Why I'm Not a "Values Voter"

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

Today we conclude our discussion on Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw’s fascinating book “Jesus for President.” I’m not the least bit surprised that it has generated some spirited conversations over the past few weeks.

The basic premise of the book is that followers of Christ are to be a “set apart” people, not a political people. In other words, those who commit their lives to the teachings of Jesus are neither dazzled nor intimidated by power. They know that evil cannot be defeated by military force, only overcome with love. They know that God does not build his kingdom among rulers, but among servants. They know that the Church is at its best, not when it is in power, but when it is marginalized and different.

I wish more Christians in America believed this to be true.

Instead, somewhere along the way, Christians in the United States, (particularly evangelicals), decided that they were entitled to a government that reflected their values. So they picked a political party, aligned themselves with power, and lost their credibility.

Now, on the surface, voting one's values seems like a fine idea. 

However, another look at the radical teachings of Jesus shows that it is impossible for His followers to consistently vote their values.

For example, Jesus teaches that we are to value enemy-love. He says we should not resist an evil person but disarm him by turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile. How exactly is this value supposed to be represented in America’s “war against terror”? Jesus teaches that we cannot serve God and wealth. How do we support this value in a capitalistic society? Jesus teaches that we are to value the lives of children. How do we reconcile this with the thousands of civilian children who have been killed as a result of U.S.-led wars?

The point is that no government, and no political party, can ever really represent Christian values. It’s impossible, and it’s not the government’s job.

So when so-called “values voters” announce that they are voting for a candidate because he or she reflects their Christian values, they misrepresent the very gospel they claim to preach. They pick and choose which teachings of Christ they want to make political issues, and then try to force those issues into a platform. 

I wonder if Jesus had politics in mind when he said, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet and tear you to pieces.”

Whenever the gospel gets mixed up with power, it loses its flavor. It becomes worthless.

Rather than simply voting their values, Claiborne and Haw urge Christians to live their values. They write, “It’s easy to have political views—that’s what politicians do. But it’s much harder to embody a political alternative—that’s what saints do." (p. 235)

They use the abortion issue as an example: “Those who would like to see abortion grow rarer and become nonexistent had also be ready to take in some teen moms and adopt some unwanted babies. To be pro-life in our neighborhood means we have to figure out how to come alongside a fourteen-year-old pregnant girl. This is why we loved Mother Teresa so much. Mother Teresa embodied her politics. She didn’t just wear a T-shirt that said, ‘Abortion is homicide.’ She loved moms and unborns so much, she could say with integrity, ‘If you don’t want to have the baby, you can give it to me.” Which is why everyone called her Mother..."

They go on to say, "Nor have we seen a political platform with a consistent ethic of life—and by that we mean not simply being pro-birth but being pro-life, and recognizing that life doesn’t begin at conception and end at birth.”

The truth is, neither John McCain nor Barack Obama is truly pro-life. When a follower of Christ says, “I’m voting for John McCain because I’m a Christian,” it’s like saying, “I’m voting for John McCain because Jesus Christ values unborn babies, but not Iraqi civilians.” When a follower of Christ says, “I’m voting for Barack Obama because I’m a Christian,” it’s like saying, “I’m voting for Barack Obama because Jesus Christ values the lives of the sick and uninsured, but not the lives of the unborn.”

We must be more careful with how we talk about our Lord!

Now, I’m not saying that the teachings of Jesus should have no effect on how we vote. The teachings of Jesus should influence everything that we do! When I put my little check mark next to the Obama/Biden ticket in November, I’ll do it with the sick, the poor, and the war-torn in mind. However, I will cast my ballot knowing that it’s not up to Obama/Biden to represent my values. It’s up to me. I’ll do it knowing that I’m not a democrat or a republican, but a follower of Jesus Christ…whose footsteps lead in a very different direction than those of earthly powers.

Thanks to Claiborne and Haw for reminding me of this, right when I needed it the most!

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