by a simple perusing of Godtube.com, where a ridiculous debate is going on between those who call themselves believers. Some think it is okay to celebrate Halloween and others do not. Those who do not, as you might expect, label those who do as "un-Christian", "satanic", "worldly", "secular", etc. I can't help but laugh on the one hand and be heart-broken on the other. Clearly, too many people who act as though they are holier-than-thou, are over zealous and under informed. Their logic isn't even clear most of the time!

So, how does one who calls themselves a Christian counter people who act too pious? Well, the place to begin is to rethink Halloween. In fact, it might not even be "re" thinking as much as "thinking in the first place". For example, it is helpful to know that Halloween doesn't have its origins in a secular holiday, no, it can be traced back to Christian roots; it was a Christian holiday celebrated by the Celts (e.g. All Saints' / Souls' Day or Hallow's Eve)--even though the Celts were considered by many to be barbaric. Even more than that, and perhaps, more importantly, it goes back to the end-of-summer Celtic celebration called Samhain, an agricultural festival. This was the time when people would soak up the "light" and prepare for the "dark" winter months. It was a time to celebrate agricultural fruits and goods before the harsh winter came and killed everything. Hmm, so, it was more about life than death in some ways, right? Yes!

So, the over-zealous evangelists who argue that this is a satanic ritual, a celebration of death, etc., need to chill out a bit. I sense that many Christians have a problem with all of the ghoulish attire on the one hand and the supposed celebration of death on the other. Well, as for the ghoulish attire, we may recall that in earlier centuries, the Church actually used ghouls and whatnot to ward off evil spirits. Many modern church buildings still have gargoyles on them. As for the celebration of death, I think too many people have over-played this whole idea. I mean, those of us who have lost loved ones, there are certain times of year and certain things we do to commemorate their memory: We think of them, look at pictures, share stories, go to graveyards, etc. None of this is considered evil, satanic or un-Christian.

On a similar note, some suggest that by celebrating death we are nullifying the resurrection. This is simply not true. First of all, Christians commemorate Christ's death (and resurrection) in communion; Christ Himself bade us to do this. Second of all, to remember the deceased is clearly not the same thing as worshipping them or celebrating death itself. It is this point that I feel many are missing. In missing this point, one Christian accuses another and everything just becomes ridiculous or, no joke intended, even "evil" and "nasty" and "ghoulish".

In the 19th century, when Halloween migrated to North America from Europe, it was not a "devilish" holiday still. For example, the whole custom of "jack-o-lanterns", a pumpkin with a candle inside, was meant to resemble the soul of a lost one who might be waiting in purgatory. It was meant as a reminder to pray for that person or to simply, remember them. But it was also meant to be a symbol of celebration, of celebrating that person's life on earth. So, people would be merry and jolly and walk through the streets singing, sometimes even with bands. Often, this turned into a type of parade. Still, the custom existed that, if you have a jack-o-latnern on your porch, it was not just a memorabilia thing, it was a "message" too; a message to others that your loved one might need prayer or that you might need help appeasing God with gifts for that person's soul. So, people began leaving gifts, nickels, dimes, quarters, etc. next to the pumpkins.

As time progressed, people, usually youths, began stealing these monies (which kind of became an expectation after a while) and run to the stores to buy treats and candies. Now, it's not too big of a step from this "thieving" to marauding and causing trouble--eventually, that's exactly what began to happen! Today, that's what much of Halloween has come to stand for and symbolize: pranks, danger, stealing, causing trouble, marauding, etc. And if there is anything to be against as a Christian, when it comes to Halloween, these types of things are it!

In a world where holidays have become increasingly domesticated (e.g. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, etc.), it seems as though Halloween is the one night, the one holiday, where youths can go out, act crazy and try to subvert the holiday norm(s)! This too, should give us pause! Not only should it give us pause for negative reasons but maybe positive ones too: Maybe we should stop watering down and domesticating all of our meaningful holidays!

So, in the end, there is no good reason for Christians to call each other names or to accuse persons of satanic or whatever. Just as well, there is no reason that Christian children should not be able to go out for candy, dress up and have fun. There is nothing evil about this. I would also say that our kids do not have to be "evangelistic" and dress up as Bible characters, etc. (though there is certainly nothing wrong with them being Bible characters). One last thought: Perhaps this holiday which is so often associated with darkness and evil, brings out the darkness and evil that reside in the hearts of many who call themselves believers. Yes, the name calling, the slandering, the hatred, etc. is all evil and it is all illogical. In my view, Halloween can be a profitable holiday, if for nothing else, to subvert those types of attitudes, a subversion done with merriment and tasty candy!

NOT Voting: A Christian Perspective, Pt. 4

In part four of this "NOT Voting" series, I want to briefly address an issue related to politics in general and voting in particular when it comes to Christianity, namely, division. 

 Point #4: Voting has the potential to divide the Church

 As if all of the divisive language about red states & blue states, democrats & republicans, and conservatives & liberals is not enough to place a chasm between members of society as a whole, it also comes to bear on the church. In fact, voting can cause a deep polarization in the church. Thus, it is not uncommon to see bumper stickers that say "You can't be Catholic and vote for (insert issue here)," "Jesus is not a Republican or Democrat, but he votes Republican" or something similar. You get the point! Just as well, it is not uncommon to hear persons on one side of the political aisle deeming others heretics or apostates because they plan to vote for a different candidate. Indeed, for many there is something of an apocalyptic mindset behind all of this, that is, some folks believe that one candidate or the other will lead America into the flames of hell while the other will help usher in God's Kingdom. Thus, it should be no surprise that, when folks speak out of this type of perspective, they are ready to point fingers and condemn and name-call. 

 What happens then is that Christians become divided. The poll booth can divide. The ballot box can divide. The election can divide. The rhetoric can divide. And now, even for all the people who mouth the "separation of church and state" ideology, they have let politics overrule their allegiance to the unity of God's Kingdom. Indeed, elections have the potential to segment the Body of Christ one limb at a time. As a Christian, this is terribly distressing to me. And this leads me to suggest that American voting is, in some ways, quite foreign to Christianity in that it is so individualized and privatized that it removes one of what is supposed to be our distinguishing factors: community! In ancient Greece, when voting was done, it was usually done in public, where all could watch you make your choice.  This, of course, raised the level of accountability dramatically.  But this is all but missing from voting today.  Yet, I'd venture to say that even if voting were public, it would still often have the potential to divide; perhaps it would just bring about that division more quickly.  

Indeed, stepping into the booth alone to make "my" decision, a decision made apart from the larger faith community, can run contrary to the deep communal aspect of Christianity as Jesus, Paul and other Jesus Movement leaders saw and understood it. In short, the privatism, which is more of an American trait that either a first-century trait or a trait of the Christian community can possibly be shown to stand at odds with Christianity.  Just as well, the emphasis on individualism in voting, that is, the emphasis on "self" and the concern to look out for my "self interests" over others' interests, the concern to place a premium on "my" opinion/vote at the risk of hurting the unity of the Body of Christ, can potentially fly directly in the face of what Christianity is really all about, that is, being a tight-knit community of Jesus' followers. Or as Paul put it,  this can stand at odds with being of "one mind" with one another, an act which illustrates the unity of the Godhead and even our baptisms (Gal 3). From my perspective, that's just another reason why voting in this election is just not worth it.

(Please NOTE: I am currently taking a break from Facebook and will NOT be commenting on responses to this post made there.)

Other posts in this series:  Pt. 1Pt. 2, Pt 3


A Sermon On Mt. 18:15-20

Here's a sermon I gave about a week ago that deals with Mt 18:15-20 and the issue of being Jesus' peacemakers. Anyway, it was a very interesting experience, not least because the church had just hosted Jesus Prom the night before, and the stage/pulpit area was fashioned into a massive pirate ship. Never before have I preached from a pirate ship and it is highly likely that I never will again. Anyway, check it out and enjoy. Also, if you have any thoughts, feel free to share. Grace and peace to you; may you be edified.

NOT Voting: A Christian Perspective, Pt. 3

In the second post of this series I mentioned the fact that people often see abstinence from voting as civilly irresponsible or morally lazy.  Here, I want to touch on a related matter, which brings me to the next point:

Point #3: Being a good citizen, even a politically active citizen, is not defined by voting.

In this country society has been led to believe that casting a ballot during the presidential election is one of the highest forms of American patriotism.  A narrative has also been created that leads folks to believe that voting in the presidential election is one of the highest forms, if not "the" highest form, of political involvement that one can participate in.  In fact, voting is the only real conscious political activity that many ever get involved in and well, in terms of the presidency, that only occurs every four years.

In my view, however, voting for the president is not the highest form of American patriotism, nor is it the highest form of political involvement Americans can participate in.  Just as well, there are many more opportunities for Americans to be involved in the political process apart from the occasional vote every four years.  Here, I want to suggest that the whole notion from which we get our democratic process, namely, the idea of the ancient Greek polis or city (which looks very different from our present system by the way!), had figuress like Jesus, Paul, Peter, John and others in it who were engaged in the life of the polis and therefore, the "body politic," in important ways.

In Galatians, for example, we find the Jerusalem contingency telling Paul that their one wish is that as he treks from city to city, he only remember the poor (which, of course, included the Jerusalemites themselves as they were in a time of famine).  Just as well, we find Paul speaking before high political officials on a repeated basis in Acts.  In Galatians we also find Peter and Paul both bridging the gap with Gentiles, that is, breaking down socio-political barriers.  In Revelation John seems to take dead aim at the Roman Empire with his very subversive language challenging political corruption.  In Mark's Gospel it can be shown at some level, I believe, that Jesus offers an alternative way of living in God's Kingdom and under his lordship as opposed to Caesar's kingdom and under Caesar's lordship.  In short, being involved politically should not be confined to and defined by the one act of voting for a president.  Enacting creation care by adopting a highway, serving the homeless who have been socially and economically (and politically!) disenfranchised, adopting or fostering children, writing letters and making phone calls to city, county, or state legislatures, penning op-ed pieces in the local paper, standing up against mountain-top removal agencies, attending demonstrations against abortion, participating in debates or discussions about gay rights, etc. are just a few of the ways Christians who do NOT vote can be involved politically.  In short, participation in the polis is not limited to one ballot and thus, deserves a much broader definition.

(Please NOTE: I am currently taking a break from Facebook and will NOT be commenting on responses to this post made there.)

Other posts in this series:  Pt. 1, Pt. 2


NOT Voting: A Christian Perspective, Pt. 2

In the opening post of this series I offered my first point in relation to NOT voting:  Choosing between the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil.  At this juncture, I want to offer my second point.

Point #2:  Not voting can be a VERY American thing to do.

Let me begin with a story.  Several months ago I went to the local demolition derby with my wife and children (another VERY American thing to do, by the way!).  We had a great evening of fun.  However, there was something that bothered me right at the beginning, something which I have encountered at many public events such as concerts, athletic competitions, etc.  Just prior to the derby's start, a man came over the intercom and issued this command:  "Alright everyone, stand up, guy's take your caps off, and y'all let's get ready for our National Anthem."  Now, on the one hand, I know where the idea behind this comes from:  "As an American citizen, you should honor you country and pay tribute to those who fought/fight for this country."  On the other hand, this all leads me to ask the following questions:  "Doesn't America pride itself on freedom, especially the freedom of choice?  And isn't that ability to choose what you are suggesting was fought for?  If that is the case, then wouldn't the refusal to stand and not take off my hat be a way of enacting my freedom of choice, and therefore, quite patriotic?  Doesn't the command to do this or that suggest that for the moment my freedom of choice has been infringed upon?  And if American's are so die-hard about freedom of choice, then why would it make others upset if I do not stand and do not remove my hat?"

I mention this story because I see a similar inconsistency when it comes to voting.  In our country, voting has almost taken on a level of sacredness.  It is as if those who do not vote have profaned the sacred and should be looked down upon!  From my perspective, however, this is something of an infringement on my freedom to choose.  In fact, just because one does not choose a Republican or Democratic candidate does not mean that they haven't chosen a specific course of action for very specific reasons.  Indeed, the choice not to vote is a choice in and of itself.  And in a climate where folks talk about choosing between the lesser of two evils, NOT voting can be choosing no evil at all!  And that choice is a choice that people should not be badgered over or beaten up about.  Peer pressure should not win the day when it comes to voting, no matter how cool MTV or other organizations try to make it seem.

It is not the case that all who choose not to vote are acting civilly irresponsible.  It is not the case that all who choose not to vote are simply lazy.  It is not the case that all who forego the ballot box are, as Edmund Burke once said, "letting evil triumph" because they are not doing good.  Indeed, voting for evil would be a chief factor in helping or letting evil triumph!  This really gets to the heart of what I'm trying to say here, namely, that choosing NOT to vote can be a good, moral, civilly responsible, and God-glorifying thing to do.  Just as well, it can be a VERY American thing to do.  After all, forcing or guilt-tripping or coercing someone to vote is a direct infringement on their freedom of choice.  Commanding that someone take a certain course of action such as standing, removing the hat, pledging, voting, or doing something against their conscience can be tyranny clothed in piety and moral uprightness.

Certainly, some are probably thinking thoughts along the lines of, "But in the past, so many have struggled to get the right to vote and your comments here fly directly in the face of that!  Who are you to something like this?"  While I am well aware of the struggles that many folks have undergone to get their voting rights, especially women and my African American brothers and sisters, I am also aware that it is the "choice" to exercise that right or not that is what is most important.  Indeed, if all Americans were forced by the government to vote, there would be a great sense among the populace that our freedom of choice has been impinged upon.  To be sure, if there is an election where I feel like I can stand alongside a candidate, I will.  This election, however, is NOT one of those times for me and I refuse to let my freedom of choice be manipulated by arm-twisting or guilt-tripping.

As a Christian, particularly an evangelical of the Arminian stripe, I place a high premium on the fact that God himself has given us as humans the freedom to choose.  I do not believe in using that choice for evil or for using it to manipulate others (thus, I am NOT "pro-choice" when it comes to an issue like abortion, for example).  Again, when that occurs we begin to fall into the downward spiral that leads to tyranny.  So, while political pundits go about trying to make it harder for some to vote, and while certain parties continue to engage in games of voter fraud, both parties can rest assured that in this election, neither of them will have my vote.  I will not buy into their hate-ads, political-spin, and monopoly on our political process.  Instead, I will uphold my highest and most revered right in this country, that is, the right to choose.  And my choice is NOT to vote.

(Please NOTE: I am currently taking a break from Facebook and will NOT be commenting on responses to this post made there.)

Other posts in this series:  Pt. 1


NOT Voting: A Christian Perspective, Pt. 1

I want to begin a series of short posts today in which I reflect on the topic of NOT voting.  I want to be up front from the beginning, just in case it is not absolutely clear, that I am writing from a Christian perspective.  Just as well, I am not suggesting that my perspective speaks for all Christians everywhere at all times.  Neither am I suggesting that if you think differently than me, you are apostate.  I am keenly aware that my evangelical perspective is not shared with many others who self-identify as Christians.  This, I am willing to live with; I do not necessarily see it as something that fellowship needs to be broken over.  Having said these things, let me say a word about how this series will proceed.  As I have already alluded to, I am going to try to keep the majority of these posts brief.  Thus, I intend on having one focal point in each post.  Of course, there will likely be related points and tangents that need to be addressed on occasion, but for now this is the plan.  

Point #1: Choosing between the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil.  

I have heard numerous Christians make the comment that participating in elections, especially the one set to take place in 2012, often feels like a vote for the lesser of two evils.  For Christians, participation in any kind of evil should be avoided.  I do not say this from a place of moral arrogance or false piety, but rather from the standpoint of one who, in trying to submit my life to the Prince of Peace, is called to participate and think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, excellent, admirable, and praiseworthy (Php 4:8).  When the apostle Paul made this comment to the Philippians he was not, of course, calling Christians to be inactive from the world or to flee from it.  By the same token, he was not condemning wholesale the cultures in which they might find themselves.  Instead, Paul was urging Christians to sift their cultures and to adopt those things that align with the nature and character of God himself, particularly as manifest in the person of Jesus.  This does not mean that everything must be baptized with Christianity, however; it might also suggest that cultures in and of themselves can have embedded in them things that are in fact true, noble, good, etc.  Either way, the important matter is that whatever these things are, they should align with the nature and character of God and also have the potential to glorify God.  Any step away from such things may be called into question as they do not conform to or align with the perfect nature and character of God.  In my view, then, voting for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil and Christians should not be willing to place a vote for evil.  As long as we continue doing so, the politicians will continue believing that they have us in the palms of their hands.  Perhaps if enough of us chose not to vote that would send a "wake up call" of sorts to politicians, a call that would say something akin to "The political machine is not our savior, and because we serve a perfectly good God, we refuse to settle for any of your evils."  As Paul says at the end of Php 4:8, "think on these things."

(Please NOTE: I am currently taking a break from Facebook and will NOT be commenting on responses to this post made there.)