I have two degrees: one in political science, and one in theology and ethics. I think a lot – A LOT – about the intersection of these two things, both in our culture in general, and in how I approach these two interests in my own life and my own public actions and words. While I’m obviously not leery of getting political – in terms of issues and policies – on social media and in my writing, I’ve generally steered clear of making supportive statements about candidates themselves. I’ve done this because I have been working out my own thoughts about the proper way to be politically involved. I have worked – I am still working – to find the proper line to walk between my passion for political work, and the importance I see in civil engagement, and a theological bent towards an Anabaptist, nonviolent/non-coercive, anti-empire faith. It’s a very narrow line to walk, one often difficult to discern.
It’s made all the more difficult by the current occupant of the Oval Office. I don’t want this post to be about bashing Trump. That’s easy enough to do, and he’s certainly earned that bashing. But what I mean here is, discerning my public calling in this particular time takes on an added difficulty, but also an added urgency. We are living in a time unlike any other, and we have political leadership in this country that is uniquely unfit for office and dangerous to our nation and to the people I care about most in this world. For someone wanting to engage thoughtfully and carefully in the political realm, the era of Trump serves only to obscure and erase any attempts at thoughtfulness and nuance. This is one of the most dangerous things this President brings the world, among so many others: a national tone of political engagement centered on brutality, line-drawing, and being the loudest, most extreme voice. It’s devastating to democratic political culture in general, and to finding one’s own unique political voice and course of action, especially if the voice and course you are plotting is one that is trying to be free from the traditional left-right, Democrat-Republican, progressive-conservative divide of politics. This is not, in short, a time conducive to deep, long-term thinking. It’s a time where everyone seems to be merely trying to survive, day-to-day. Existing inwardly, in an attempt to be more intentional about political and public choices, comes across as selfish, privileged, and tone deaf right now.
Nevertheless, this is where I have been, and where I continue to be as this crucial election approaches. But recently, I have come to a really important conclusion, one that is starting to drive my own political engagement, and one which I hope can start to drive that of others as well. In order to communicate that idea, let me first make a very obvious, but also very uncomfortable for me, declaration of political intent: I am supporting and voting for Joe Biden this November. I strongly supported and voted for Elizabeth Warren during the primaries, and Joe was pretty far down my list of candidates if you had asked me to rank them. But, as he wrapped up the nomination, I am content to support and vote for and even get a small bit of excited about his candidacy this year.
While that, again, seems like a rather obvious statement of support for someone like me to make, it is not one I anticipated making publicly, nor I do I feel comfortable doing so publicly. This discomfort arises, again, from my deeply held theological convictions as a Christian who takes my faith very seriously. I am in a place theologically where, generally speaking, I place almost no faith or hope in the workings of political leaders or state action. My faith is in a Man who was executed by a state very similar to our own today, a Man who came declaring God’s Kingdom, a Kingdom that is in the keeping of the Church, which is an alternative polis to the one we are left with today. It is, in the words of Augustine, the City of God where I see the hope of humanity, and not the City of Man. The City of Man, exemplified in the political tumult and actions of this world, is fallen, and most crucially, it is not and cannot become the Church, or the City of God. My political engagement in this world is never with the intention that this world will perfectly mirror the Church. It will always fall short. As Christians, we are called first and foremost to building a different example of being in the world, one based on the nonviolent, love-centered, all-encompassing love of God as seen in Christ. This is where my hope, and my chief work, lies.
That said, I don’t place zero importance on the workings of this world. We do, after all, have to live here, and Christ called us to envisioning and working for a better world here and now. And, in this country, that means democratic political engagement. For all its many, many faults, our Constitutional democracy, built on liberal Enlightenment values, does a pretty good job of ordering our lives together. And so, I feel good, in the here and now, voting for Joe Biden. I do so because – and this is the big point I want to make – voting is far from – it should be far from – the only form of democratic political engagement we participate in. Voting, in a democracy, should only be one small way in which we all participate in the governing of our states and cities and nation. When voting is paired with advocacy, education, protesting, civic engagement, and other forms of democratic participation, then crucially, who we vote for stops seeming like such an all-encompassing exercise of our political voice. In other words, when our only form of political engagement is going to vote once every two or four years, then the person we mark on the ballot completely and totally co-opts our voice and our energies. But, when we get involved in a multitude of ways, then that person we vote for only gets to account for a small portion of our public witness.
This is important because, too often, we treat who we vote for as a much larger part of who we are than it should be. When I go to the poll in November and vote for Joe Biden, many people will view that as a large statement on who I am as a person, and on what my priorities are at a granular level. But, what I want you to understand is that voting for Joe Biden is only a small part of my political and public engagement in the world. As such, I don’t feel the need to endorse or stand behind everything Joe says or does. He does not speak for me. He is merely the best choice I see on the ballot. He’s not perfect; far from it. Joe Biden and I disagree on a lot of issues. But, I don’t feel like I am mortally compromising my values as a person or a Christian by voting for someone I don’t agree with all the time, because I am willing to keep working in those areas, and through my work and advocacy, I am willing to hold Joe accountable in a more concrete way than I would be doing if all I did was vote. I really believe that sometimes it is ok to say: I don’t agree with my candidate on this or that issue, when someone challenges you on it. This holds true for the other candidates I am publicly throwing my support behind year as well: Kojo Asamoa-Caesar in our Congressional district, Abby Broyles for our Senate seat, Greg Robinson for Tulsa Mayor as my preferred candidate for Mayor, Kara Joy McKee as my City Councilwoman, Meloyde Blancett Meloyde Blancett as my State Representative. None of these candidates checks every priority or value for me. But I am willing not only to vote for them, but also to declare publicly that I am voting for them, because they all need to know that my doing so, I am saying out loud, to my community, that I am holding them to their promises, and I am going to challenge them where I think they need to be challenged. They have all asked for my vote in different ways, and the price of that vote is the reminder that their political power is only a small part of the democracy we all live and take part in.
My charge to you: go vote in your elections. But don’t just vote. Get involved. In doing so, you will more clearly discern what is important to you, and you will be able to engage our leaders not just at the ballot box, but every day, in a variety of ways. And in doing so, you can begin to see your vote as not the persona-defining choice of somebody who you must then defend to the death in public, because you have submitted your persona to them in your only act of public accountability, but as one small measure of your power as a democratic citizen.