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The New Christians’ Kool-Aid

Written by Michael Cline : April 17, 2008

What do the following people have in common:

Tony Jones
Frank Schaeffer
C. Wess Daniels
And as of now, 28 readers (and counting) of Jesus Manifesto?

Somewhere along the line, they’ve slurped long and hard from the Obama Kool-Aid.

This post is not suggesting that to vote for Obama is to be a blind follower of the Jonestown pedigree. Everyone has their reasons (some better than others) and I believe none of the above mentioned people are mindless zombies when it comes to politics or voting. But boiling just below the surface is the cult like worship that has manifested in Obama’s run. When he galloped into the Twin Cities a few months back, there were reports of woman fainting and grown men crying, as if The Beatles were the opening act. The Church of Obama was in session.

It would be much easier for me to dismiss voting for Obama if that’s all there was to it- ridiculous rock star homage and a pretty face (of which there is some). But it is much harder to look at the core of why Barack Obama has gained such a voice in what is the largest popularity contest in America only held every four years. His buzzwords of “hope,” “change,” and “unity” appeal to all of us. He appears to be the prime candidate to move the United States forward, with neighbors hand in hand, into a tumultuous season of worldwide violence, corporate greed, and expanded poverty. His platform reaches across simple party lines and brings a holistic Christian voice for those progressive members of the Church that for years have wanted to see politics be about more than just abortion and sexuality. So why shouldn’t we all drink from the same grape flavored trough?

Because I’m fearful it could turn out to be poisoned with Valium, chloral hydrate, and cyanide.

This has less to do with Mr. Obama’s stances on any political issue of our day, and more with the historical precedent Christianity has set for itself. When I see Christianity (fundamentalist, progressive, liberal, or any other type) get behind a movement or person, I can usually rest assured that we are at least two years late and five feet short. Rather than express Christian revelation in a way that is specific and adequate to the social realities in which we live, as Jacques Ellul writes, the Church too often “looks for ways to adapt Christianity to the dominant intellectual and sociological trend.” As a result, we guarantee ourselves a “small place in the new social order.”

The tendency to do this in understandable. It is the failures of the Church that has so often pushed well-meaning Christians to adopt new strategies for social change just as much as a bright new star appearing on the scene. But timing is everything and Ellul saw this in the “newly discovered” relationship between Marxist thought and Christianity. Christianity failed to answer the big questions and problems of the day, while Marxism offered a palatable answer that seemed Biblical enough. The two became one. The process of the inevitable co-opting in Ellul’s day looks eerily similar to our own situation:

(1) Injustice

The unjust society actually resulted after 20 centuries of Christianity.

· Communism loudly trumpets equality across classes

(2) Poverty

Rather than helping, the Church became just another “power” and sanctified the poor.

· Communism (in theory) always sides with the poor

(3) Authenticity

The Church had a serious disconnect between theory and practice. Hypocrites owned the hour.

· Communism consistently puts theory into practice; they practice what they preach

(4) Material Reality

Christianity offered a disembodied, private spirituality.

· Communism rubs our nose in this betrayal. It reminds us of the decisive importance of concrete, human life before death, and of the body and daily activity.

(5) Communal Aggressiveness

Christians sit besides each other on Sunday and yet ignore each other ’s lives.

· Communism promises to birth a communal spirit of militancy, sacrifice, and commitment.

This should in no way be read as an endorsement of Communist thought. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of an endorsement of any political/social “ism.” But it’s not hard to see how drinking the Obama “hope and change” kool-aid could lead to the same place Ellul’s communist brothers and sisters found themselves in. Ellul describes the process this way:

Recognizing this challenge moves us to take the next step: to take Christianity seriously again, to desire at last to be authentically Christian. Thus we were, to a great extent, encouraged to come to ourselves… But we move beyond the stage of listening to a challenge to noting an agreement, and from this observation we move on to seeing conformity at the level of action. Christians find they are no longer called just to become more Christ-like, but they believe that in order to become better Christians, they must cooperate with the Communists. (pp. 9-10, Jesus and Marx)

And as we again carve out our niche in the political realm, except this time while “caring about more than just abortion,” we will do whatever we have to do to stay there. And instead of once again taking Christianity seriously, we’ll turn to the latest message of “social justice” and “political reconciliation” being peddled by the loudest voice and ask them to do our share of the work. The flavor may have changed, but I’m afraid it’s still laced.

Michael Cline is a former co-editor of Jesus Manifesto. He's currently the Pastor of Young Adults at a Wesleyan Church in Minneapolis. When not contributing at JM, he's doing even more reading and writing towards his MDIV from Bethel Seminary. His blog can be found at www.reclinerramblings.blogspot.com


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    Hey Michael, I understand your concern and critique, and I receive it. But, as a thoroughly postmodern Obama supporter, I have to push back a little, because I think your commentary makes one BIG assumption about those of us who have chosen to support a political candidate and that is this: That we are doing so with "blind faith" and putting all of our hope in that political candidate (and in the political system in general) to "do our share of the work" (as you stated it).

    I think you mistake our lack of cynicism for politics as a lack of skepticism and a lack of healthy self-critique. But the truth is I'm operating out of a hermeneutic of suspicion all the time, so while I support Barack Obama, I have no illusions about him being some kind of "savior" or even him being somehow "above" any other politician. I do however have hope that he would be a better politician than others in this particular race, and that is why I've chosen to support him (and not someone else).

    Mark Van Steenwyk (and other Anabaptists) have chosen not to participate in this election by voting for either side. I respect that position, but I don't find it particularly compelling personally. I think you're abdicating a responsibility and an opportunity to contribute to an outcome that is inevitable (someone is going to be elected president in November). The idea that the Church can/should/will be "separate" from and create an alternative system is utopian, IMHO. I'm all for prophetic witness, and so I appreciate listening to these other voices (such as yours, Michael), but forgive me if I'm not drinking your Kool-Aid either ;-)
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    To nip this in the bud and make sure it doesn't get out of hand, let me state again that not everyone who votes is a blind follower or zombie. I also don't think that most voters consciously ask for politicians to do "their share of the work"--I just see it as the primary historic example and fear we will end up there once again. If not, praise God. Perhaps this conversation can push in a direction to make sure that doesn't happen this time-- you with your vote, and me with my non-vote cynicism :)

    I'm not abdicating a utopian Church. History has also shown us where that leads. But I also hear your critique and can tell you are a well informed voter of the highest regard. Thanks for your thoughts and just know that I am continually trying to flesh out what the Church's role in all of this should be. I'm in a constant state of formation on the topic. In the meantime, feel free to spit out my drink offering :)
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    Dude, come one... This is projection at its finest. You're making a pretty long jump from the Christians out there who find some value in what Obama is saying and trying to stand for to a completely uncalled for assumption that people are hitching their Christian faith to a presidential candidate and his ideology. I am sure you must have had some experience that communicated to you that this is indeed what is happening, but I'd be way careful before I started naming names of people who don't know and couldn't therefore claim to understand.
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    Mike, as an avid supporter of Obama, I have mixed feelings. First off, let me state that I agree with you that we cannot expect Obama to shoulder weight and responsibility that is that of the Church's, but I think that "sipping the Kool-Aid" is not a all-together terrible response to Obama, as it matches historical cult-like following of other prominent figures in the political realm. Take, for example, John F. Kennedy. THAT was a cult following, yet the inspiration he brought to the American people was a major determining factor in his political clout, and the unity that people formed in support of his ideas, for better or worse. This catapulted formation of the Peace Corps, the famous speech "Ich bin ein Berliner" in Germany, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, formation of the American Irish Foundation, Civil Rights policies (including the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, thank you Wikipedia :) ), and the "New Frontier" movement. These were all good things. Did the Church sit by and watch, probably. But good things happened when people united in support of the IDEAL.

    Jump forward to today. Obama enbodies this "Kennedy idealism" of actual change being a result if he is voted into office. Yes, the Church cannot stand by and let Obama "save" the world, but we as Christians can use the open doors of Obama's "proposed" policies and ideas to begin to make an impact around the world. Should the Church "endorse" Obama? Probably not, but Christians as individuals sure are free to, and maybe that will be the uniting factor. Maybe each person sipping Kool-Aid makes more sense than the Church as one single cohesive unit taking the plunge. What do you think?
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    Gotta agree with JR on this one.

    And I'm not sure how you thought using Jonestown language with a disclaimer that you don't *REALLY* mean that it's like Jonestown would fly. You can't have it both ways. If you don't mean it's like a cult, find different terminology. Because it reads like you're using the language for shock value.
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    I'm a personal friend of C. Wess and I can tell you you're absolutely right. He is an AVID Kool-Aid drinker. Like, to the point of it being a major problem for him in his daily life -- he has had to quit more than one job due to his Kool-Aid "habit." I heard he took out extra student loans just to pay for his powdery precious. I didn't understand all that stuff about Obama or Jonestown, but you were spot on about the Kool-Aid. A+ post.
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    Hi Michael,

    Interesting post -- I think I agree with the underlying assumption (if I understand it), that Christians ought to be careful who they endorse, because we've seen how that works in the past. If that's your point fair enough. But it seems like the way you go about getting to this point is somewhat obtuse.

    First, you make the implied remark that those who are named above are falling into a cult-like worshipper/following of Obama. Despite the fact that you think we're not mindless, you still go in that direction. In other words you dare to proceed on these grounds, which support and validate the remark you tried to soften by stating that we're not dummies. If we're not dummies, then why not just trust that we are in fact, being careful in our endorsements.

    If you'll note, on my site at least, I actually said:

    "For me my faith and politics are not separate parts of life and so I’ve taken time making this choice, knowing there is no perfect candidate out there, and I pray it’s a good choice and for a hopeful future."

    Secondly, you make the connection between Jim Jones, and Obama? Really? A guy who murdered his followers who had been duped by his lies? This has the potential to not just make a point, but to be pretty outlandish and offensive. I for one, hardly think by saying I'll vote for Obama is the same as being a part of the Jonestown pedigree.

    Third, I want to grant you the benefit of the doubt on your "historical precedent" of Christianity, though I would actually like to see the research done on this claim, I think your general point stands. That no candidate ever measures up.

    But the bigger question, the one left unanswered is, measures up to what?

    I'll venture to guess, that the 'what' is whatever you have in mind and not some universal code of presidential ethics. The problem here is that a) there is no universal code of presidential ethics, every american has his or her own idea of what makes a good president, you'll have a very difficult time finding consensus on this issue; b) I think you'll have even a harder time finding any consensus whatsoever when you move your test group to the church. There is so much disagreement over not only theology, but one's stance to politics, any appeal to being a good president actually needs some serious qualifications.

    I agree, so far as it goes, with Ellul, who was both heavily influenced by Marxism and Anarchism. I personally don't think that discredits him, but it does point to deeper qualifications that Ellul had when he thought about these types of issues. But I do have to ask where do you see Christianity and Marxism becoming one here in America? I think I am missing the point in this aspect of the argument.

    All you have to say are the words 'socialist', 'communist' or 'marx' and most Christians will head for cover. Those are still dirty words in the church, or at least in most of the churches' I've been a part of. Marx was so influential in all the areas where the church had already failed - as you've rightly pointed out. But don't fall into the trap of sounding the alarm and using these 'dirty little words' to get your point across - just come out and say what it is you want from these candidates. I don't mind being called any of those things, I know where I stand on the issues, in fact I think we have a lot to learn from Marxism, there is also a lot to disavow but I think you can take some and leave the rest.

    Fourth, an assumption I work under comes by way of Slavoj Zizek who says it's greater to take the risk and stand for something than to follow the path of liberalism and do nothing, while shaking your head all the time. That is, liberalism is in this instance, the status quo, that which whether ideologically, or practically undergirds the logic of capitalism. We as the church need to take the risk, that is make ourselves vulnerable to taking, as Caputo says, the mis/step. We have to be willing to be "wrong" on the issues. The problem with Christian history is that we made bad decisions, that will always happen, it's that we're not willing to be wrong (or acknowledge our failed attempts) on the issues. My endorsement of obama falls under this type of risk. I am willing to be wrong on the issues, yet believe it's more important to take that risk, to make a move, than not to.

    Finally, I'm a Quaker and Quakers have historically been very politically involved, yes some were/are actually in official political positions, but I mean here politically involved as the church more than actually running for office. I think Quakers have (at their best) embodied Yoder's vision of the church "Seeking the Peace of the city where I have sent you," which is out of Jeremiah. For Yoder, part of the role of the church is to do what it can to make it's host culture a place for the kingdom, as well as be distinct from it. There is an older Anabaptist position, which it withdrawal in the political process, it's guised under the argument of "being prophetic." Where we do nothing, literally, because most of our churches really actually do very little that would constitute political action in their cities, all the while denouncing the acts of others. We are prophetic by not participating. I read Yoder, his interpretation of Jesus (in Politics) and his vision for the church (Yoder's as well as Jesus') as something that cuts the crap, calls the bluff, and actually is involved, while changing the rules of the game. This is clearly seen in the formation of Pennsylvania, as well as the final moments when the Quakers allowed themselves to be voted out of power there (a move Yoder hails as that thing the peace church should do in a moment like this). Quakers didn't pass on the opportunity to have land, and take their chance at creating a political society based on "Gospel Order" (or Kingdom values), rather they took the risk, and willing to be 'wrong' allowed themselves to be voted out -- they played the game, but didn't play by the games rules.

    To be clear, my endorsement of anyone, Obama, Dylan, James McClendon, Rurplesaurus Rex Kool-Aid, Zizek, or whomever is never a flat/universal endorsement that I believe everyone in the church should assume. From where I stand, as a Quaker theologian, a husband and father in LA, and given my history, spiritual formation, interests and influences, these are the choices I make. My own criteria will never meet everyone else's, and that's the place from which I take my risk.
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    Wess, thanks for stopping in. I had just emailed you I think when you were posting over here. How funny!

    I can see that most of the responses to this post are going to be against my "implying" of Jonestown as parallel with the names above (or with anyone else who votes for Obama). I'll concede that the language use was perhaps not the best. I am no making a connection between Obama's personhood and Jim Jones' legacy. "Drink the kool aid" is a phrase that was actually around before Jonestown if my 20 minute research is correct. Words have meaning in context. The context in this case also includes several disclaimers. Readers may see this as a cop out or an impossible relationship, but it's still in the post.

    I appreciate you giving me the benefit of the doubt with the historic research. As much as I would love to give dates and names, this is a e-zine/blog post, and like you, I'm enrolled in a degree program as well. Maybe this summer I'll spend some time looking up some historic research to back my arguments.

    I like where Zizek is going here. I'll definitely take that into consideration. I'm not proposing that every word and every idea that I am presenting in this post is "the opinion" to hold. I, again like you, am taking a risk simply by writing where I stand and the view I have from here. More importantly, I'm completely open for criticism and will take lumps from well thought out folk like yourself. I am quite wiling to be "voted out" by my readers as well. Always reforming...
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    As far as the Marxist language is concerned, please know that I am also not inferring that you (Wess) or any of the other names are Marxist simply by voting for Obama (or anyone else). Again, I thought I made that clear, but if not, I apologize. The "Marxist" language was necessary in order to set up the idea and thought of Ellul. Ellul saw Marxism gaining a foothold in the culture predominantly because of the failure of centuries of Christianity to address the social issues of the day. So where the Church failed, the Marxist regime gained. This is one instance of the historic process I'm trying to establish as possibly reoccurring if we are not CAREFUL....which apparently you are. And kudos to you for being so.
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    Thanks for your charitable reply Michael.
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    Folks...I'm assuming that there is an appropriate amount of tongue-in-cheekness to Mike's post. I think the comparison to Obamaism being a cult is apt for one reason: formerly politically cynical people are now finding HOPE in the American political system. To suspend a healthy refusal to participate in Empire to an embracing of a new regime is a shift that doesn't make much sense to me.

    Sure, I'm a non-voter. But to say that this is separatism is to misunderstand and to believe the imperial lie that the only way to really engage the world is through Empire, not through the Kingdom. Somehow, we've bought into the notion that to engage in US society through democracy is truer and more real and more engaging than engaging in US society as the Church.
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    Mark - I disagree with your statement, "To suspend a healthy refusal to participate in Empire to an embracing of a new regime is a shift that doesn't make much sense to me."

    One can have a healthy refusal, and yet take the risk - that's precisely my point. Refusal is here knowing that it won't all be all right, it's not going to all work out the way "I" want it to, it maintains a little distance. Yet the risk, is not embracing, but choosing to act, choosing to choose. It takes the reflexivity of our culture one step further, and tries to disrupt the current status quo, yes even the status quo of Obama supporters. There's no "embracing" of a new regime here, if this is meant in any kind of totalizing way (I know we're not going to take this to it's ultimate, anarchic conclusion that by paying any kind of tax, using roadways, following laws, appreciating public services, we are in anyway embracing the new regime).

    I think you're making too much out of this binary, I also think there's too much stock on the binary of Empire vs. Kingdom - I think my reading of Yoder's "For the Nations" which is an explicit response to Hauerwas' "Against the Nations" is Yoder trying to break down these dichotomies. Yes there is (or at least needs to be a distance), we are citizen's of the kingdom first and foremost. I don't pledge allegiance, literally or figuratively, to America - but I am also called to be in constant dialogue with as well as seek the peace of, the city I am in.

    And, for the record, I'm not formerly cynical of the political system, nothing former about it.

    Thanks for the dialogue all of you.



    This (to me) means first and foremost through the work of the church, but also, when opportunity presents itself, also through the political process, not because I believe that the political process is pure, objective, or messianic, but rather because I see it as broken, yet still there to be used or taken advantage of. I don't always vote, but I do it on an ad hoc basis. In ways that I think it has the potential to bring a (even a very) little peace to the city (or country) I'm a part of. I do this all the while putting all my eggs in the basket of the church. It doesn't have to be either or.
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    I can't quite figure out how to edit that last comment, sorry guys it got switch around a little.

    This is supposed to be the last line, not in the middle of it:

    "And, for the record, I'm not formerly cynical of the political system, nothing former about it.

    Thanks for the dialogue all of you."
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    My comment wasn't directed just at you, Wess. I realize I was making generalizations that don't exactly fit each person's reasons for voting for Obama. My big concern is that people put first things first. I have housemates who are voting for Obama. Heck, my wife might even vote for Obama. So I don't think of voting as an issue worth dividing over. I just wanted to make that clear.

    I don't believe that my position excludes my pursuing the peace of the city...or even the nation. I just don't honestly believe that we can find that peace by using the tools of state.

    Many people who are voting for Obama have thought carefully about it. I'm not saying that they are even necessarily wrong. But I would go so far to say that this overall trend of Obama-optimism is misguided. It is the collective issue of many putting their hope in one possible ruler that concerns me.
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    Thanks for the response, I appreciate where you're coming from. I thik we're close to the same position. Iagree with your concerns as well, "It is the collective issue of many putting their hope in one possible ruler that concerns me."
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    Excuse me? You don't vote?
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    I only vote at the local level.
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    I'm sorry, I find that extremely offensive. Do you know what my grandfathers gave so you could have the opportunity to contribute to democracy in your country?
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    Sigh. I've written extensively about that here. Your grandfathers may have sacrificed much so that I may have the opportunity to contribute to national democracy, but that doesn't mean that I have to take that opportunity. It shouldn't offend you. Do you get offended when Canadians who are residents of the US don't vote? Or when the Amish don't vote?
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    I have sympathy for all those who have entitlement but when then get to the voting booth cannot bring themselves to support any of the candidates.

    I have no sympathy for those who willingly opt out of the democratic process when so many have given so much, and when so many around the world do not have a democratic say in the running of their country. In fact, I'd go as far as to say it is unchristian and like urinating in the eye of all those struggling against the odds.

    Yes, democracy is far more than sticking a cross on a bit of paper. But there is no excuse for not taking the time to do that.
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    I wish I could respond in a way that you respect, joet. I'm tempted to argue with you, because it hurts to have someone call me "unchristian." Instead of arguing, let me just encourage you to look up an earlier article I wrote about this: http://www.jesusmanifesto.com/2008/01/08/ten-re...

    I am discourage when people tie democracy into the Gospel. It discourages me because the Gospel always loses in that relationship. Without meaning to disrespect your grandfather (or my own relatives that have served in military), I don't believe that their sacrifice earns my freedom. The death of Christ and the blood of the saints earned my freedom. There is a LONG tradition of Anabaptists abstaining from voting. One would be tempted to think that they are "urinating in the eye of all those struggling against the odds." But in order for them to be able to NOT vote, many Anabaptists had to die. It is their sacrifices that I honor, not the servicement of any military. This isn't to say that I think America is more evil or that I despize my citizenship. It is just that I believe that Christ's claim doesn't allow for any other political allegiances. That position, in my mind, respects America. Just as Canadians and Mexicans and Swedes can't vote here...nor can I. My allegiance is somewhere else.
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    Then apparently anyone born before the invention of democracy was "unchristian." I can respect the human sacrifice of so many of our ancestors (and my own family and best friend by the way) without identifying their sacrifice on the same level as Jesus'--which is what I think we often try to do in these discussions. In no direct way is the autonomous freedom that America strives for equivalent to the freedom before God that I now have due to Christ's life, death, and continuing presence.
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    Well, I agree with that. I am not party political and am disgusted by much that is promoted as 'political' within our systems. I am not trying to suggest that human sacrifice is equivalent to Christ's. Just to clear that up.

    But I am saying that as Christians we are called to be good citizens. And ultimately it is the absence of people of goodwill contributing to the political system that makes it so broken. We cannot complain about the way the state works and then not work through the system we have.

    As it happens, I'm British, so we don't have the same kind of folk religion association you guys have between the Church and State (which always seems odd to me). Nobody implies that the UK is on the side of God.

    My point is mainly that not voting is disrespectful, and being deliberately disrespectful is an anathema to the gospel. We are not in the first century, nor the fifth or other times when people faced great oppression. This is irrelevant.

    The facts on the ground are these: I have an immense amount of power to affect not only those people in my country but millions around the world. A small part of that power comes with the responsibility to hold to account those powers and dominions that hold people in poverty and use our name. And then once one of those idiots gets into power, the job of democracy really starts.
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    I understand your perspective. I agree with some of it, but not all of it. In no way, by no means to I believe your statement that "voting is disrespectful, and being deliberately disrespectful is an anathema to the gospel." That is a huge claim, and at the crux of our disagreement. And I just don't see it. John the Revelator was certainly disrespectful towards Rome. And so many of the Anabaptists exerted the same sort of indifference or distrust or disrespect towards government that I do, and they are exemplars to me in many ways.
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    Yeah, and Paul insisted on being tried in a jurisdiction of which he was entitled.

    I'd totally agree that it is important to be indifferent, distrustful and disrespectful to government. Really important. My local politician hears from me so often that I'm sure he has my letters in a special file. I didn't vote for him, I think he is a complete idiot.

    In the bible, the woman who wanted justice did not give up because her local court was corrupt. She continued to badger the judge until he was forced to give her what she wanted - just to get rid of her. These people are in power and are spending our votes, whether we like it or not.
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    I would caution against your calculus, Joel, where you infer that things have high value because of sacrifices in their name. I finished Girard's book Violence and the Sacred a few weeks ago and his thoughts on violent mimesis are very applicable here - specifically his thoughts on the double bind and violent mimesis. He argues that violence in pursuit of an object (which is the flip side of sacrifice...when you say that soldiers have "sacrificed so much" for something you are really saying two things: that they were shot by people and that they shot other people too) queues other people in to its value, prompting their own violence in pursuit of it. The rivals end up locked in a spiral of violence in which they only end up mirroring each other. To say that voting is valuable because people sacrificed for it only legitimates violence, not its object.

    Having said all that, I struggle with this question quite often and have to credit my wife for where I'm currently standing on this issue: every four years, we have a (physically) nonviolent civil dispute in this country, and we resolve it without killing people in general. If you want nonviolence, you should support nonviolent collective actions...hence I plan to vote this year.

    I go back and forth on this....so don't hold me to this later. :)
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    Sorry, quick note: when I said above "To say that voting is valuable because people sacrificed for it only legitimates violence, not its object," I should have said, "To say that voting is valuable because SOLDIERS sacrificed for it...." to more accurately convey my thought.
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    I never said my grandfathers were soldiers and I reject the notion of justification by violence and the myth of redemptive violence.
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    Well darn i just wasted a paragraph on an unfounded assumption. I apologize!
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    I'm pretty sure that I no idea what "double bind and violent mimesis" means. ??? ;-)

    However, I am no longer in the military and will never go back in. My thought and feelings on that subject have changed drastically from that time 16 years ago when I originally joined the military.

    I was very fortunate that I never had to participate in any armed conflict while I was in so the thought that I might have actually sacrificed anything, especially compared to what many others have had to endure, is laughable to me. My comments on sacrifice were in response to the idea that was put forth that since someone may have sacrificed something, that the rest of us were now required to follow that person's values or pattern of living. What I was hoping would come across in my comments was that if that person's sacrifice meant anything, it meant that we were granted the freedom to choose our own path. Even if that choice might even be oposite of what others would choose.

    As a side note, I did participate in some humanitarian relief efforts that really improved the lives of people while I was in the military so I sometimes chafe a little when people suggest that the only thing that people in the military are good for is killing each other.

    God bless.
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    You've been the victim of a typo, Joel. I was referring to "joet" but my fingers just wrote "JoeL". Oops. Wow, me am competent at the interwebs.
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    Well, I guess that now I just wasted a paragraph on an unfounded assuption. :-)
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    I spent a total of 11 years serving in the military of the United States. One of the reasons that I did that was to support and preserve freedom. That freedom is for everyone to exercise. Even if others choose to exercise their freedom in a different way than I choose. It is not, in my mind anyway, the freedom to attempt to bully others into adopting my "brand" of freedom. If someone wishes to vote, God bless them. If someone wishes to not vote, God bless them as well. To suggest that because someone sacrificed (be that person your grandfather, myself, or any of the millions of others who have served in the military) that everyone else is now required to act one way or another is actually a little bit offensive to me.
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    Not your best writing Michael. You've made some pretty broad assumptions about your readers.

    I chose to vote for Obama not because he's a savior. He has not real power other than what God has given him. He's not the end all to be all. But he is there. To abdicate this responsibility is to walk away from someone God MAY have given us. So I chose to vote.

    I did so because he's the first candidate in a long time who has treated the American people with respect, by choosing to be honest about the process. He has said from the very beginning that the process is a "we" not a "me" thing. Change begins by growing up and taking responsibility with our votes, our responsibilities and our lives. It only works when we respect our neighbor and sacrifice for the community. His grass roots campaign has been the clearest example of that. Change begins by working together.

    It's not hero worship. Jim Jones wanted to be a savior to the people. And when that was threatened, he essentially killed them.
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    It may not be hero worship for you Jonathan, and so if that is the case, I applaud your thoughtful vote. But the people that are really taking it to my post may not represent our entire readership either. Most of our readers, in my opinion, are quite informed on the issues and have painstakingly figured out where they lie in the anarchist-democratic spectrum. We aren't all going to agree, especially when there is such a wide readership. If my words do not apply to you in any way, then you were not my intended audience.

    And while I'm not linking the above mentioned names (or yourself) with hero worship, there has definitely been scenes and signs of this occurring in regards to Obama (or Hilary, or Ron Paul, etc...). It's nearly impossible to walk on a college (or seminary) campus and publically proclaim that you are not voting for Obama. Something tells me that if I had written this post, linking Jim Jones with the Clintons, the mixed bag of responses would be very different and from an entirely different crowd--yet probably saying the same things. But that is partly my point.
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    I agree that there is being too much made of the empire vs. kingdom binary, Wess. I do not agree, however, with your suggestion to NOT take this conversation to its ultimate, anarchic conclusion, which would undoubtedly be the summarization of "empire participation" as a cumulative act that would include things like paying taxes, storing money in banks, grabbing a home mortgage, using credit/debit cards, following laws, appreciating public services, registering with the Selective Service, driving a gasoline powered auto, etc., etc. I think if we are going to have this particular conversation, and refer to participation in national elections NOT as a hopeful process within a broken system but as an exercise in anti-kingdom-poison-kool-aid drinking, then we may as well be - we had better be - consistent. So, let's at least try to be consistent. I think the attempt at this sort of consistency alone will humble us enough to see that this modern machine we are living within is way bigger than empire. Perhaps then we could do away with the unnecessary binary and actually engage faithfully at every level possible while holding firm to our faith distinctive re: church and state. It's a lot of work, but it can and should be done. It's really easy to not vote and chalk that up as a spiritual moment.

    This machine we are referring to as "empire" is bigger than we think, as I mentioned above. I think it has a few of us here lulled into thinking it is small enough that we can somehow separate our lives and living from it by avoiding a few of its odd events held here and there, every so often. It's bigger than that and I'm willing to bet that none of us can escape it even for a moment. So, what do we do, as people of the Kingdom who are aware of the fact? Anything and everything we can! Yeah, for me, that includes participating in elections that I know will ultimately leave me wanting something more substantial, real, and transformational. I know that going in! I know that this thing is NOT the Kingdom Jesus preached, but I also know that I can take my values into it and try to represent this kingdom without smearing the clear lines of our faith's dedication to the separation of church and state. Do I not participate and cite my non-participation as a victory for me and my misplaced confidence that leads me to believe that my non-participation relieves me from any repercussive and/or reciprocal responsibility, be it positive or negative? No! Our guilt is not that easy to identify, much less exorcise. So, as people of the Kingdom, I say be creatively subversive within the machine. Yeah, that might include actually voting in elections that won't turn out as we hope. Our vote sure can't make it worse, so we may as well at least try. We should try everything we can to minimize the damage the machine inflicts, while knowing that it is not the Kingdom.

    .. but first, we should at least confess our lack of consistency; we should stop relying on our own handful of buzzwords, buying into our own self-published press, and drinking our own kool-aid.

    Great conversation people ... remember we do love one another! :)
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    Shawn, I think this is very well stated. I too believe the Empire is way bigger than we realize and that it is impossible to "opt out" at any real level. I am not even beginning to imply that my "non-vote" is an act of spiritual opting out. But I do see it as a plausible prophetic action. That is not to say that it can stop there and that I can rest on my non voting stance just as snuggly as those who vote can rest on their participation in the process. Neither act is complete in ushering the Kingdom amidst our daily lives by itself. I take slight offense of those on here who have taken the idiom of "drinking the kool-aid" and turned it around on me, as if I was being malicious in my initial intent, so it's ok to fire back at me. All I can say is that in no way was I trying to be malicious. My intentions were to raise questions, yes, and perhaps even challenge a few assumptions. If I hurt people in the process, I apologize.
    P.S. I love you too.
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    Well said, Shawn. I would argue that the empire versus kingdom rhetoric is only helpful if those two words are understood (relatively) accurately. I may need to do a better job nuancing that. For me, America is certainly an empire...but it isn't the "Empire" in the full sense. To me the empire is global and weaves a counter story that touches on politics, religion, economics. And we can't escape it. Even if we're a suffering villager in Uganda. We are either enmeshed within the Empire or living in its shadow. And it trancends national borders.

    For me, voting isn't a neat little way of extricating myself from the system. But it is powerful act that, more than almost any other act, symbolizes my role in that system. In a way , to vote is to grant the system power...to either stay the same or change itself.

    But even more, I avoid voting for the good-old-fashioned anabaptist reason that to vote is a clear act of exercising power over others. And when one votes for president, one is voting in someone who has more power to kill others than any other man alive. And I have trouble with that.

    Nevertheless, I told a housemate (who is voting for Obama) that his desire to vote so that the war may be cut short is a legitimate one.

    We can't escape the system. But I'd like to think my non-voting isn't simply a way of keeping my hands clean...but a recognition that there are other, more effective ways to dirty my hands.
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    There are now more troops in Iraq than when the Democrats took control of Congress in 2006 running on an "end the war" platform. The Democratically controlled Congress has it in their Constitutional power to cut off funding for the war and end it now, but they haven't had the courage or conviction to do so. Obama himself has voted for ALL the war funding bills passed since being elected to the Senate (you can look it up). He recently said we will stay in Iraq as long as bad guys remain a threat, a position essentially the same as the President's. If you're looking for any of the "Big 3" candidates to end the war/occupation anytime soon you're looking in the wrong place. We will be occupying ancient Babylon for a long, long time (100 years?). In fact, if any of the 3 major candidates get elected there is a greater chance the war will spread than it will end.

    I completely agree that it is impossible to escape the "shadow of empire", however, there is a huge difference between enjoying all the advantages and benefits of living in the US on the one hand, and living in another country under the influence and shadow of US power, on the other. You can escape the former; you can't escape the latter. There is a reason why we pay $3.45 for a gallon of gas in the US and they pay well over $7.00 a gallon in Bangladesh and Italy.
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    Right on, Michael. Look, if people on here have been hurt by a blog post, then they sure as hell aren't ready to go toe to toe with this machine. It's a blog post!!! I don't think you need to apologize for anything, but I'm not one of the offended either ! So what do I know! I think your post was a good catalyst for a great discussion that heads straight to the heart of Anabaptism. Thank you!

    That said, you're braver than I for actually listing people names in the post! :)
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    You may be right. I may not need to apologize just to keep the peace and allow everyone to sleep at night. But I may "need" to do so in order to practice the spiritual discipline of humility. I've touched on really safe topics most my short days here at JM. I thought it was time to branch out a bit and take a chance. In the meantime, I'm going to use the criticism as a spiritual avenue for grace and knowledge. In a lot of ways, JM represents a very real community to me. I submit to that community when I apologize.

    The names...yeah that may have been a bad call. The jury is still out, but so far, I should have left them out. But then, what would I have done for a lead in the rest of the post? hehe
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    As challenging as some of the conversation here is...I think it is ultimately healthy. The big reason JM exists to explore what it means to faithfully follow Jesus in the shadow of Empire. People may bristle at my over-use of "Empire" but I find it to be a healthy corrective to talking about following Jesus in the midst of personal sin, or in the midst of a morally depraved culture. The metaphor of Empire (used a lot in the NT, by the way) really gets a the totally systemic, messy, social reality called Empire (or "world").
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    The introduction of Ellul's 'Subversion Of Christianity' touches on this as well. To paraphrase (the book is loaned out at the moment), we make the same errors as those who supported the Communist revolution, those who supported the Nazi strengthening, those who supported the papacy and Holy Roman Empire, those who supported feudalism and everything else were. We are simply adopting the cultural assumptions (capitalist, democratic republics, globalization and neo-conservative 'free trade' economics) into our spiritual communities, and then justifying our behavior by twisting the scriptures to fit.

    There is not a little difference. There is NO DIFFERENCE. Fighting for freedom (for the less cynical) in Afghanistan today versus fighting for the king (under feudalism) or instigating a revolution (for communism) or forming a crusade (under the Holy Roman Empire or the pope) or ___________________; it's all reinforcing the system we are born and brought up in, and is not substantially different from the surrounding culture.

    So while many, many people argue that America this time is different, I don't see it. Sorry. And honestly, while I enjoy many of the freedoms that are available to me here, I can live 'free' without them. I am grateful but I will not be emotionally blackmailed into supporting the state and culture that I don't believe in.

    I respect some of the generous, spiritually guided people I have met in the military and U.S. government, but I firmly disagree, and trust that they will abide by their own conscience, as I must mine.
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    Jordan...hey you're not an American citizen! You can't be a part of this conversation. (tongue firmly planted in cheek)
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    I know, I'm just one of those foreign-born infidels from Muslim autocratic regimes who have snuck into the states to terrorize God-fearing, freedom-loving Americans [capital-A].

    Allah Akhbar!

    (salaam, more like it...peace)
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    I drank some of this kool-aid at the Sojourner's Pentecost conference back in 2006... except, we called it "Purple Jesus", and instead of killing you it just made you feel really happy.

    Obama spoke at that conference (as did Clinton), and I remember being highly impressed. I had already been impressed by him at the Democratic convention, but now I was actually sitting in a room with the man and experiencing his charisma. I can say, that I haven't noticed a big change between what he is standing for now and what he was standing for then - which means a lot to me in a political candidate.

    That said, as someone who spent a lot of time working on campaigns in high school and college, and someone who has worked in the non-profit relm with multiple government agencies, I have become increasingly disillusioned with politics specifically and government in general. I know that government is necessary for a society to run this side of eternity, but we just seemed to have messed the whole thing up so bad, not even the patron saint of disillusioned Christians can fix it. It's like a cassette tape that gets pulled out, but is so kinked up you can never roll it back up properly, and it just ends up making really lousy music.

    I vote. That's what I've done since I was 18. However, I no longer live under the illusion that government or politicians are going to change anything. The only thing that can bring change is me changing my lifestyle. - abiding in Christ and allowing him to change my character, my ability to love, my willingness to sacrifice - And that's not going to impact a whole lot of people, but its the only sphere I have control over (that, and prayer - but then I am only in control of the prayers and not their results). Maybe it will rub off and other people will be inspired to do the same. Maybe not. But it is what I am called to do, regardless.

    Or, I could go back to spending that time instead holding signs, attending rallies and fundraisers, volunteering in campaign offices, and securing someone "four more years". I think I'd rather just abide.
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    Michael,
    While I agree with those who are pressing against you for making the Jonestown comparison, I think your post is otherwise excellent. I was disappointed with the large number of people on this site that have thrown there lot within political system. (If it was blindly doing it I wouldn't mind so much, its the amount of thought that went into it that actually bugs me more) No candidate has completely ruled out a nuclear response, no candidate has defined the principles necessary for just war (as a pacifist this would seem to be minimum), and most (like Obama on the Tonight Show) have said that the world's last great hope is America (so much for Jesus).
    Voting for any of the candidates is first and foremost a vote for America, which means there will no curb in consumption, and violence, and our health and safety will continue to come before the rest of the worlds.
    So great post.
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    Michael,
    Thanks for keeping up the vigorous discussion on this site about political and social participation. I had to chuckle at the title of this post and new you were going to get flack for the "tongue and cheekness" Sometimes I think the humor and hyperbole can get overdone here and leave room for alot of misunderstanding and tension in this particular medium, and on this topic in particular. But your concerns about election fever are I think quite valid and relevant.

    That being said, there are justifiable reasons for voting and not voting, and one can follow Jesus doing both. Its not just about one act, its really about our entire way of life and how much we are willing to let that bend toward the arc of the God's new creation. Yes that Empire is more large than we can imagine and there are many ways to resist it. But I'm starting to feel that Empire is becoming a huge scapegoat among many of us Christians. "Empire" as a concept always pushes "them" further away when reality its "us" who have been piecing this entity together all along.

    What I'm really hoping to have conversation on here is exactly how Obama's campaign and historical campaigns like it have adopted, coopted, integrated or been possess by the language and ideas of Christian faith. What is it in the methods and purposes of campaigns that satisfies many of the same longings that draw people to seek Christian faith? I wonder if we in the Church can hear that critique of how the Christian message is playing in society in rather strange and sometimes reversed ways. If we can hear that critique, I think the result might be a reinvigoration of our own ways of being Church for the local and global community.

    For instance, a better understanding of the popular themes of this campaign season might help us to articulate aspects of Christian life in ways that are more recognizable to our cultures. Likewise, to understand how the campaigns have sought to involve supporters and contributors might help us to better encourage people to take up their vocation with the Church and help us to minister creatively our culture. That type of conversation I believe is more constructive than when we focus on resisting Empire to the exclusion of creating Community.
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    I think I fall somewhere near Greg Boyd on this topic. I would never tell people that "to vote" is unchristian anymore than I would expect someone to tell me that to "not vote" is unchristian. If people want to vote (including my church brothers and sisters), they should vote their conscience with all the theological and spiritual understanding they can muster. But just don't put much stock in it and don't wait around for the government to come clean and be the Kingdom, because it's not going to happen. I realize that most of the readers of JM do not mix the Kingdom with the Rulers, but it still holds true and needs to be stated. The more we draw near to a big election, the more often we should have this discussion.

    I really like where you are going with the last few hard questions you pose. I tried to lay out some themes above (via Ellul) that I think play just as big of a part in this election season as they did in the Marxist-Christian confusion period. That was sort of my point, but perhaps it got lost in polemical rhetoric (which was not my intention).

    I like your questions so much that I'd love to see you write something up and submit it so we can carry this conversation that direction because I agree that that is the road we need to travel next. Care to write something up?
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    non-metaphysical stephen 4 months ago
    Ellul was also actively engaged in social work. How do we as Christians make positive change in our society without falling into the traps you have listed here? How do we avoid making social justice another political niche and instead make it an embodiment of the Kingdom of God?
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    Good questions and I'd love to hear everyone chime in.

    Here would be my first suggestion: Ground our actions in what has already been accomplished in the person and work of Jesus Christ moreso than the nagging social issues of the day that constantly pull us towards human action. Some may see this as being old-school, but I like what David Fitch has recently said in his response to Brian McLaren's "Everything Must Change" book--Everything HAS Changed so now what do we do about it in light of His method? This keeps up from being purely pragmatic or falling into the pitfalls of modern liberalism.
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    Exactly. There are 3 groups of Christians who are involved socially that I know and interact with.

    The first group follows the Religious Right almost to a tee; abortion, gay marriage, and the like are their hot topics that get them moving; not much else, although they surprise me now and again. Their tactics tend to be outrage amongst themselves, and political posturing.

    The second group are those that I'm discovering people here call liberal/Democrat (whatever that means). On the ground, that means that there are personal efforts to curb consumption, save energy, and concern about the poor and war. The latter two sometimes manifest in action, but are usually just hyperbole.

    The final group are the most quiet. They do what needs to be done, where and when it needs to be done, whatever camp it falls into and whether or not they feel themselves 'called' or equipped. Sometimes the stars align and the issue at hand is something they are confident with and equipped for. Sometimes it means substantial upheaval.

    A great example is a family I know as I grew up. Very well-to-do, American father/Dutch mother, worked for the U.S. Embassy. They had vacation plans to go see, I forget, Europe or something, when the tsunami hit Southeast Asia a few years ago. The parents and three kids at home discussed it, and rerouted their vacation to solely consist of aid work in Sri Lanka. They worked with the aid organizations and local churches to distribute food and supplies in the rural areas, often where Tamil control made Sri Lankan distribution difficult.

    That, I think, epitomizes the attitude that needs to be taken; an awareness and willingness to jump in, and even sacrifice personally, for those people and situations that we encounter. Leaning heavily on rhetoric or campaigning is easier; so much so that we often solely do this at the expense of actual action.

    I know this to be the case, as I'm an intellectual sort and my greatest pitfall is sitting on my ass thinking on arcane topics while I fail to act on the simple ones.

    Peace
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    Jarrod Saul McKenna 4 months ago
    Since America has so much political sway all round the world I’m wondering when we [the majority of the world who lives with the consequences of your next election] and going to get a vote. Maybe we could have those who are going to effected the most badly by US economic, environmental and military policies get more votes than others. :)
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    Ok, ok. I’ll try a semi serious answer:

    Mike I love a pacifists who picks fights, well done (as long as it’s causing Christ-like trouble.) But Wess’ position (from reading his gear for a while) does seem to be not fairly represented here.

    That said, I have a fantasy about a pub brawl between Mennonites and Quakers breaking out. And, (secretly) I don’t want to stand in the way of this coming to pass. I’d love to see a convergent Quaker mob and the Submergent mob have a huge shindig and share the different responses of these two great peace church traditions we are drawing from about their different forms of political engagement ( the great and... let’s not forget where most the lessons lie.. the shockin’!) Besides then we can get you and Wess in the same room for a bit of fisty cuffs (in the nonviolence of our Lord.. of course.)
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    Brother also want to remind myself allowed wondering if it applies also to this post that anarchism(s)can are also an ‘ism’ that instead of being in dialogue with (cause there is much we share and can learn) can become imagination crippling when it doesn’t allow for the eschatological nuance of the politics of our Lord.

    But one the gifts of the Peace church tradition's is that these nuance’s are not simple argued about but embodied, here is my argument and little snap shots of embodiment for those interested in the position of follower in Australia and how I engage Aussie Christian's around the election:

    <http://www.backyardmissionary.com/2007/10/votin...>

    A taste:

    My political engagement happens daily living as church in community, by housing those without a home, hanging out and making food for local kids without a meal, welcoming refugees to live in our home, visiting people in prison, growing food in the garden, getting to work on my skateboard and bus, teaching the practicalities of nonviolence. And other ways God lets our lives be a megaphone of amazing grace despite the fact we’re cracked vessels (or crackpots!)

    We are to be ‘in the world but not of the world’. So what are we to be of? We are to be of the way of Jesus. The way of the kingdom of God. The politics of grace. The politics of generosity. The politics a new age where it’s not the rich but the poor who are blessed. The politics of the ministry of reconciliation. The politics of the weightier matters of law. The politics of the trust of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. The politics of forgiveness. The politics of peacemaking. The politics of hungering and thirsting for the healing justice of God. The politics of sharing so ‘no one is in need’. The politics of being a colony of heaven. The politics of seeking first God’s Reign (or kingdom) in all things. For the early church, you could look at their life and see their politics, see who they were ‘voting for’ as their authority. Thier words and lives spoke a different politics to the violent ruler Cesar being Lord (maybe the closest thing we have today is Prime Minister) but the crucified and risen Jesus. Maybe the early Christians today wouldn’t say “Jesus is Lord”. Maybe they’d say, “The nonviolent Jesus of the Scriptures is Prime Minister. Come and join us in community where we can daily vote for him with our lives!”
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    I love the idea of getting Anabaptist minded folk (it seems to be more of a mindset with practical implications than a denomination) and Quakers together. I doubt it would come to verbal fisticuffs that is has on this blog post. We both can draw from a great background of peace making and living out the Kingdom.

    In all openness, I go back and forth between the position my post heads towards (it's not really spelled out in this piece directly...that really wasn't where I was hoping to go) and the position articulated by Wess. Read above where I write about Greg Boyd's position. I'm ok with people voting their conscience as informed by theology. I have no problem with Wess voting. It's just not where I'm at right now. Check back in two weeks :)
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    Jarrod - I like that this is your semi-serious answer! haha...
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    If I may interject race into the discussion...

    What % of anabaptists are black? I'm a white kid & I go to a "black church" of mostly seniors, in a "black denomination" (African Methodist Episcopal). Just wondering what they would think of this convo after all the hell they've been through to get to vote and now to see a (50%) black presidential candidate. We have photoshopped pics of Obama & MLK Jr. on our bulletin board!
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    In the US, being anabaptist is still largely tied with european, but that is changing. Globally (and those of you who have been a part of Anabaptist denominations for longer correct me if I'm wrong) more Mennonites are in South American and Africa than in the US and Europe.

    One of the largest growing segments is the Pentecostal anabaptists...in fact, most early Pentecostals had very pessimistic views of government, and the Church of God in Christ (a predominantly black Pentecostal denomination) still does. That isn't to say that these Pentecostals wouldn't vote. But in every part of the anabaptist tradition I believe there have been non-voters.

    But the whole "they've been through hell to get the vote" argument misses the point. We have competing sets of language here...and though folks don't have to agree with how I relate church and state, they have to at least reconcile the ways in which narratives of democracy and the Gospel narrative compete in their conceptions of "freedom" and "struggle" and "race" and "equality" and "election" etc.

    Furthermore, you're talking about a group of people struggling to gain a voice in American Society. I would never tell someone they shouldn't vote. I just tell them why I don't vote...and that nonvoting is an option. Part of the freedom to vote is the freedom to obstain. It isn't a way of opting out, but a choice in its own rights.
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    My fear with where the conversation is heading is that the statement "politics will solve nothing" is just as bad as saying "politics will solve everything." Political ideals will affect the nation, and the world, so we as Christians have a responsibility to be informed and aware of each nominee's stances, and our vote does make a statement as to where we stand on those issues. I realize that the idealism that every promise will come to pass is dangerous, but to dismiss all political maneuvering and campaign promises as bullocks and step out of the ring entirely could have repercussions. I don't know if it's fair to say that we "follow Christ alone," as we are also called to support our leaders and follow the rules of the society we are apart of, as long as they don't conflict with the responsibilities we have as followers of Christ first. I also think that not voting is an expression of our rights, if we have reasons for doing so beyond apathy.

    I think i'm rambling....i don't know.
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    You say that we are "called to support our leaders and follow the rules of the society we are a part of." I would tend to differ with you on that. We have been called upon to follow the rules of and submit to those who rule over us, but not to support them. By that I mean we are, as you said above, to folow the laws placed over us unless they conflict with our beliefs. And submitting is different from supporting. To submit is to accept any punishment that you may receive as a result of not following those laws.

    Now I'm going to ramble a little bit.

    Voting is a right, not an obligation. So people are free to choose to vote or not vote. I agree that apathy is a poor excuse for not voting. But, there are some reasons that I feel are legitimate. Here are some of the reasons that I no longer vote.

    Part of voting is an exercise of power. By voting for a candidate that I feel will represent my agenda or values is also voting against and attempting to deny others who have a different agenda or set of values. We are not called to exercise power over each other. We are called to serve each other.

    To go along with that, governments exist in a realm of finite resources. To provide something for one person or group of persons inevitably requires them to take something away from someone else. I really no longer wish to actively support a system that denies some for the advancement of others. We are called to rely on God as our infinite and inexhaustable resource.

    By voting, I feel that I am lending my support and approval to a corrupt system that is hopelessly lost and broken. Have you ever noticed how politicians tend to use the votes that got them into office as a way to legitimize their decisions? I, frankly, no longer wish to legitimize their corrupt efforts any longer.

    I realize that it would be nearly impossible to completely separate myself from this broken and lost system. But I sure don't want to support it any longer. Not voting is my way of protesting.
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    I share alot of that sentiment Mark. Since the question was brought up, I thought I'd put on my "African American" hat and ponder the black narrative and what it has to tell us about voting and power.

    My parents generation, including members of my own family, were very much caught up in the struggle for civil rights, or as they would put it, an 'acknowledgement of their dignity'. But while the vote was a tangible sign/symbol of civil belonging, it was really enjoined to many other activities and practices that made for inclusion in our society and culture. In other words, the denial of the vote was a symbol of a more comprehensive and painful societal denial. That's why I would venture to say the vote holds an important place in the black narrative but it does not stand alone. Businesses, schools and Churches were also denying "votes" as in "stakes" in society's various institutions. So regardless of whether one chooses to vote or not, for blacks the process that led to a more meaningful vote was the transformative, character building act. Before then, the freedom to abstain couldn't really be meaningfully exercised, because it was forced.

    So what does this mean for us? I think the biggest indictment given by this black narrative is that the Church as a whole didn't extend its own franchise to blacks, giving them full "stakeholder" status, due in large part to its cultural captivity. Many White Churches fought the battle from afar, and some still find themselves unable to share power and culture in the spirit of Pentecost. Further, the Church came rather late to insisting that the government extend its franchise, while they kept their own reserved. After all the military integrated before many American churches ever did! If only the Church had first and foremost sought to demand its own congregations live out the Gospel call to inclusion and equality before Christ?

    I think if we were to analyze the current politics, as we now analyze the politics of the civil rights movement, we could probably start asking ourselves what aspect of dignity are the voters seeking from their elected officials and where can that dignity be found in the bosom of the Church? If its health care, for example, can we ask how is the Church providing for health and wholeness of mind, body, and spirit to all that seek it? Do we need to invest more of our time in alternative forms of hospital care, insurance, preventative health, etc.? If its globalization and international business can we ask how is the Church helping to diffuse xenophobia, address the concerns of those hurt by the process, and create settings where we can rejoice in the global community instead of being fearful of it? For me the black experience demonstrates marginalized people do not run after government assistance for no good reason. They do it because often they are at a lost to be "enfranchised" or become "full stakeholders" in society's other institutions... like the Church.
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    I think you are right on here, although I'd love to hear from an African American voice to see if our perceptions line up with their everyday reality. What I see happening by many Christian voters is an act of penance--they've been one issue voters (mainly abortion) for so long to the detriment of other causes...groups like Sojourners come in and finally tear them from this style of thinking and voting and social engagement...and then in an act of repentance, they get on the Obama train (or any other governmental project) to show they they have come of age and are ready to shed their myopic vision.

    I'm just worried the vision hasn't grown any larger, just focused in a new area.
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    Obama is part of the system; he is a product of the institutions which run the country. To think that electing him will make any fundamental difference, especially in foreign policy, is frankly delusional. As I mentioned in an earlier comment there are now more troops in Iraq than when the Democrats took control of Congress in 2007. The Democrats have had the power to end the war simply by denying funding. Obama has voted for every war funding bill since he was elected to the Senate in spite of his "anti-war" rhetoric.
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    Thanks Mark & JMarrow for taking time for replies.

    A good reminder that we still have a long way to go... the AME denomination / my church seems as captured by black culture as my home church was to white. On the whole, neither side (or any side) seems terribly urgent about the multicultural reality of the Kingdom of God. Not that I've been active either...
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    I'm dissapointed to see not as many thought voting was unChristian.
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    p.s.
    that was a simplistic answer, but I meant as far as the poll was concerned here on JM. Although voting on the local level is something one might participate in--what is the difference between electing one of our presidential candidates and vladimir putin?

    etc.
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    What is the alternative?
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    not voting :)
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    Well, if one wishes to protest the empire, not voting is one way of doing that. But it really needs to go much farther than that. Irregardless of whether we vote or not, we need to live our lives so that we are the solutions to the worlds problems. While the thought of that to one person may seem entirely overwealming, if every person who claimed that they were a christian were to do this, the amount of change that each one of us would need to put into action would be reasonable.

    Since none of us can tackle the whole problem by ourselves, we are called to change the world one life at a time. Just a very simple example of this would be to help a homeless person. And by that I don't mean simply pointing them in the direction of the local homeless shelter. Invite them into your home for a hot meal. Or better yet, invite them to stay with you and attempt to help them get their lives in order. But most importantly, don't simply view them as a cause or a task that must be completed. Form a meaningful and caring relationship with that person. I believe that many of the problems in our society are caused by how cold and uncaring we have all become towards each other. Genuine caring will help to solve much of that.

    That is just one example. There are many other ways that we can help. Look around you and find a way to be a solution. God help me have the courage to do the same.
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    Here, here. Well said Joel.

    We look at problems and are overwhelmed by their size, and this paralyses us. Yet the truth is that if everyone contributed, the actual amount of work that every person did would be very small. But we are so used to looking at things and coming up with grand-sounding programmes that we've forgotten how much power we actually have ourselves.
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    As someone who has never understood the appeal of Obama to Christians, I have to say your post leaves me more confused than ever. Your rather rosy non-endorsement of idealistic Marxist sloganeering (as opposed to what Marxists have actually historically done to believers, economies, and the poor...I showed your comments to friends of mine who have lived in mainland China and North Korea, and there was much jaw-dropping and even a shed tear) seems to manifest the kind of blind idealism that, I believe, motivates others to ignore Obama's history (like his opposition to the Baby Born Alive act in Illinois) and project their messianic hopes and dreams onto a man who is making a calculated effort to campaign as a blank canvas or a mirror.

    I think that Ellul has a lot of very important things to say, and we ignore him at our peril.

    I do believe that the notion that Barack Obama will be a uniter, bring real hope, deliver real change to the Beltway is delusional. IMHO, he's a hardcore left-wing political opportunist who, if he pursues the agenda in which he actually believes, will divide rather than unite the country.

    I think that whether one belongs to the Christian Right or the Religious Left, it's a grave, grave mistake to dine with the devil and climb into bed with political parties and candidates. The church of Christ shouldn't invest any messianic hopes in anyone but Jesus, and should pursue it's agenda of peace and justice on private, local levels.

    If we do otherwise, we'll be fooled, manipulated, and compromised by those who are playing high-stakes political games who see us merely as a means to their end.
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    VanSkammper,

    Do you read in my post that I am somehow endorsing the idealist Marxist slogans? If so, I either wrote this worse than I thought or you missed a few lines. I think we are actually in agreement on Obama and how important Ellul's thoughts are for our times (which is why I used him.) If' I'm being honest, the first paragraph of your response leaves me as confused as you probably were after reading my post.
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    Hi Michael,

    No, not exactly...and I could have been a lot more clear...rather than a source of confusion myself.

    I agree with Elull and your affirmation of what he was saying...but it's a bit too subtle for me (more a matter of taste, I suppose), and I think the list of the seductive slogans of Marxists is unbalanced, in spite of your disclaimer, your quotation from Elull and your final remarks affirming them.

    I say this because I know too many believers who have been seduced by that kind of thinking and then been burned by it...and I've also been to some countries that have been destroyed by leaders who have espoused that ideology. So, I wouldn't be inclined to present it such an unqualified way.
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    I just presented in the way that Ellul did in his essay. Sorry if it wasn't your flavor..it was his not mine. :)
    The Marxist slogans are seductive--that is the point! So are Obama's speeches or any other politician for that matter. Communism promised what Christianity failed to do. I'm not saying Communism worked, because it never has throughout all of history, but what I am saying is that, in principle, Communism offered to fix what the Church continued to only mock. How do you think Communism got it's start? By being unappealing? I think you are completely misreading what I am saying here.
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    The truth is that Communism leaves societies crippled and mangled. I'm not dumbing that down, not in the least. I'm merely making the point that, like Communism, all politicians tend to cash in on promising ends that other means haven't been able to create. Marxism failed. But in my opinion, so will Democracy if our vision in the Kingdom of God.

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