Why I don’t vote… can I say that here?

I want to preface this by saying that I am finding myself increasingly not alone. Some of my most admireds are saying some of the same things. Greg Boyd, Mark Van Steenwyk, …parker and others… although my thoughts are my own, coming from a number of years of thinking about this. During this time, it seems to come up more and more as people wonder where I stand. This may be the only post on this subject unless something else is spawned from comments. I welcome the feedback.

The last few conversations on this regard came from questions from Ben and Tony… so thanks, you guys, for spurring the ideas.Emergent, contemplative, Celtic… all feed into my understanding of my place in this world and how disconnected I want to be with the political process. I am primarily concerned with the kingdom of God that Jesus talks about, primarily concerned with what is happening from the heart to the relationship, and I am truly seeking to be as singular of mind and heart as I can. I believe that Jesus has taught us to be a certain way… regardless of who is in political power. If I can’t be this way, it is not going to matter whether someone I like or someone I don’t like is in power. No one with that much spotlight is going to stay true to a kingdom way of living.

It’s not that I think my vote won’t matter… it’s not that I don’t want to exercise my rights as an American citizen, or that I am taking that for granted… it’s not that I don’t care if someone in power is out for my best interests. These arguments are not enough for me to change my mind.

It is that I don’t want to be stretched thin. I don’t want so much of my thinking and research and concern to go into much other than relationships and transformation. I smile as I hear people talk of their concern or worry about what is going to happen in the elections. I think… “Huh… something reminds me of Jesus mentioning that we shouldn’t worry about tomorrow…” He talks about birds and flowers, dependent on God for all they need. He also talks about the need to not lobby for position… as his disciples desire to sit at his left and right hand.

Tony put something up on his blog regarding an email he received. Some great thoughts here.

You can’t escape ideology except by escaping politics altogether. You can, of course, form communities in which ideology doesn’t matter so much. Sure, society has long had many groups and whole institutions in which that was the case–sports clubs, for example. But it would be a mere confusion to think that the possibility of such communities somehow means that there is now magically another way of “doing politics.” No new political discoveries will come out of emergent Christianity, but if the community is actually made up of diverse people who actually tolerate people with viewpoints that are very different from their own, that’s fantastic.

I like this. Some may say we need to have an ideology. I’ve heard a lot that we are coming up with a “third way.” I don’t know if there will be a “third way,” but I do know that there will be some way… and it may not look like Jesus in the end. I am going to have to live differently in spite of that. I am going to have to adapt to that new way. I am a part of something much bigger… but it brings me much closer to home. I am part of something much more complex… but it brings me to a place of much more simplicity.

19 thoughts on “Why I don’t vote… can I say that here?

  1. RB, Such a good question and one I have really wrestled with. I guess I am glad that Jesus addresses the issue of taxes by saying basically, “Cesaer’s picture is on this.. give him what’s his.” There are a number of ways to look at that, but I sort of like thinking that he is saying, do what is demanded of you, get it over with, and get on with the real stuff of life. Don’t get too tied up with it.

    I do pay taxes because if I didn’t, I’d go to jail and things would get really messy. The fact that so much of it goes to weapons and murder drives me crazy… the notion of our strategy of foreign policy, or should I say “liberating” people, is not something that i agree with. Maybe this is another reason why voting is not something to get messed up in. I guess I think it will be really hard for ANY president not to get tied up in the war machine.

    I hope to hold space, create community, where we learn to live peaceably… where we don’t respond with retaliation or anger. Imagine if we helped those close to us, who in turn did the same to those close to them, to be more peaceful. This relational influence, grounded with strong roots in people’s lives, would spread. I know this sounds idyllic, but it seems to me that we need people to stand against the status quo if differences are going to be made.

    I don’t have this all figured out… but I am trying in the way and the places that I know best… my relationship, the world right in front of me, and in my own heart. Foreign policy is worthless if things are falling apart at home.


  2. Nate,
    By not choosing to vote (or choosing not to vote which is actually a different decision), you are still making a choice and voicing a position relative to the overall community. You are choosing to let others make a choice for you. One of the general tenets of the emerging church and the relationship centric ministry you are involved in is that the community may be more important than your individual life. (At least this is how I have come to understand it) Acting for the good of the community, such as in giving voice to your perspective on the state of the overall community, i.e. voting, seems to be a requirement to be an active and contributing member of the community. If you are not letting others know what you see and believe and think, then how can other really get to know you. (I do understand the value of blogging in this context, but it is limited to those who read this part of your views).

    Saying that you choose to act only as an individual to do what you think is the right path and take actions that you se as the preferred ones, may deprive the community of your value and gifts in ways you may not even be aware of. Many have been called to take a solitary path, but please consider carefully this call and its impact on all of the communities of which you are a member, including the political communities.


  3. Bob,
    Good thoughts. Indeed, choosing not to vote is a decision that effects the greater community. True, in the ministry that I am involved in, community often trumps the individual. Yes, too, I must let others know what I see, believe, and think in order for them to get to know me.

    It is actually for this reason, for my care for the community, that I choose not to vote. This may actually sound crazy… In my choice, however, people are forced to ask themselves why THEY vote. People are forced to ask themselves whether voting really does amount to letting others know what they “see and believe and think.” (Personally, I don’t think it is the best way.) My choice gives others the opportunity to question whether voting is the best way to “voice our perspective on the state of the community.”

    No, I don’t think voting is a “requirement” to be an active and contributing member of the community. I don’t see not voting as choosing to let others make the choice for me. I have chosen to make my choices elsewhere. In fact, no matter who is elected, they are going to be making choices for me. I hope that I have what it takes to be able to remain consistent no matter what choices people make for me.

    I may be making a big jump, but when Jesus said we are to turn the other cheek or to give our shirt as well… I feel like he was saying we are to take the decision making into our own hands. No longer are we allowing people to make the decision for us, even if they choose to hit us again or take our shirt. We have chosen to do that.

    So… if I choose outright to respond the same way no matter who is elected, am I not making a pretty big decision here. If I choose to lead, guide, and model a way of living that looks like Jesus (as much as I am able), with those that are in my very close community… if this is my sole purpose in life… is voting the best way to do this? Or can I afford to think that voting is going to somehow allow me to more easily follow in the way of Jesus?

    Very intentional choice… not because I don’t care about the community… but because I DO care, and I believe my intentional presence will make more of a difference if I devote all efforts to that rather than to voting in hopes that a president might do it for me or help me.

    With that said… I do not anticipate, expect, or imagine everyone to have the same opinion. For those who choose to vote… I say go for it. But it’s not for me.


  4. “If I choose to lead, guide, and model a way of living that looks like Jesus (as much as I am able), with those that are in my very close community… if this is my sole purpose in life… is voting the best way to do this?”

    It is not about best or solely or only, it is about that both/and perspective that yes you should devote your energy, your soul and your love to your immediate community and have the maximum impact you are able to achieve with that community. But to also at the same time essentially say that the rest of the community can fend for itself seems to be limited in perspective and love for all others equally well as your own community. It also does not allow for much feedback to ensure that you are actually following Jesus in truth and light. This is not a process for the individual but a large and diverse community, the larger and the more diverse the better.

    As the most extreme examples to show how this could play out at the corner cases: if I would focus on my family’s needs and ignore the needs of the homeless person who camps on my door step, or focus on my own needs for transportation and not comprehend its impacts through global warming on the ice melt from glaciers that make life possible for certain people in Bolivia (this is the focus of the lunch this Sunday by the way), then I can justify some localized perspectives that do not take into account the impacts on people far away from my immediate circle of friends. This could devolve into tribalism and racism very easily.

    Choosing to vote forces us to stay connected and impacted by the most diverse set of global issues and perspectives. I see this as the way to achieve the most good.


  5. Hmm….very fascinating conversation. I would like to say that I feel I should feel responsibility toward voting. I would also like to say that I should feel I can make a change for the greater community through voting. I feel neither. It would seem there is an ever growing list of reasons young adults opt out of the process. The disconnect I feel differs from Nate’s in a few ways I’m sure. At any rate I refuse to vote because in voting the greater good for the community is lost. If I vote and elect a president who has taken a strong stance on environmentalism, I may feel that is enough. I may have hope that this will lead to reform in government regulations. Or I may have hope that with the power of the presidency some work may be started to slow global warming. If that hope replaces activism I have done a disservice to the community as a whole. As an American Citizen I have the right, and an obligation, to participate in this country’s direction every day. I believe the power we have to guide the future starts with a way of living. It’s easy to say “well I voted for Kerry.” He didn’t win. What now?


  6. i agree witht your notion of building community relationships, but that is not in opposition to voting, and certainly shouldn’t be a justification.

    so, that said. now that i have been elected by folks other than you, i am going to pass two laws. the first one says that if you did not vote in the last election, your voting rights are hereby revoked. the second law i’m going to pass says that anyone blogging about Jesus can be shot on sight.

    what do you think, about that? you going to release the power of lawmaking to folks interested in taking away the rights so many other have died for?


  7. Jeff,
    Good thoughts. Granted, building relationships is not in opposition to voting… and maybe is not a justification either. I don’t expect it of anyone. And yet what do I do when I feel that investing much energy and intentionality into what happens at a so-far-removed level saps my ability to see that which is right in front of me? What happens when I start to think that if I can get someone else to do what needs to be done, I don’t have to?

    Your example moves to one of the greatest extremes… which we have to think about, for sure. There is great influence that can be made, even on how others vote, by relationally being involved in their lives… without voting. By speaking into others’ lives, and focusing solely on that, I may have more impact on the voting process than merely voting myself.

    And if blogging means getting shot at… there are many other ways of communicating. Blogging, perhaps, is a means. Something flexible that can be thrown out without abandoning a vision or a cause. Same with voting… I just don’t know that it can be argued as the best means (or even one) to live for a vision and with purpose.

    Just some random reflections here… perhaps not the best reply… but this kind of thing is not my favorite thing… we can only go so far in defense of our selves.


  8. my point is only that if you do not excercise your rights, they will be taken from you, as history sees. i think it is greedy and selfish to throw in the trash a great priveledge which so many others only wish they had, it’s like going to africa and burning great piles of grain.


  9. Nate-

    I must say that I completely agree with Bob in many ways. And Nate, you know that I consider you a good friend and I greatly enjoy our dialogues about following Jesus and living life. But dude…your logic in this argument just doesn’t follow. To say you don’t want to be stretched too thin by delving into the world of politics seems lazy and selfish. To say you don’t want to vote but you want to influence the voting of others seems irrational. I would challenge you to reconsider our responsibility as believers in the political arena.

    I agree with Kyle that we should be active in our community as the primary way to affect change in the world, but I disagree that this means we shouldn’t vote. We should do both! Both are important and we shouldn’t over-emphasize one to the detriment of the other.

    Of course you want to live out the way of Jesus everyday and not be worried about what tomorrow brings. To me, that has nothing to do with voting or not voting. The people who legislate policy in this country have influence not only on your individual life, but also on the local community you live in, our national direction, and our global impact. Its true that whoever is in office will not change the way you follow Jesus. But it is also true that whoever is in office has an incredible impact on people around the world –we are talking about poverty and suffering, the very lives of millions. Let me illustrate this…

    Chelsea and I went to a lecture this last Thursday night in Bend called “Prospects in Darfur” given by the CEO of an organization called MercyCorps… great talk and really good Q and A afterwards. One of his main points was that voting AND political activism AND actually doing the aid work all matter. In our world, each plays its part and we should not let up in any area. In this example, our political involvement or lack of political involvement has direct impact on the lives of 2.5 million displaced people in Darfur alone. Your vote matters to those people, Nate. If we don’t value them enough to stand up for them, what does that say about our love for others? And what does that ultimately say about our love for Christ?

    I would suggest that you vote because our government makes decisions that affect millions of lives in our community, in our nation and across the world. As a Christ-follower, those lives should matter to you. I know that you care about these people – and one important way to show that is with your vote.

    If the person you vote for doesn’t make it into office…that’s okay. You will still be following Christ in the same way, you still have made your voice heard, and you will still be involved. You had the opportunity to get someone on your team who had great influence, but it didn’t happen. I would much rather that be the case than have to say I never even tried.

    You don’t have to get wrapped up in the political arena to make a good informed decision. Do some simple research; talk to people who are informed; and be a responsible citizen of the Kingdom of God by voting – I think Romans 13 would back me up here. Don’t sell yourself short – don’t be overly-contemplative. As Foster argues in Celebration of Discipline, we should meditate on the current events of our time and prophetically speak into them. Meditate and then act and be part of the world changing process – this includes voting.


  10. Thank you all sincerely for your feedback. This is how we discern… how we listen to where we should go.

    I have much to think about now and will no doubt be considering your thoughts for a long time.


  11. Nate:

    Be careful about idol worship of others. We’ll all let you down Nate. Make sure your opinions and thoughts are your own rather than a regurgitation of something you found intellectually titillating from somebody else. Musing about things is one thing. Certainty about them is quite another.

    That stuff from Tony in your post from his blog “you can’t escape ideology except by escaping politics altogether” — hmmmm….that tastes like ideology…smells like ideology….looks like ideology….by gum! It IS ideology.

    The suggestion that you can form tolerant communities that are apolitical sounds like it emanates from a stint cloistered in a monastery rather than on the streets of real life. It is also a contradiction of profoundly successful movements of the collective efforts of human beings in various social movements throughout history. I would offer the independence of India and the U.S. civil rights movements as two obvious examples.

    What you need to do Nate is get involved with people at a level where you have day-in, day-out real life experience with the pain of everyday living…where lives are in fact, at stake, due to the present public policies that create the inequities that hurt people — right in your own backyard. Don’t go on a “mission” somewhere. Get a mission “here.” This stuff about creating “community” with the absence of any ideology (or a tolerance of all ideologies) is well — well intentioned at best — destructive nonsense at worst.

    The effect of this line of thinking is to keep one on the sidelines, smug in the posture of observing and commenting on the fray before you. That’s symptomatic of self-induced paralysis cloaked behind the veil of an insidiously subtle form of self-righteousness. With a laissez-faire philosophy embodied by Tony’s statement that “No new political discoveries will come out of emergent Christianity” — I would agree — if you buy Jones characterization which, it should be fairly clear by now, that I do not. Tony is as entitled to his views of whatever he defines as “emergent” as I am. We disagree. I urge you to think long and hard before you make public statements like the one you have made in this post, considering all the implications of what you’ve heard, what you’ve processed, what you’ve experienced, what you haven’t experienced and what you’ve said.

    Rather than smoking a pipe in a bungalow in Bend, swilling coffee in a local watering hole, browsing books and contemplating what others are saying about “life” and then synthesizing that on your blog….well….dive into life Nate instead of pontificating from your perch in the lifeguard’s chair!

    As I have shared with you before, have written about and most recently, had the pleasure to discuss with several faith & culture authors in Portland this past week — Get out of the intellectual contemplation (“dialogue”) dimension of the emergent conversation and at least, intentionally get some real world experience day-in and day-out of serving somebody else vastly different and distinctly, socially, physically and mentally disadvantaged versus yourself. Spend a couple years living with them. Garner a tangible, boots on the ground appreciation for all the various dimensions of the advocacy required on their behalf to rectify and alleviate their pain and suffering.

    —Then tell me what you think of voting.

    You’ll meet plenty of people in life Nate willing to pat you on the back as you float by, headed for the waterfall I’m not one of those. The people who have been most important in my life are the one’s who are willing to hurt my feelings — or even risk our friendship — when I’m sharing with them my new fragrance and it stinks.

    Read 2 books by Samantha Power – “A Problem From Hell – America and The Age of Genocide” as well as her most recent one, “Chasing The Flame – Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World.”

    There — now you have my vote.

    “Engage Maverick! Engage!”

    Good luck mate.

    Take a shower.


  12. i have to say i agree with most of Bill’s comment above. I am an ex-non-voter myself, and i agree that it is like removing oneself to the cloistered and safe life in the monastery, a perch to view sufferinig from. regardless your thoughts and views now, i am confident that in time you will ‘come back around,’ that is to say, “come back into the world.”

    maybe every spiritual quest leads one out into the desert, but in order to bring fruit to one’s pilgrimage, eventually you have to come back into the city to turn the money tables.

    best regards.
    Micah 6:8


  13. Bill, Thanks for the note. The interesting thing is that what you are saying is nearly exactly what I am saying. Although, all the same thoughts about getting into the trenches with “real” people and not sitting on the outside postulating… all that leads me to feel the need to not mess around in the voting realm.

    A couple clarity things: The quote from Tony’s site wasn’t Tony. It was an email he received from someone else. Secondly, my understanding is not coming from an idolization of others or a regurgitation. Granted, I dropped a few names in there… but their words are not my own. Everything I have written is from my own heart and head, based on my understanding of scripture, life, listening to the Spirit, and the breadth of my reading.

    I have held this position longer than I have even known about the emerging church. And I am the first to come down hard on postulating from the sidelines. I try not to say much about things that I am not living… which leaves me with not much to say really. But I am dead set against just thinking in hypotheticals and ideals without doing anything.

    Yes there are implications of me putting this stuff here on this post. I needed to get some feedback… but I don’t throw it out there as an idea that I want to defend or force on others. I put it out there as something that I am committed to living. In regards to monasteries… we have a tendency to think that monks were not connected with the real world. Study the Celtic Monastics… they were about as engaged as any one could be.

    Peace all around. I’ll see you on the street, in the pub, over lunch, or at a house party… but probably not in the voting booth.


  14. one can avoid commiting a lot of time/resources to politics and still use simple rules to decide who to vote for.

    One really simple one is to vote for the candidate who has received fewer campaign contributions in excess of 50 bucks per person or who has run a cleaner campaign as measured by some organization like fact-check.

    A lot of people in political elections do simply decide right before election day, “Am I better off than I was 4 years ago” and decide their vote on that basis. I think we don’t need to get really complicated to come up with some simple rules of our own that are less self-centered and materialistic and that collectively will impact our governance.



  15. Nate,

    My understanding of “community” includes supporting others who receive direction from God. In my case, I believe that God provided a way for me to serve on our local school board. To continue in that opportunity, I needed to be elected.

    I didn’t win by many votes, but I was elected. During my time on the Board I had the opportunity to defuse an initiative for a district-wide diversity instruction at all grade levels (including proposed discussions of religious differences and alternative lifesyles). In another situation, I participated in a discussion that gave Christian teachers continuing freedom to meet with students on campus and off. Do those situations matter to Christ-followers? They do if you happen to have children in our school district.

    Your discussion of voting seems to focus on the “big” issues. Sometimes, Nate, the community of believers needs your participation (and only a few others) to make a big, lasting impact for Christ on a whole generation in one of the many, smaller issues that are decided at the ballot box.



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