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There’s an Election? Why It’s Important to Vote on June 5th, 2018

June 01 2018
June 01 2018

A few weeks ago I received my mail-in ballot.

It’s that time of year again when everything else seems more important than the fact that there is an election. Summer is almost here, school’s practically out, the weather is perfect, vacations are in sight, not to mention all the other events and worries that fill our daily lives. It’s easy to think to ourselves, “The June ballot doesn’t really matter, there’s nothing really important on there anyway.”

I admit that in the past I’ve paid no attention to ballot measures and elections like this one. On top of the busyness factor, there’s the non-recognition factor. “Who is our DA? Who are these candidates? What in the world does the assessor do? What are these ballot measures? I don’t know, and I don’t have time to figure it out. Everything will work out anyway. Right?”

So why invest time and energy into voting this June? There are plenty of arguments to be made from a secular civic perspective, the most basic being that a democracy depends on people exercising their right to vote. But I want to make the case that voting is a part of what it means to follow Jesus. Now before you start getting sweaty palms and nervous that I am going to tell you how to vote, let me just say up front this isn’t about the particularities on certain issues or me sharing my personal opinions. This is about why I think it matters that, as Christians, we simply exercise our right to vote.

God, speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, said, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). This word of the Lord was written in a letter to “the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.”

In other words, this charge to seek the welfare of the city was for everyone in exile. Now think about that for a second. You’ve been ripped out of your home, your city, your life, and have been shipped off basically as refugees into an oppressive regime. And God says, “Seek the welfare of the city in which you now live.” That’s pretty crazy! This charge to essentially bless the city is an echo of God’s charge and promise to Abraham that He would bless Abraham in order that his family might be a blessing to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:1-3). God’s blessing is meant to beget blessing for all.

There are two things I want to highlight in this short verse which I think are applicable today. First, the Israelites were sent into exile in a foreign land, “the city where I have sent you.” Just like the Israelites, Jesus was an exile in a foreign land. He came from heaven to dwell on earth and take up residence in a particular time and place. Jesus’ citizenship was always first as a citizen of the Kingdom of God. Yet he worked, played, ministered, and lived in the Roman Empire. Jesus was sent in order to bring life and blessing to the world. He brings blessing “as far as the curse is found.” Jesus tells his disciples, “As the Father sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21).

And He is sending us! This is why the Apostle Paul calls Christians “ambassadors” (2 Corinthians 5:20) and “citizens of the Kingdom” (Philippians 3:20). God is sending us to represent the reign and rule of God, the true King. Jesus was sent to bless the world. For the Christian sent out like Jesus, we are to represent God’s Kingdom mission and blessing. To believe that God rules over all the earth includes our civic life and politics. To be sent like Jesus into the world means that we have the opportunity and the responsibility to represent His Kingdom with our vote. There are many examples of people in scripture who were sent as citizens of the Kingdom to represent God in and through their civic engagement: Joseph influencing Pharaoh, Daniel in Babylon, Esther and the Persian King Ahasuerus, John the Baptist and Herod, Paul with the Roman governor Felix.

Second, God tells Jeremiah to say to the exiles, “in their welfare you will find your welfare.” To be a Christian is to be a witness. Jesus tells his disciples that they are His witnesses (Acts 1:8). Witnesses to what? To the good news of the Kingdom, which is the good news that there is a Savior and Lord who is outside ourselves, who is bigger than our political system, and who is greater than all the wealth in the world. And that Lord and Savior is Jesus, who came to bring life and life to the full (John 10:10). As citizens of the Kingdom, we are witnesses to that life which is in Jesus. In our civic life we are to seek to bless people by being bearers of the life that Jesus brings.

It is striking that God tells the Israelites to seek the welfare of the city. He didn’t say pursue your own self-interests or the policies that will benefit your community. He doesn’t say bless those who are kind to you or those people in power to get on their good side. He doesn’t say circle the wagons and protect yourselves. Instead he says, “Bless your neighbors, seek what is good and right for their benefit and in that you will find blessing.” The church finds blessing in seeking the shalom of the people and institutions where it lives. Shalom simply means wholeness and flourishing. The concept of seeking other’s wholeness as a means for your own wholeness is counterintuitive, especially in today’s political climate dominated by self-interest groups known as special-interest groups.

So how does your vote increase the flourishing (shalom) of where you live and confront evil systems and institutions? We can start by looking to Jesus.
Jesus lived life as a citizen of Heaven on earth. He was the Son of God and He gave everything up, humbling Himself so that people might enter into the Kingdom of life. He sought the welfare of the world by giving His life away to the lost, least, and overlooked, which in some way describes everyone.

However, if we look at Jesus’ life, it’s clear that He often demonstrated this life-giving sacrificial love by seeking the most lost, least, and overlooked in society. Many of Jesus’ encounters are with the demon-possessed, the maimed and disabled, people of ill repute (prostitutes and tax collectors). He had a concern for the poor and the needy. When He sees the hungry and needy crowd, Jesus is filled with compassion for them. In these encounters with the lost, least, and overlooked, Jesus demonstrates what some theologians call a preferential option for the lowest in society. This should not surprise us. Jesus in Matthew’s gospel firmly establishes the last will be first and the first will be last principle of the gospel. God’s grace comes free of charge; it is not dependent upon wealth, power, or privilege. It comes as a gift through the self-giving love of Jesus.

So as you vote, how can you exercise this Kingdom logic of self-giving love? How can you leverage your power for the lost, least, and overlooked? Here is one example. It’s easy to overlook the race for District Attorney. This is the first time in my life that I could actually tell you the name of Alameda County's District Attorney. Does it really make a difference who the DA is?

Well, actually, it makes a huge difference. Maybe not in your life but in the lives of the lost, the least, and overlooked, it makes a huge difference. The District Attorney decides which criminal cases to prosecute and guides sentencing. In other words, the DA has tremendous power because they alone decide who is deserving of a jail or a prison sentence, or who will instead be routed into a diversion program or have charges dismissed. This has impact on issues such as mass incarceration, law enforcement accountability, the school-to-prison pipeline, recidivism and immigration. To seek the welfare of the city means that we care about who holds this office and who has the responsibility to use this power wisely and justly. I believe as Christians we must make a decision about which candidate will not only be the best for me or for my neighbors but for the whole of the city, especially those communities that are most impacted by the decisions that the DA makes.

“But, I don’t know anything about the candidates!” That’s okay. Do some research. Talk to friends. Read the voter guide.

“Okay, I did the research, but how does my faith inform my vote?” Pray. Seriously, pray and ask God to give you wisdom. Reflect on who Jesus is and how He used His power for the welfare of others.

Finally, do some discernment in community. Talk about it with your parish or some trusted friends.

To close, let me encourage you to vote on June 5th. It will take some work and research, but it is part of the privilege of being an ambassador of the King. Vote as an agent of God’s shalom for Oakland, Alameda County, and the State of California. Do so as a citizen of the Kingdom of God. Do so for the welfare of the city.