The Christian Vote

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.

Presidential Arson

This is from a Facebook post I put up last night:

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” declared Christ, “for they will be called the children of God.”

Today, the man who has claimed the title of President, made a few different kinds of declaration. First, in a phone call with governors of states who are affected by the protests and demonstrations for justice, he urged them to “dominate” peaceful protesters, saying they would be seen as “weak” if they didn’t do so. Then, disregarding the entire judicial branch and any sentencing guidelines that may be on the books, he told them he favored 10-year prison sentences for anyone arrested while exercising their First Amendment right to protest.

Then, this afternoon in the Rose Garden, he declared his intention to use the power of the state against its own people exercising their rights, saying he would send the US military in to states that didn’t “dominate” protesters in the way he sees fit. Specifically, he said he would deploy “thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers” to bring order.

This, of course is illegal. It is also a declaration of civil war, and a scary step towards an authoritarian, totalitarian military state.

Finally, he ended his day, not by cowering like he did last night, but by having protesters forcefully removed with tear gas and rubber bullets and violence, and proceeded to walk to a local church (St. John’s Episcopal Church, where he brandished a Bible like some sort of totem, and proclaimed, “We have the greatest country in the world,” as if the Church somehow condones this form of national self-aggrandizement and narcissism, much less the disgusting and deplorable militarism and oppressed seen in our nation over the past days, weeks, months, years, and decades.

Our country is facing a moment unlike any other in history. We have a deadly pandemic sweeping the world, with 104,000 dead in the United States over the last three months (that’s more than double the total number of American deaths in Vietnam, if you need a little perspective.) Our unemployment rate is higher than ever. Millions of businesses are on the brink of collapse. Tensions with the rest of the world are higher than ever. And now, another unjust death of a black body at the hands of the state has set alight centuries of frustration, anger and despair, and our streets are seeing blood and violence like few other times in history.

This is the kind of time that a leader stands up, with the intention of unifying and calming. This is when we need a leader to declare that our pain is heard, that injustice is unacceptable, that the right of the people to gather and assemble, to make their voices heard, is an important Constitutional and human right, that things may look bleak and dark now, but that together we can make a better future for all people. It is a time for a leader to remind us that change is hard, that sacrifices are needed, that justice is a necessity, that this work is possible but far from assured. This is a time for leadership.

Instead, what we have is an abdication. Instead of a leader in a time of crisis, we have a man who has made a career and a life out of dividing and demonizing, a man who is so self-absorbed and dangerously narcissistic that he can’t even begin to discern how to do anything but try to twist every moment to his own sad, pathetic little view of the world. We have a man who only knows how to play to the worst of the worst in this country, whose only play is to bluster and scream and stomp and Tweet until he gets his way, or destroys everything around him trying.

Ezra Klein wrote eloquently this morning (link in comments):

“When we elected Donald Trump, we elected a political arsonist. The sole consolation of his presidency, in its early years, was that there was surprisingly little dry tinder. The economy hummed along, seemingly imperturbable. We faced few foreign crises. Domestic divisions remained mostly digital. This is not to dismiss real disasters or excuse cruel policies — from children thrown into cages to toxins dumped into our streams to the lethal mismanagement of Hurricane Maria — but it could have been worse.

Playacting civil war on Twitter, as the president often did, was never the nightmare scenario. The nightmare scenario was the social fracture and violent crises of the 1960s layered atop the political and media system of the 2020; the tests of presidential leadership that have defined past eras demanded of this leader, in this era. We weren’t there, and then, all of a sudden, we were.

We are.”

Our nation is at a turning point. There is no going back to normal after the events of the past weeks and months. A large group of Americans has reached a breaking point when it comes to injustice and oppression and the demons of this nation’s past and present. Another, very small group has decided that, as the country grows in a direction they don’t like, that they would rather burn it all to the ground, and in the words of Klein, managed to elect “a political arsonist” to do just that. And in doing so, he will use any weapon, any word, anything deemed important or sacred or holy to achieve the task, no matter the damage done.

This afternoon, when he stood in front a church wielding a Bible in an attempt to invoke the power of God behind his own actions and words, he revealed (again) how little he, or his followers, know of the demands of Christ. While he stood there, trying to gain holy approval for the terrorism of the state he has demanded, while he invoked the civil religion of this nation in an attempt to coerce God into supporting something as anti-Christian as you can imagine, the words of the prophet Amos came to mind. These are the words of a prophet of God, spoken to a leader who imagines himself and his state as all-powerful and all-knowing, on behalf of an oppressed and hurting people, reminding that leader just what it is this God is looking for from those who would declare themselves favored by God:

“I can’t stand your religious meetings.
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions,
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.”

Lord let that justice and righteousness wash down on us now. We need a good cleansing. Amen

A Story (of Tweets) About America

As things have been happening across our country in response to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minneapolis last week, I have been sharing my thoughts on Facebook. I have decided to share them here, as well, going back a few days. Here is what I posted Friday:

Some tweets this morning that tell a story about what is happening in Minneapolis right now, and about how you, my fellow white friends and family, should be reacting to events.

To begin with, Peter Dauo’s tweet: the reason things are happening in Minneapolis is because, first, of the actions of police officers bringing state power into George Floyd’s life, and killing him over something that doesn’t even come close to justifying capital punishment (as if anything ever could justify that kind of injustice, but that’s a post for another day), and second, because of the decisions of those in power in Minneapolis to justify the actions of those officers by refusing to hold them accountable. This is the same story that has been happening across our country for the better part of 400 years: the use of state violence to keep black and brown bodies in submission and constant fear of death. Those in the streets of Minneapolis, and those of us who stand with them, are over that shit.

So they marched last night, and yesterday, and the day before that, and four years ago in Baton Rouge #altonsterling, and five years ago in Ferguson #michaelbrown, and six years ago in Cleveland #tamirrice, and eight years ago in Sanford Florida #trayvonmartin, and 50 years ago in Watts and Harlem and Memphis and Selma, and a hundred years ago in the ruins of Black Wall Street right here in Tulsa, and so many countless other times that I know I’m missing, but Jesus there are so many to try and remember and honor and mourn. They marched because injustice happened, and as Dr. King reminded us, where injustice happens to one, it happens to all. They marched because it is their democratic right to do so, to hold their leaders accountable, to demand equal treatment under the law, to remind the state it doesn’t get to have unlimited life and death power over us, whom it derives its very power and authority from.

And instead of hearing and recognizing the pain and anguish and anger present in those marching, those in charge doubled down, and began attacking peaceful protestors, with rubber bullets and tear gas and batons and pepper spray. Let me say that again: they attacked PEACEFUL PROTESTORS less than a month after armed white terrorists marched on various state capitols around the country because they couldn’t get a haircut and got fawning coverage on Fox News and got called “some good people” by our President and didn’t get attacked or stopped or hardly even acknowledged by police and the powers that be. But some peaceful protestors tried to get the state’s attention and asked for justice, and all they got was pepper spray and the abuse of the police. You didn’t even have to be protesting to get that abuse either; just ask S. Lee Merritt, whose black body made him a target regardless of any actions he was or wasn’t taking. “Keeping the peace” my ass.

And so, as Tomi Lahren had to have pointed out to her by a real hero, by a powerful woman of color, when peaceful protesting didn’t result in change, but instead resulted in more state violence, the people responded in kind. They began burning and destroying property because, and the Hampton Institute reminds us, in a world where the only thing power understands is the commodifying of every damn thing, where stuff if much more important and valuable than people (and if you don’t think that’s true, just think back to the “thousands of deaths are the price we must pay to reopen the economy” crowd), then you start destroying commodities. Oh, hey. They got your attention now. Lifeless black bodies didn’t do it. But a burning television sure as hell did. Welcome to the party.

Now the protestors get accused of “looting” for taking the only actions that would be heard by the state and those with money and power who run that state. But you know what, Warren Gunnels is right: looting isn’t the burning of a Target and the anger of an abused people. Looting is getting rich off the bodies and lives of people. Looting is using pandemics and recessions and wars and fear to vacuum up every last dollar to stick in a bank account somewhere in Majorca, and at the same time, fund disinformation campaigns claiming those who want a decent living wage and basic health care and reliable access to food and water and a roof over their head without constant fear of eviction are in fact “communists” and “free loaders” and “takers”, instead of acknowledging that they are in fact just people who want to raise their children and live their lives and not be robbed from above. Looting is what millionaires and billionaires do to the rest of us every day, while the state stands aside, or even in most cases, helps.

Which brings me to the last tweet. From the man who became our president almost four years ago, who built his own immoral fortune by fleecing and looting and hurting regular, every day people. Who this morning went on Twitter, and called for AMERICAN CITIZENS – you know, those people who he works for (not the other way around), who he serves at the pleasure of – to be gunned down in the streets, because again, property in Minneapolis is deemed more important than human lives. This sad, orange little man who lives on the public dime like the welfare fraud he is, has the gall to look at the people he has made a life and career out of looting, screwing and demeaning, and actually think that he can just have them put down. He can find the ability to praise white supremacists marching in Charlottesville and cospatriots playing solider in Grand Rapids, but the name he gives to people demanding justice and fair treatment under the law “THUGs.” And all of those people who have stood behind every action he has taken for four years, who bend over backwards to justify his every action, no matter how much it may trample everything they once claimed to stand for, will again retweet him and praise him and fawn over him and scream MAGA and call for “thugs” everywhere to be put down like dogs. It’s sickening, and it leaves little hope in my heart for the future of our country, because about 35% has gone way off the deep end and is determined to take us there with them.

I’m angry this morning, in a way I’m usually not, and while usually I would apologize for being this angry and pointed in my language on Facebook, I don’t think today I will. If you are shocked by this, by whats happening, by how angry and upset and rage-filled people are: good. You should be. You should have been paying attention before (God knows you had every chance) and, well, I’m glad to see you are now at least. Support the Americans fighting for their basic rights in Minneapolis today. Join your local “#BlackLivesMatter rally. Resist powers that dehumanize. Stop valuing stuff more than people. Work for a country and world where the rich don’t get to loot the poor and force everyone into poverty in their deranged and demonic drive for MORE. And keep your thoughts and prayers; the only kind of praying we should be doing right now is on our feet.