This election season is (or should be) an agonizing time for pacifists and other people in the United States who care deeply for peace on earth. Perhaps as much as any time in the history of this country, an uncritical embrace of militarism as a way of life is on display. We have a president running for re-election proudly trumpeting his success in one military intervention after another (including direct assassination of “national enemies”)—and being harshly criticized by his main opponent for being a wuss on national security issues.
Except for people like us on the fringes, Obama’s militarism is not seen as a problem in the national discussion. The country faces extreme economic difficulties and the two main options in this election are giving the military either a somewhat greater share of the national treasure or a much greater share.
Peace advocates’ discouragement with Obama
American peace advocates’ discouragement is heightened by the reality that we thought we might be getting something better four years ago. And we weren’t alone in the world—how else to explain Obama’s clearly premature Nobel Peace Prize (now a distant memory) other than as a statement of hope from the selectors that he truly would provide a new direction in American foreign policy? Yet, when all is said and done, what we see over the past four years is a slight decrease in the bellicose posturing that characterized the Bush administration, but overall a continuation of the trajectory of empire as a way of life.
So, it is understandable that many peace advocates who supported Obama in 2008 (with admittedly varying degrees of enthusiasm—no one I know or know of expected Obama to tack very far toward a truly new, peace-oriented national security agenda; but we did hope for some major positive shifts) are now asserting that they will not vote for him this time. None of these folks, of course, are remotely interesting in voting for Mitt Romney—they talk either of voting for a third (or fourth or fifth) party candidate or of abstaining.
This tendency became especially noticeable to me when at least seven of my Facebook friends posted a link to and endorsed a provocative article: “Why I Refuse to Vote for Barack Obama” published on the website of The Atlantic, written by Conor Friederstorff. I had not heard of Friederstorff before. As near as I can tell, he’s a person of the political right, tending toward liberatarianism—not someone I would expect my friends to share a lot of political convictions with. But he claims to have voted for Obama in 2008 and swears he won’t now (he supports former New Mexico governor, Gary Johnson, who is running on the Liberatarian Party ticket). The main reason he gives is that Obama has pursued terrible and extraordinarily violent national security policies. He certainly has a point—a strong point. If anything, I would probably state my critique of Obama on these issues even more strongly. [For the record, though, let me note a thoughtful critique of Friederstorff’s article by Jamelle Bouie of The American Prospect.]
Another expression, similar to Friederstorff’s, has come from several friends of mine who have started a effort they are calling Voter Witness. They advocate abstaining from the presidential part of the upcoming election and making a public statement by signing the petition on their website. The point of the petition is to publicize people’s disenchantment with Obama’s militarism, in this case in the name of Christian peace convictions. And here’s just one more example, theological humorist Tripp York on his Amish Jihadist website references Friederstorff and reiterates his opposition on Christian grounds for voting for Obama.
On not voting for Democrats
As I have indicated, I am sympathetic with these arguments and probably have as sharp of a critique of Obama’s militarism as anyone. As I reflect on the issues, I think back to several previous presidential elections.
In 1980, I decided I could no longer support Jimmy Carter due, in part, because of his awful decision to boycott the Moscow Olympics (though I am less a fan of the Olympics now than I was then, I still think this was an extraordinarily bad idea that still has not been fully counterbalanced in my mind by Carter’s admirable post-presidential career). This was part of his beginning a sharp trajectory in a militaristic direction (a trajectory well underway prior to Ronald Reagan’s reign). I voted for Barry Commoner, an admirable environmentalist of the day who ran on a Citizen’s Party ticket (if I remember correctly).
Then in 1992, after candidate Bill Clinton flew home to Arkansas to preside over the execution of a mentally handicapped convicted murderer to bolster his tough guy image, I vowed never to vote for him. I can’t remember for sure if I voted for a third party person that time or just left my ballot blank.
In 2000, Ralph Nader ran a spirited campaign as the Green Party candidate. Virginia was not being contested that election, Al Gore having ceded it to George Bush. So rather than waste a vote for Gore (who I definitely thought was better than Bush), I voted for Nader in large part because of his claim to be working for the advancement of the Green Party and the hope that if he got enough votes the Greens would be strengthened for future work.
In retrospect, I now think I definitely should have voted for Carter. And probably should have voted for Clinton. I regret my vote for Nader only because he largely reneged on his promise to work for the furthering of the Green movement; I think my reasoning on that one was sound (and I can’t resist pointing out that Nader did not cause Gore’s defeat—Gore won that election and then he and the Democrats allowed the Republicans to steal it and to get away with stealing it).
Reasons to (nonetheless) vote for Obama
But now, I am clear that I will vote for Barack Obama—in spite of him being a warmonger (and I am using this term in all seriousness). These are some of the reasons why.
(1) The decisive reason for me is that this is one (very) small contribution to repudiating what has become of the Republican Party. As an Oregonian, I can well remember my early days of political awareness when I supported Republicans such as Governor Tom McCall (a strong environmentalist) and Senator Mark Hatfield (as consistent an advocate for peace as the U.S. Senate has had in my lifetime). Those days are long gone. All that needs to be said about the Republicans today is that Mitt Romney (with the unquestioning support of most of the Party faithful outside the fringe Ron Paul supporters) runs his campaign criticizing Obama for being too pacifistic.
It seems to me that none of the “I-won’t-vote-for-Obama” arguments I have seen take the utter corruption of the Republican Party nearly seriously enough. This baffles me. To say (most of) the Democrats and Obama in particular are terrible in their support for empire as a way of life is accurate—but to think this implies the Republicans are only just as bad seems misguided. With Obama, one gets the sense of a leader whose worldview is still linked (if somewhat tenuously) to reality (e.g., recognizing what a disaster as Israeli attack on Iran would be). Such a worldview does allow for the possibility of being dissuaded from disastrous policies before they actually happen. We can have no assurance of such a link with reality with Romney and his national security advisers.
I can’t actually think of an issue that I am happy with Obama about—even his great “achievement,” Obamacare, still seems way too much a pandering to the corporate medical/insurance establishment. Even so, there is not a single issue that I can think of that Romney and the Republicans are not significantly worse on.
So, a vote for Obama is mainly a vote against the Republicans. Such a vote would communicate this repudiation more clearly than a sure to be ignored vote for a third (or fourth or fifth) party candidate (at least in a state like Virginia that is actually being contested—if I still lived in Oregon or South Dakota I might consider a vote for the Green Party, though not for the largely ego-driven one-shot candidacies of Rocky Anderson or Gary Johnson or [in Virginia] Virgil Goode).
As on many other topics, I find the thoughts of Rebecca Solnit quite helpful in thinking about this election. She states: “I have a grand goal, and that is to counter the Republican Right with its deep desire to annihilate everything I love and to move toward far more radical goals than the Democrats ever truly support.”
(2) Part of the reason I will vote for Obama is, perhaps paradoxically, because I don’t think presidential voting is very important. I disagree with the idea that if I vote for someone I am complicit in all (or even most) of what they do in power. The big problem we face in this country is the mostly corrupt political system we live with that is getting worse and worse. Voting is one (little) thing we can still do that has (some small) effect. Perhaps it’s only the effect of repudiating the worse of the two evils we are asked to choose from. That’s not really very important. But if we are given the chance to do this, we should take it. We gain nothing at all by being part of what Solnit wittily calls “voluntary leftist voter suppression.” And our purity is not compromised by the contagion of voting for a warmonger—such a vote simply does not have that kind of power.
(3) Also the qualification I made above, that “most of” the Democrats are terrible in their support for empire as a way of life is important. There are a few Democrats in power who do resist empire (for example, two members of Congress in districts I used to live in, Peter DeFazio in Oregon and Barbara Lee in California, and a couple of young Senators, Jeff Merkley from Oregon and Sharrod Brown from Ohio). Obama’s election will give these peace advocates just a bit more leverage. And we do have (if only a glimmer) of hope that the Democrats as a whole could be moved in a more peaceable direction (contrary to the other party that truly is hopeless).
(4) Finally, is strikes me that a person who votes for Obama has a bit more standing to challenge his policies than one who does not. It seems silly to take the approach that you vote for someone and then you are locked in to support all their policies (or even most of them). I would prefer to see voting for someone as analogous to joining a church—this is actually just a step to join the conversation and an acceptance of responsibility to hold the politician (or church) accountable to their best convictions and commitments.
So, the kind of “voter witness” I would like to see peace people committing to is not self-initiated pacifist voter suppression. Rather, it would be to take the opportunity to vote as only one tiny step in acting in whatever way one can to further the cause of peace by constructive criticism of President Obama—and many other elements of political faithfulness. [For two essays where I reflect on political responsibility for Christian pacifists see “Core convictions for engaged pacifism” and “Anabaptist faith and American democracy.”]
Maybe we peace advocates who vote for Obama should see such a vote as a pledge to extend our peace advocacy (not an admission that we must compromise it). We will vote and we will do what we can to challenge militarism in all its forms and resist empire as a way of life however we can.
[UPDATE: Here is a sequel, posted October 19—“More Thoughts About Voting (Or Not) For A ‘Warmonger'”]
77 thoughts on “Should a pacifist vote for a warmonger?”
thoughtful stuff, Ted. But I don’t think you should join in calling third-party voting “suppression.” Why is voting for a candidate you actually want any more suppression than accepting the lie that the two parties represent the full range of our options? By the polls, only something like 8 states are still realistically contested. If only those who fell within the margin in the “solid” states (whether solidly red or blue) voted for third parties, it could really change the landscape, at very least by potentially including more people in the debates in the future.
Thanks, Ben. I posted a reply this morning that seems to have disappeared. I actually agree with your point, which is why I said if I still lived in Oregon or South Dakota, I’d probably vote for the Green Party.
The only comment box is for replies to dccramer, but this is actually meant more generally to the article. I just came across this – http://constitutionschool.com/2012/10/02/big-news-obama-waives-bush-law-banning-child-soldiers/ Obama has waived enforcement of a law passed unanimously by Congress and signed by President Bush opposing the use of children under 15 as soldiers.
How depraved must a man be who has his own children to find it OK to force young children to be soldiers? Ted, I know you have your own children. Can you really stomach voting for a man who will provide American aid to those impressing children of any age into serving as soldiers?
Any candidate, regardless of who is opposing them, who accepts this kind of abuse of children does not deserve the vote of any decent person.
Ted – I have been reflecting on this in 3 posts over at robbdavis.wordpress.com. I am coming to a different conclusion (though I have not yet framed my argument in explicitly Anabaptist terms–I will do that in the fourth installment). The bottom line for me is that there is a way to engage in the “democratic” process of the nation in which we live without voting in national elections. I won’t rehash my arguments here but would be interested in talking to you more. Thanks.
Ted, John Stoner posted an essay at Jesus Radicals on “Getting Beyond Presidential Politics” ( http://www.jesusradicals.com/getting-beyond-presidential-politics/ ). John represents the Voter Witness proposal.
Much of the dialogue there was whether radical Christians should vote at all. That missed John’s point I thought and so I posted my own reflections here ( http://www.rdhudgens.blogspot.com/2012/09/voting-as-tactic.html ) as a response to John and his mis-readers.
Another interesting reflection came from a Facebook posting by an African-American woman regarding the recent string of “chair lynchings” (hanging a chair from a front yard tree to show your opposition to Obama). She wrote: “This is exactly why I am in the 90%+ [of African-Americans] who will cast my vote for Obama . . . This is not a political statement – the political system has never worked for blacks, let’s face it. This is a cultural statement . . . If Obama loses because white liberals abandon him for all the justifiable reasons they might, a cultural statement will be made . . . Look at how racism has come back unabated! Imagine what it will be like if the racists win?”
The cultural statement really really resonates in the African-American congregation where I pastor. Many there are just as disillusioned and disappointed in Obama as any white liberal (or pacifist) – and yet, the dynamics of race play a major role in shaping their choice in a way that few white liberals (or pacifists) really understand.
Thanks for taking the time to lay this out, Ted. Because we’re connected on F’book, I’ve read most of the articles you linked to above. Robb and I are probably very close in terms of rationelle for not voting and alternatives for what to do instead – e.g. I love his piece on local/direct democracy of the radical sort. (And I’m of the radical ecclesia persuasion, so it jives well…)
The strongest argument for voting as a radical that I’ve seen comes from Ric Hudgens’ post (http://www.rdhudgens.blogspot.com/2012/09/voting-as-tactic.html), where he argues that not voting as a form of prophetic witness isn’t really prophetic since only about half the country votes in presidential elections anyway; so it’s not like you’re “a voice crying in the wilderness” – you’re a voice crying out in a pretty ambivalent, apathetic mass of people (with lots of background noise). I’m also sensitive to the argument that not voting is something that comfy white dudes like me can get away with because we have so little at stake.
So I guess I might (might!) be persuaded to vote under these conditions, some of which line up exactly with what you’ve said above, and what Ric has stated:
1) That voting not be seen as a “sacred” duty. Such a view takes an idolatrous view of the nation-state, which exactly is what many Americans function with.
2) That voting be seen as a tactic – An “opportunistic, immediate and time limited action,” as my friend & fellow Brethren, Josh Brockway, put its (citing de Certeau).
3) That voting and other forms of civic engagement not distract us from committed live in communities of the body of Christ. Basically: Don’t let the body of America become conflated with the body of Christ. Don’t let the voting booth become your confessional booth. This also practically requires that you turn off the TV, permanently, and stop reading internet news sites and most political sites/blogs of any ideological stripe (progressive, conservative, even libertarian), because at least the big for-profit sites are methodically designed to consume your every waking moment for maximum ad revenue. (You’ve pointed to some ones that I regularly read & appreciate, though, Ted, such as TruthDig and Tom Dispatch.)
I could say more but I’ve already gone too long. Thanks again for having this conversation, Ted; it saves me from having to pull together a similar blog post, which I had been considering. 🙂
As you say Brian, your three points line up closely to my argument. Thanks for the thoughts.
Also, don’t let “the body of America” become conflated with “the political body of the United States”! 🙂
Hate to be the critical one at the party, but . . .
I remain unconvinced. For one thing, I’m not sure what’s worse: a candidate/party who campaigns on bellicosity and then delivers on that promise or a candidate/party who campaigns on the promise of peaceful diplomacy (even winning a premature Nobel, as you mention!) and then secretly increases the “warmongering” (in your words) both in its extent and its nature, with drones being nothing short of murder/assassination. So, I can understand the relative arguments and the lesser-of-two-evils logic, but I’m not sure that’s the kind of logic that Christians should find persuasive (though, I suppose I just gave my own lesser of two evils argument in a way . . . ). Plus, if (as you say) the implications of voting aren’t that big of a deal in the large scheme of things, I’m not sure why a Christian would be eager to vote for a commander of the empire’s military in the first place, despite their relative merits. (Some village executioners might be nicer and have slightly better policies, but they are still the village executioner!)
“So, a vote for Obama is mainly a vote against the Republicans.”
Ironically, this is the kind of political logic I heard growing up from conservative Christians: the Democrat’s position on abortion is SO abominable, that we must vote for the Republican as a vote “against the Democrats” (incidentally, this is probably why most conservatives will vote for Romney, who they’re not all that thrilled about for a number of reasons).
Of course, what that does is allow the Republicans to take advantage of their conservative voting base. They don’t have to do anything substantive about abortion (and, in fact, it’s in their political interest NOT to do anything substantive). So long as they remain to the right of the other party (in rhetoric, if not policy), they know that they have the conservative Christian vote locked in.
In your case, it’s obvious that you are by and large a political liberal and have no interest in the Republican party platform in any way, shape, or form. So, to make the relative decision to vote for the Democrat as a vote against the crazy Republicans, despite how egregious the Democrat policy on war has become, is basically to allow yourself to be taken advantage of by the Democrats.
So, here’s a question for you: At what point would the Democratic candidate lose your support? In your mind, the Republican candidate will probably ALWAYS be “significantly worse” than the Democrat one. As long as that’s the case, then, the reasoning of your post will be the same.
If, as you say, Obama is a “warmonger,” how much marmongering will be enough for you to say “No,” despite the fact that the other guy may still be slightly more openly warmongering?
You’re right, David, my main argument is about voting against the Republicans. It seems that a vote for the Democrats is a more effective way to do that (and it’s not because I’m a “liberal” but because I’m a Christian that I say this) than not voting or voting for a third party person.
I would expect to refuse to vote for a Democrat when I became convinced that there truly is no appreciable differences between the two. Quite like before 1964 I would have been likely at times at least to vote for a Republican for president. And as I said in my post, I did support some good Republicans in Oregon in the 1970s.
What I’m also trying to say, though, is that I think the Democrats are at least somewhat amenable to change toward peace–and that voting for Obama should be seen as an acceptance of a responsibility to try to make that happen.
Thanks for the conversation!
Have you read Catholic theologian Todd Whitmore’s essay on “When the Lesser Evil is Not Good Enough: The Catholic Case for Not Voting” in Electing Not to Vote (Cascade, 2008)? He is not a principled non-voter, but argues in that article that sometimes, as in 2004, the distance between the candidates is less than the distance between both candidates and Catholic social teaching. So, even if there is an “appreciable difference between the two,” it becomes negligible when held up against Christian ethics. I suspect the same could be said now in 2012.
Regardless, you haven’t yet responded to the charge that your reasoning is the mirror image of conservative Republican reasoning. There will always be an “appreciable difference” between the two parties (otherwise, why have two parties?), so locking oneself into voting for one party until that appreciable difference disappears (as conservatives have done on the abortion question) practically makes your vote assumed and thus allows you to be taken advantage of.
Moreover, I don’t think voting for a candidate gives one any better credibility in critiquing that candidate than not voting for them. It seems one could make a stronger argument saying, “Mr. President, I would have voted for you if you didn’t hold to position x, but since you hold do hold to it, I abstained,” then, “Mr. President, we both know I’ll vote for you regardless (since the other guys are so terrible), but I still think you should reconsider position x.”
Compelling stuff, Ted. I confess I resonate with Robb Davis’ position, and I see that he linked to it here. Also, Andy Alexis-Baker wrote a good article awhile back on Jesus Radicals which I think is included in Electing Not to Vote. However, as you say, I can see voting as a tactic for pacifists/anarchists/radical democrats/bioregionalists, etc. But I can see it as a tactic if it’s directed toward electing the person that is easier to resist.
Perhaps I run in the wrong circles, but I know few white liberals who aren’t proudly voting for Obama. Mr. Hudgen’s quote about cultural statements is extremely compelling to me, as is the critique of prophetic abstinence, but I don’t think I know the same white liberals. White liberals I know “like” Obama on Facebook, sport the bumper sticker, rave about his speeches, and will celebrate his election, and I wonder what happened to the last four years. Voting isn’t a tactic among a wider strategy of resistance or liberation.
The Republican Party disturbs me, but I’m not as confident about the Democratic Party’s potential. They sometimes sound better and are different in ways, but the neoliberal agenda won’t radically change and centralization won’t suddenly go centrifugal. Some Democrats may critique empire, but the nation-state slips by unnoticed. Obama first ran through “grassroots organizing,” but I don’t know what now-disillusioned supporters expected: he moved to the White House, not the house next door, and he’s blown up a few houses along the way. This election may be the one to end all elections. But people see that wolf about every four years.
Thanks, John. Please don’t get me wrong, I have next to no confidence “about the Democratic Party’s potential.” I’m about voting against the greater evil, not voting for the lesser evil. And I’m certainly not advocating seeing voting as a central element of a life of resisting empire. As I said, it’s just one (small) thing the system allows us to do. I don’t see any god reason not to take that opportunity. And in this case, if Romney goes down that may shake a few things loose. My conclusion to my piece, though, is a call to resistance toward Obama’s imperial agenda.
This is a response to David Cramer [I am frustrated that the Reply button disappears after two replies].
I would say, first of all, that I am not suggesting being “locked into” voting for Democrats not matter what because the Republicans are so bad. I could imagine that the Democrats could be equally as bad (they just aren’t now). I am mainly thinking of this specific election—and, I wasn’t clear enough in my post, about voting in this particular election in Virginia.
Your question implying that my position is the same as those who vote knee-jerk for Republicans because of abortion kind of illustrates the heart of my argument. To ask that question implies a kind of neutrality toward what the Republicans have become. That is what I am arguing against.
I think current the current Republican Party contradicts the Gospel at every turn. The Democrats may not be all the much better, which is why I am framing this as a vote to repudiate the greater of evils, not to support the lesser of evils. And why I conclude with a call to see voting for Obama as an expression of a commitment to challenge his imperial policies with great energy.
I struggle with this and deciding on whether I should vote at all. I am pretty conservative and generally side with Republicans on the majority of issues aside from war. How can a Christian vote for someone who is completely in support of abortion and homosexual marriage? At the same time, if one holds a non-resistance attitude, voting republican does not make sense. Growing up Mennonite, my more conservative relatives have avoided voting altogether. This is a tough battle for Christians to debate…do we set aside the moral debates and look solely at which candidate would work better at building our country from an economic standpoint? Both sides do not fall 100% in line with Nonresistant Christian values.
Ted, I much appreciate your thoughtful (as always) blog posting. And I especially like the conclusion you reached.
Because of the electoral college system, certainly voting for a third party candidate in some States is not particularly a problem. At the same time, I am not sure what it accomplishes. Even though it might not help decide the election, voting for the better of the two major party candidates is tabulated as part of the popular vote and that does make some sort of statement.
I certainly would like to see President Obama take a stronger stance for peace / against war. But I see his position as being far more inclined in that direction than Mr. Romney. Thus, even though I am a pacifist I will vote, and vote enthusiastically, for Mr. Obama.
What I have just said is closely related to my 9/25 blog posting at:
Ted, I’m disappointed by the partisan framing of your post. It assumes that the differences between the Rs and Ds remain somehow fundamental and should continue to mold the way we articulate our values and the way we approach the formation of alliances and collaborations. Although sprinked with throw-away lines about how disappointed you are in the Democrats, your post demonstrates no willingness to grapple with the fact that the Democrats during the past four years have entrenched and extended the worst of the Republican policies and practices during the George W. Bush years.
When successive administrations exceed one another in evil with accelerating abandon, is it helpful to argue about which we prefer? The next one will be still worse, whatever party it represents.
If they both are leading us toward the abyss, why should we continue to aggravate partisan sensitivities by arguing about which party will get us over the edge more quickly?
Those of us who organized http://www.VoterWitness2012.org are convinced that the debate must be reframed and that our pastors and teachers can again help us do that when we lay down our partisan talking points and confess how utterly wretched our favorite political party has become. We do not say this because we are pacifists but because we see our nation becoming a criminal enterprise that has embraced violence, deceit, lawessness and death as its way to rule the world and secure its wealth.
Ted, the America we wanted to believe in has ended. Some knew this long ago but more of us see it now in light of what has occurred during the past four years. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t vote, but it does mean we should stop acting as if the words “Republicans” and “Democrats” describe morally significant distinctions. They don’t. But they stand in the way of the good that can emerge among us if we stop acting as if they do.
Thanks for the thoughts, Berry. I was hoping to hear from you. Of course, I am disappointed in your disappointment (I’d hoped to persuade you), but I think our main difference is one of tone. I hope to write more in response to your comments in a few days when I write a follow up that takes account of the conversation here.
Democrats are pro-abortion. Pacifists should not vote for people who believe in decapitating and dismembering innocent little babies. I’m not saying vote for Republicans. You need note vote for either party.
I agree, Jerry. Ted probably doesn’t. Ted wants to be a pacifist but also follow the liberal ideology. To me, faith must trump ideology.
Thanks, Ted, for your thoughtful work in public theology as it reflects the dilemma of the plurality and ambiguity of all human experience, even the experiences of the purist pacifists.
Women and underrepresented minority friends and colleagues have commented to me how this new anti-voting movement in Anabaptist, neo-Anabaptist and Christian pacifist circles is led exclusively by white men with comfort, relative power and position in their institutions, churches and guilds. They are, some have noted in prophetic political anger, “Anabaptist White Boyz.”
Could it be that these men are more concerned with keeping their hands clean and their hearts pure than risking the holy contamination of entering imperfect political life on behalf of the other or the neighbor? Could their zeal for peace in the end be a peace that destroys many?
Thanks for this, Scott. It is telling concerning my own blinders that only after I wrote this piece did I think about how this issue looks through the lens of race. Thinking of the cultural significance of re-electing an African American president does to me add one positive reason for voting for Obama (and not simply the motivation of voting against Romney).
This criticism strikes me as both untrue and unfair. (As far as I can tell, it’s a bunch of white boys arguing for both sides on this thread!) Before continuing this narrative about angry, purist, white men, please read womanist theologian Nekeisha Alexis-Baker’s fine article, “Freedom of Voice: Nonvoting and the Political Imagination,” in Electing Not to Vote (Cascade, 2008), which deals specifically with race.
Thanks. I have not read this piece but I will.
I only entered this white boyz thread because many of my women and minority friends find these separatist or sectarian neo-Anabaptist anti-voting arguments so irresponsible and irrelevant to the common wea they will not enter. “Don’t boo, vote!” they were heard saying.
You must admit that apart from a couple minority anarchist Anabaptist voices this issue is truly “a white man’s burden,” no?
In reply to your response: I guess my point is that the “white boy” objection is kind of an ad hominem, red herring, genetic fallacy, or what have you. I don’t want to be insensitive to the way race and socio-economics play into these discussions, but I also think the arguments on all sides either have merit or they don’t. So, yes, we can point out who is making the arguments and how that may affect the arguments, but doing so can be done either to short circuit or progress the conversation. It seems the “white boy” comments are (either intentionally or not) geared toward the former. Ironically, you are the one who just tried to marginalize a perspective because it was a “minority” one!
A minority position that serves whom? This seems to me to be the question. Does it truly serve those who desperately need affordable health care, does it serve the equality of women or the political attention to renewed overt racism in society because of a right-wing backlash or does it serve the ideological purity of Anabaptist white boyz? I’m sorry, but comfortable white guys doing radical theology do not constitute an oppressed or marginalized minority. This is the point that many of us are making as we survey the the zealous neo-Anabaptist and Christian pacifist new movement against voting. As movement members are righteously blogging against voting, Congressman John Lewis published his new book, “Across That Bridge.” It is his account of being beaten bloody crossing the bridge to civil and voting rights. So, is my argument ad hominem? Damn right it is!
Since I was perhaps the first one to lay down the proverbial race card in this string perhaps I could step back into the discussion. I agree that we want to further discussion and not shut it down. My initial anecdote was exactly to that purpose. I don’t think the so-called “white boy” objection is “necessarily” ad hominem. I find multiple difficulties with the “no vote” position and I consider myself an anarchist and not a liberal. I also agree with much of Nekeisha’s article and especially her encouragement to think “outside the ballot box”. But I want to urge self-described radical Christians to demonstrate their radicalism by real, substantial alliances with people who are suffering the brunt of an oppressive social-political-economic system. That’s where I have more sympathy for Scott’s position. I want those who vote and those who don’t vote to unite on thinking and working outside the ballot box. It’s that work that will make the difference – if indeed any difference can be made at all.
Actually, I was referring to the “minority anarchist Anabaptist voices” such as Nekeisha, who you dismissed in your earlier comment. I guess her womanist perspective doesn’t count, since it differs from more mainstream womanist voices.
It is unclear, DC, if your response is to Ric or me or both. Therefore let me be clear. As I indicated, I had not read Nekeisha’s piece so I was not referring to her nor dismissing her. I was making reference to the almost exclusively white male neo-Anabaptist blogging and writing in the current don’t vote for Obama movement. I have been going around this Anabaptist theology block for over thirty years so I do know many of you guys and follow your work even if I rarely join in the very intramural theological language games.
Scott and Ric,
I think all sides in this debate agree with Ric’s sentiment: “But I want to urge self-described radical Christians to demonstrate their radicalism by real, substantial alliances with people who are suffering the brunt of an oppressive social-political-economic system.” The question is just whether voting in our current two party system for the “lesser-of-two-evils” is the way to do this or not. Describing conscientious nonvoters, many of whom are extremely active in causes of social justice outside the voting booth, “self-righteous” people who are “afraid to get their hands dirty” is what I object to. It is such characterizations that I feel unhelpfully shut down the conversation rather than constructively progressing it.
Scott, I’m quite new to the Anabaptist/pacifist world, so I’m flattered if you have read my work, though I can’t recall ever writing anything (published or otherwise) about voting or not (other than silly little Facebook posts or blog comments every once in a while). My vote is still out on whether or not to vote, and I’m waiting to be convinced by you or Ted or other Anabaptists I look up to (which is why I find the belittling name calling so unconstructive at this point). Here’s a real question I’m wrestling with this election: How might one vote in solidarity with the oppressed northern Pakistanis, who by definition cannot represent themselves in the US political process?
DC, I was quoting a circle of women and minority anabaptists with the use of their phrase, “Anabaptist White Boyz”, and not “name-calling” but instead invoking their unspoken names and inviting their invisible presence into this very moral and manly conversation.
I calculated that the use of this impolite signifier would in fact provoke and invite many passionate and smart critical responses. It has. I’ve really written far too much on Ted’s blog so feel free to write me personally, if you like, at: email@example.com
@Scott: In typically provocative fashion you’ve challenged what you see as the smug self-satisfaction and privilege of “Anabaptist white boyz” who champion non-voting. Honest question (in the sense that I don’t think that I know what your answer will be ahead of time): Does your rhetorical scorn extend to those of us who, for strategic, pragmatic reasons (i.e. not from a desire to keep our hands “clean”) plan to vote for a third-party candidate because we find the differences between Obama and Romney vanishingly small (e.g., on the question of “affordable health care,” which you raise above, on which both candidates have push market-based “solutions” that are congenial to the interests of private insurance and pharma corporations). Did John Lewis cross the bridge and get brutally beaten solely so that we might have a “choice” between two corporatist candidates?
Fair question, Alain. If the vote for a third party candidate isn’t a mere expression of romantic anger that Obama failed to be the messianic, magical negro many hoped for but is instead a principled political strategy to challenge the hegemony of a two party system and advocate for a more profound public good my scorn is tamer but it remains dubious. Why? John Lewis crossed the bridge for a prophetic pragmatism in politics that might be embodied within the limits of perfection rather than deferred to some utopian or eschatological thought experiment conducted from the scholar’s study or preacher’s pulpit.
Thanks for the reply, Scott. I agree that your scorn, while tamer, is dubious. 🙂 [I think you meant to write “I remain dubious” instead of “it remains dubious.”] And I’ll simply note that I think that it’s prophetically pragmatic to vote third party.
Scott, those of us who orgainized http://www.VoterWitness2012.org have directed our message to a Mennonite audience that overwhelmingly votes Republican. Were 100 voters Mennonites prompted by our efforts to pass on the choice between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the impact would be greater on Romney’s candidacy than Obama’s.
That has nothing to do with why we are putting our message out there, but it should reassure you that we are not part of “a don’t vote for Obama movement” (to use your phrase).
I don’t claim to be free of racism, or of a number of other sins, but I question the suggestion that holding a Black president accountable to the same standards as applied to a white president is racist. For me failure to critique Obama’s performance, seriously, would be racist.
John, There is a profound difference in holding Obama accountable in the spirit of a Cornel West or other sharp, even fierce, voting critics, and calling a bunch of white folks in swing states to boycott the national elections and watch more votes go in Romney’s direction as he and his mates sneer in contempt at the 47% of poor, elderly and low wage American citizens. Pete Seeger and the ghost of Woody Guthrie just might show up at your church and sing, “Which side are you on? Which side are you on?”
Well, Alain, you’re right that my sentence was poorly constructed. I was trying to communicate that my scorn for voting third party was much tamer although still dubious, if tamer, about the public good of such a position for the neighbor. But sure, vote third party, that is, if, as I assume, you are voting for Jesus for president. : ) But you do know he would be much worse in a pluralistic democracy than Obama?
@Scott: Jill Stein of the Green Party has probably been called many things, but this might be the first time that she’s been called Jesus. And voting for a third party is a way to move our imperfect democracy a little closer to being a “pluralistic democracy” and a little bit away from the corporatist duopoly that marks our current politics. Voting for a third-party candidate like Jill Stein is thus pragmatic Realpolitik: thinking that on health care, economic policy, foreign policy, etc., a vote for Obama is appreciably different from a vote for Romney is what strikes me as starry-eyed messianism.
Berry, Mennonites and Brethren alike in the American heartland tend to vote Republican. And you do know what happens when the Amish vote in national elections? They support the most hawkish and free market candidate so they can remain the still in the land. So maybe you and Stoner are politically brilliant in keeping all of these Anabaptists from casting votes. Or maybe, whether conservative or liberal, there is something profoundly wrong with Anabaptist anthropology and cosmology relative to working out a responsible theology of church and society.
Alain, Sure, Stein would be better than Jesus for president. But read this week’s issue of “The Nation” from cover to cover on “The 1 Percent Court” and ponder what a Romney appointment to the Supreme Court would do for civil rights, women’s rights and the expansion of corporatism and robber baron capitalism in America.
Serendipitous timing? http://www.jesusradicals.com/why-i-am-not-going-to-vote/
Scott, I take seriously your second possibility.
Nevertheless, Mennonite and Brethren teaching includes much that restrains and corrects what is wrong in our understanding. With more courageous leadership and less partisanship in the pews, the peace churches can yet recover a political identity that is life-giving.
As we at VoterWitness2012 imagine it, there is unusual potential at this moment of our political history for such a recovery to begin. That’s because we Republicans and Democrats have been chastened by the actions of those we voted for these past 12 years. Obviously, Ted’s essay doesn’t exactly bear me out on that point, but I live in hope.
Honestly, Berry, many of us who have been practicing Anabaptists for many years care more about just peace in society than harmony in Mennonite or Brethren pews because we believe the church is in the world for the world. Are we partisans? Yes, without apology.
Scott: “Which side are you on…?” If one candidate favors Indians as slaves and the other Africans as slaves, what means the question “Which side are you on?”
John, Like Seeger and Guthrie, and unlike this clean new movement within Anabaptism, I’m on the side of impure, pragmatic, contaminated political struggle. Thus, today I distance from those who seem too pure, too clean, to dwell on this blessed broken earth and I will join African American and Asian-Indian American neighbors alike and campaign for Obama.
On election night we will not be taking Communion with the segregated Mennonites but instead we will be eating and drinking with a very diverse circle of neighbors who know that they live in Whitman’s America as citizens and not in Menno’s or Mack’s church as agents of some otherworldly political kingdom.
I’ve said more than enough. I must sign of this blog with thanks to Ted for providing a forum for openly addressing these issues which are generally too tamed and tutored by the official Mennonite media. John, I have warm memories of us lecturing together on peace theology at some college event in Western PA or was it Northeastern Ohio about 25 years ago? Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.
The president of the united states is the foremost terrorist in the world. To vote for either of the major party candidates is to vote for that terrorism. That is obvious. If there is any dispute about that I don’t know why. The major issues that they agree on among others are the continued murder of small children by drones and the maintenance of the global predatory economic system that enslaves billions. There are of course differences on issues that greatly matter in the lives of people and that may even be life and death issues. However, one cannot predict what will happen.
Which one will slaughter or in other ways kill the most people? No one really knows. When it comes to death educated guesses are bankrupt. People could very well vote for the candidate that will initiate global nuclear holocaust while if the other candidate had been elected that would not have happened. Democrats are always having to prove how tough they are by killing people. To vote for either of the killers is playing dice with the life of every person on earth.
In 1962 the world came very close to nuclear holocaust because of the missiles in Cuba. The Kennedy brothers employed their notorious macho streak which nearly led to nuclear war. Read Seymour Hersh’s The Dark Side of Camelot. Nixon, with strong anti-communist credentials, may have simply negotiated an end that did not come close to holocaust. On the other hand if Nixon had been president those of us alive at that time, including me, may of ended up dead. As I say no one knows.
There are some who seem to be very concerned about people feeling “ideologically pure” by not voting. I know many people who don’t vote, mainly people who are in communities that live in the poorest sections of towns and serve people and engage in politics as Jesus leads them. I don’t know one who has ever expressed feelings of “ideological purity” concerning not voting. Their reasons are loyalty to Jesus by not being complicit in terrorism and not supporting those who injure the people that they serve every day. However I am not saying that no one is without ideologically pure feelings.
The main reason for not voting is the Realm of God. We are not to be complicit in imperial violence. To suggest that we should be goes against the entire worldview of the New Testament that of course has God at its center. In the political realm we are to be led by the Holy Spirit. We are to witness to the principalities and powers and in doing so die if necessary. God is bringing down the empire and it all is in God’s hands. To be complicit in the empire is to go against God.
That there is even a question about voting for major party candidates for president is amazing.
The above is very much the same as a post that I made on Jesus Radicals after the article Getting Beyond Presidential Politics. The most practical politician who ever lived is Jesus. He took all of reality into account. To vote for either of the major party candidates for president is morally, spiritually and politically bankrupt. It is not the way of God.
Scott, you may not want to hear it from me, but I agree whole-heartedly with your comment that we are (or are called to be) partisans. Just not for the Ds or Rs.
We at VoterWitness2012 are espousing no grand moral principles, no call to purity. We simply are communicating what we have observed about the bipartisan consensus in the U.S. in support of actions we find anathema, communicating what we have observed about the role of the U.S. in the world, and seeking a reframing of the discussion so that the gospel’s powerful political message can again take root among us.
You and I are both addressing how practical politics should look at this moment in history for those whose primary allegiance is to Messiah Jesus. Purity isn’t at issue; it’s your strawman.
Quickly, Berry, I’m really not advocating a “Jesus politics” for American democracy and this is likewise part of my critique of the longing for purity. Although I was being somewhat playful in suggesting to Alain that Stein would be a better president than Jesus, I did have in mind a more serious concern about pluralism. Jesus, in his kenotic humanity, would be baffled by the plurality and ambiguity demanded of those who seek to do politics not in a church or in a kingdom of God but in buzzing, blooming, whirling, intercultural, inter-religious democracy of humanity.
Further Friesen, your name marks you as perhaps GC in your bones. Has the imperial invention of the Mennonite Church USA so quickly yanked you over into an Amish Mennonite style of Anabaptism and away from a more worldly Dutch, South German and Russian style of Anabaptist political thought? You really have to watch the lure of that Old Order envy, you know?
Scott, to make further progress with regard to your first paragraph, we would need to have an opportunity for a fuller discussion of what each of us means by “Jesus politics”.
As to your second, I invite you to drink coffee with the VoterWitness2012 folks next time you are in eastern PA. We would get acquainted and then the straw man would disappear.
You say “Jesus, in his kenotic humanity, would be baffled by the plurality and ambiguity demanded of those who seek to do politics not in a church or in a kingdom of God but in buzzing, blooming, whirling, intercultural, inter-religious democracy of humanity.” Are you saying that the Jesus who is alive now is “baffled….etc” by the politics of today. If that is the case how can that Jesus lead us. Or do you believe that life is not about being led by Jesus.
I notice in your article there is no reference to Jesus, God or the Holy Spirit. If you do not believe in being led by Jesus than it makes your article more understandable: we simply have to figure things out for ourselves. If you do believe in being led by Jesus the absence of any mention of Jesus is odd.
It takes me a while to write these replies, so this doesn’t reflect all of the latest comments. But here is my humble reason for trying to vote for a best result candidate, even though there are many ways in which I disagree with both candidates. And I chose to vote in a way that might influence future government policy toward the best policy.
In general as a follower of Jesus the slain Lamb, I need to look at the entire Biblical witness to evaluate which candidates are more likely to lead a government that is closer to the ideal for a nation. In some ways I look to the prophets such as Amos calling for Justice and paying attention to the needs of the poor. I look to Matt. 25, the ways that we are judged how we treated the needy, the measure of our treatment of Jesus. This broader vision is my vision of a person committed to make peace and live peace. I think that is a fair definition of a pacifist.
I know that the words in the campaigns are distorted half truths hoping to appeal to a political process that is in many ways dominated by the greed of the rich and powerful. I have to look beyond the words, to the actions in the past, the votes in the past that give some suggestion of how this candidate might act and influence government policy in the future. I know it is difficult to predict future action for the good of our country, but I make the best decision that I can.
I understand that it is always possible to find many cheaters in the poor who receive money for aid to children, handicapped, education, and aged. But don’t ignore the enormous amounts of graft, and money that go to the rich, the improvements in roads, the improvements in airports, the ways that the national government supports waste in rebuilding roads, waste in public transportation etc. all to benefit the rich contractors. The greed of medical suppliers systems have also created waste in our medical systems, again for the rich, not for the poor.
I have some supervisory involvement in a small business providing housing in part for the poor. I know all of the accounting restrictions that are imposed by the government on a small business. And with Obama Care there will be more forms. We need to have our tax returns reviewed by a CPA firm to make sure that they are not likely to have a problem if IRS audits them. But, I also know that all of these forms are in part required because of the greed of those(rich) who would cheat the government
I hope we have learned that greed without government supervision took our nation over the brink of economic disaster. We still have not recovered jobs and job opportunities for poor and new workers. Government by greed
Those who allow their vision of the way of Jesus, the slain lamb to focus on the killing of unborn babies and the mockery of marriage by those other than a man and a woman, are ignoring the teachings of Jesus who never spoke to either of these issues in any direct way. While I agree these are issues, it is sinful to make them the total way content of the teaching of Jesus that affects our hope for our nation.
In all of this, I must be very humble. I realize that no candidate will come close to governing by the way of Jesus. All I can do is to study action records and try to understand what a candidate might do in his/her next term.
I regret that I made the mistake of thinking you were the author of the article. However, my questions to you still apply. In your posts you also did not mention Jesus except in your joke about the election of Jesus. Is Jesus simply irrelevant?
Al, as always I greater appreciate your thoughtful comments. This was certainly a fast moving discussion! I find what you say here quite helpful.
Hey, guys — this is a string of interesting stuff; thanks, Ted, for starting it off. I can’t resist weighing in with some thoughts from the other side of the pond (Nairobi, Kenya) — and this will also add a little bit of gender diversity to the conversation!
1) On not voting as a faithful response: for every presidential election that I can remember, there are voices in the Mennonite world calling us to refrain from voting as a faithful action, to remind ourselves and the world that we have a different allegiance. I’m not convinced. We certainly follow a different Lord, but we also live in and need to exercise our faithfulness within a political context, and for me that includes exercising my right to vote. I can understand boycotting an election if it’s clear that one party has rigged the votes, or that the process is completely compromised (too true in places like Kenya), but that’s not the case here. Perhaps I have lived too long with people who struggled (and some died) for the privilege of voting — not with illusions that the politicians will do everything they hope for, or are even particularly honest, but as a fundamental expression of their worth as human beings who have the right to do what they can to shape their own future. So to those who see not voting as an expression of their Anabaptist faith, I’d challenge you to have that discussion with brothers and sisters in Guatemala and Colombia, in Burma and Vietnam, in Congo and Ethiopia and Zimbabwe — and to reflect with them on what faithfulness looks like.
2) On voting for Barak Obama: I don’t expect any leader to do everything I hope for, or to abide by all my values. But despite the things in I do not like, it’s important to note that the tenor of the US position vis-a-vis the rest of the world has been different in the past four years than in the previous eight: more multi-lateral, more conciliatory, more cooperative. The most dangerous kind of bully is one who is getting weak, because he is so unpredictable. We need a president who understands that the world context is changing, and that the place of the US in the world is changing, and Obama at least seems to get it. I don’t trust Romney and his neo-con advisers to understand that. The last thing the world needs is a US characterized by the blind and blustering Bush approach.
So yes, my ballot is signed and sealed, and on its way. I know my vote is mostly symbolic — for one thing, absentee ballots are the last ones counted, and for another, my registration is in Elizabeth Twp in Lancaster County, where a Democratic vote is merely symbolic anyway. But I am voting in solidarity with brothers and sisters around the world for whom voting is a precious right, and in hope of at least a few steps in the direction of a new mode for the US in the new, multi-polar world.
It simply does not work to condemn slavery/racism and condone war. Martin Luther King was clear about that, but he took a lot of heat for saying it (see his April 1967 speech at Riverside Church and the surrounding controversy). Empire has a number of ways to dominate people(s), and war is the biggest, oldest and deadliest one of them. We cannot expect every cultural heritage and oppressed people to see that, or see it equally well, but people who do see it have a duty to say it and act on it, I would think.
The Anabaptist White Boyz (apologies to the women and non-Anabaptists who have been involved from the beginning) here in Lancaster county Pennsylvania were resisting empire long before Obama and Romney starting vying for head of the empire, and will still be doing it long after they are gone. We’ve been doing civil disobedience against war taxes for years, always seeking ways to invite others to take this little step (but we think at least as big a step as voting for a president). We invite you to vote on April 15 by refusing to pay a symbolic amount of war tax (see http://www.1040forpeace.org). Vote, but do your act of civil disobedience too. Have I seen it written here that voting may only be symbolic, but it’s a terribly important symbol?
John, I have no quarrels with what you have written here. Let me add a couple of comments that I hope are seen in general solidarity with your concerns and with your good work and witness.
I teach King’s Riverside speech every year. It is important to note that Vincent Harding wrote most of this speech. Harding was a Mennonite at the time. He is no longer a Mennonite now but a Quaker. Selah.
John Lewis, in the spirit of King, has not only supported civil rights for African Americans but he was an advocate for Marion Franz in the politics of war tax resistance. However, King and Lewis do not so glibly dismiss the American experiment and the American Dream as “Empire” but instead see themselves as citizens in solidarity with other baptized and unbaptized citizens in THE BELOVED COMMUNITY. This beloved community is NOT the church but it can of course include the church as citizens working for the public, common good.
In this sense ML King resisted the political puritanism and pietism that marks so many of our Anabaptist related communities. Many Anabaptists, such as my colleague Malinda Berry and my old friend J. Lawrence Burkholder, have noted how much King was indebted to Reinhold Niebuhr’s understanding of impurity, plurality, ambiguity, compromise and holy contamination (my term, not Niebuhr’s) not for the hell of it but for the good and love of the neighbor.
I’m glad, John, that you are using and not simply deleting the signifier “Anabaptist White Boyz.” I find it a helpful, if a hard prophetic reminder that so much Anabaptist radicalism, Jesus radicalism and even Neo-Anabaptism is dominated by the moral arguments of straight, white American men, give or take a Brit or two.
As at least one blogger noted, I too am one of the white boyz in the Anabaptist guild. So as one ordained for thirty years in this tradition what am I preaching to us? Sin boldly, transgress, become contaminated and if necessary violate your own moral conscience not for the hell of it but for the love of the neighbor.
Thanks, Judy, for this important international perspective. What I wrote about John Lewis crossing the bloody bridge to voting rights in the American south applies to brothers and sisters around the world
In another conversation I could note how the “Jesus radicalism” or Jesus exceptionalism rhetoric of some blog contributors if written or spoken so glibly in Northern Nigeria would lead to inter-religious riots and hundreds of deaths of Muslims and Christians alike in the public square of Kano or Kaduna. It has in the past. I was there.
I made a point about the Republican appointments to the Supreme Court. Yesterday Romney and Ryan told conservative supporters that the next president could appoint as many as three justices. This will have a huge impact on civil rights, women’s rights, queer rights and the further expansion of protections for “the personhood” of robber baron corporations.
Finally, to readers of this blog, as I signed off a couple days ago I promised to continue conversations privately with some of you via my school email account. However, that night my email account was hacked and my computer crashed. Seriously. Thus, if you have written me and I have not responded I’m not being rude or dismissive; it’s because I can’t get or send mail. The Earlham techies worked on this problem all day yesterday and will continue working on it today.
Written from an antique Dell desktop via an old but still active aol.com account — Scott Holland
Forgive the virtual intrusion. Dr. Holland, mutual friends tell me hum to the tune of theo-poetics, so we’re playing similar diddies: my theological imagination has been corrupted by John Caputo’s radical hermeneutics and weak theology. However, my growing concern with ‘political’ deconstruction is its tendency to pull back the curtain on oppressive systems and then simply pulling it back walking away, apparently satisfied with only exposing its machinations. I find the haughty moralism of pietistic purism and the world-weary martyrdom of smug pragmatism equally annoying and ineffective. Both perpetuate the same system with either withdrawal or continued acquiescence. But the end result is the same: in neither is the neoliberal agenda questioned, disrupted, or transitioned.
The critiques shared by your friends are important and should be taken seriously. However, I have worked pretty extensively in occupied Palestine, where the specific Oval Office occupier has made little difference. I remember the joy some of my friends’ felt when Obama was elected, and I see the despair now felt after four years, several of which saw a Democratic majority in Washington politics with little “change.” I’ve recently noticed several people citing John Lewis’ amazing example as a reason to vote. But I admit that I’m unconvinced. To quote a friend: “I would not see voting in the present presidential election as morally equivalent with the opening of the franchise to African Americans 50 years ago.” Additionally, the argument’s logic seems to assume that a cause is justified because of past suffering. I am not suggesting that the cause wasn’t justified, but I am suggesting that this logic isn’t substantively different from conservative friends who argue that I owe grateful loyalty to the U.S. because soldiers died (and killed) for my liberty. And none of this addresses the fact that defining democracy as voting is recent historical classification, and a fairly Eurocentric one. Or, as Cornel West soberly reminds us, slavery and expulsion of indigenous people are historical preconditions to American democracy, and in fact there “could be no such thing as an experiment in American democracy without these racist and imperial foundations.” Maybe Martin and Malcolm are both right, considering they started sounding more similar toward the end.
In full disclosure, I’m a white male, but I’m not Anabaptist. I’ve read a little Yoder, found some of it intriguing, and I’m not crazy about Hauerwas. The resident alien shtick might have merit, but it often seems to conflate the body of America with the political body of the United States, thus justifying European transience while relegating indigenous sovereignty to reservations and history. I’m inclined to think we can all do better than liberally baptizing the nation-state and cooing with nostalgia for Christendom. Anabaptists don’t do much of the latter, but the Radical Orthodox crew (if we wanna talk about white men . . .) certainly do. And I’ve now written far too much.
Thanks for entering this virtual conversation, Jonathan. From what I know of your work and writing you are nicely blending the theopolitical and the theopoetic. Keep on!
John Howard Yoder once told me he “only read poetry in the New Yorker while on airplanes.” This might be why one can get the sense from his work that outside the church there is no salvation. However, when I was on your campus for the Mennonite Writers event in the spring, it appeared that a growing number of younger peacebuilders were finding the poetry of Jesus as interesting as the politics of Jesus.
Some even dared to step away from pacifist political puritans and with the mystical theopoet William Blake ask of the roaring tiger within us all, “Did He who made the Lamb make thee [the Tyger]?”
Thanks for the response, Dr. Holland. I’m surprised you know anything about my work and writing! I’m flattered and suspicious at the same time. 🙂
I remember sharing meals with Palestinian Muslims and Israeli Jews and American Christians and experiencing those feasts as the ‘truest” Eucharists in my life. The church surely doesn’t equate the kingdom of God, which equates much more with indigenous tribal sovereignty. That’s the equation folks need to recognize more often, in my humble opinion.
Blake’s lyric certainly punctures a few quietist balloons. In similar disclosure to my above confession, I self-describe as a pacifist (though nuanced I’m sure), which is a sheep in wolf’s clothing, or perhaps a tyger’s . . .
I’m not an acolyte of Dr. Hauerwas, but Michael Iafrate just posted this interview with him about the upcoming election and it’s worth reading: (http://vox-nova.com/2008/09/03/stanley-hauerwas-on-obama-hes-probably-voting-for-him/ ). BTW he suspects that he’ll vote for Obama.
See the date on that article, Ric? It is from the last election. Not sure whether or not he feels the same this time around.
I did NOT see the date. Someone just forwarded to me. Thx!
How can a pacifist delegate to someone else the power to perform violence on their behalf in the form of voting for someone to fill an office which has as one of its titles “Commander-In-Chief of the United States Armed Forces”?
Mr. Anonymous—this is what I wrote in response to your similar comment on my other site:
Try reading John Howard Yoder’s Politics of Jesus, chapters 8 and 10 for an argument for how this can be done—though he, like me, would deny the use of “delegate” for recognizing what it means to live as a pacifist in a non-pacifist world nonetheless governed by God, in part through the fallen Powers.
I am sorry that my previous comment came through as anonymous, I thought I had designated it to come through with my WordPress login (which connects to my blog and would allow anyone to find out who I am if they find that necessary).
How can voting for someone to be, among other things, Commander In Chief of the United States Armed Forces be anything other than delegating that person to command the armed forces on your behalf? I have read John Howard Yoder’s thoughts on the subject and find them unconvincing.
The Word Press link still doesn’t show up, but I appreciate you trying.
You certainly are free to find Yoder “unconvincing.” I’m just trying to answer your question, “how can a pacifist….” Yoder’s position is one way a pacifist can see voting as not the same thing as “taking responsibility for.”
Yoder’s point, as I understand it, is that the state simply is. Certainly it’s fallen, but that does not render cooperating with it (even to the point of voting) the same thing as “delegating” someone else to do violence.
My question back is how can a pacifist refuse to try to make things a least a little less violent (including not only military violence but economic and environmental violence, et al) when one has a chance to do so? Is our refusal to do this one little thing that might help placing our own purity above actually contributing to fewer deaths?
Below are titles and web links to several articles by leading analysts and activists for justice and peace who have grappled with and faced deeply the injustices and malfeasance of the U.S. political system including the current administration and yet make a strong case for engaging in the electoral political process. The first article is by Darnel Ellsberg who has put himself on the line for justice and peace for many years including going to prison for leaking the Pentagon Papers.
In the spirit of jubilee,
Defeat Romney, Without Illusions about Obama
Advice to progressives in swing states, vote for reelection
by Daniel Ellsberg Published on Thursday, October 18, 2012 by Common Dreams
click this link for article: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/10/18
If You Succumb to Cynicism, The Regressives Win it All
by Robert Reich Published on Friday, October 26, 2012 by RobertReich.com
click this link for article: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/10/26-12
What’s At Stake When Billionaires Try to Buy Our Democracy
by Rose Ann DeMoro Published on Thursday, October 25, 2012 by Common Dreams http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/10/25
by The Editors The New Yorker
October 29, 2012
Why Elections Matter—and Why We’re Still Arguing About It
by Phyllis Bennis Published on Monday, October 29, 2012 by The Nation