The Civic Sacrament

Today is election day.  Mostly up for grabs are local and state races.  Voting has been called a “civic sacrament.”  The analogy is an imperfect one, and it applies only to democratic systems.  Some say that voting “doesn’t do any good,” which even if it were true is not the point.  We have a vocation of citizenship.  For those of us blessed enough to have been called to citizenship in a country in which we govern ourselves by choosing our own leaders, voting is one of the duties of our vocation.

Voting and the neighbor

Todd Wilkens, host of Issues, Etc., has a provocative post on voting like a Christian.  He is applying to this work of the calling of citizenship what Luther taught is the purpose of all vocations:  To love and serve one’s neighbor.

Why does a Christian vote? A Christian doesn’t vote for the same reason the unbeliever votes.

A Christian doesn’t vote because it’s his right. That’s why the unbeliever votes. For the Christian, his own rights have nothing to do with it.

A Christian doesn’t vote to get his way. That’s also why the unbeliever votes. For the Christian, getting his way has nothing to do with it.

A Christian doesn’t vote to protect his own interests. For the Christian, his own interests have nothing to do with it.

A Christian votes to serve his neighbor —-period.

A Christian votes because he is called to do so by the needs of his neighbor. This means that a Christian will sometimes vote against his own rights, his own way and his own self-interest; but always in favor of his neighbor and his needs. At the ballot box, the neighbor comes first.

On election day, don’t vote like an unbeliever. Make you vote count …for your neighbor.

via Steadfast Lutherans » Why Vote?.

So what difference would this neighbor-centered ethic make?  Which, in your opinion, would be a better neighbor-centered vote, for Obama or for Romney?  Is there only one answer, or might vocation lead different people to different decisions?  If the latter, does that mean that God calls people to contrary actions?  How can that be?

Vocation Day reading

Happy Vocation Day!  It was formerly known as Labor Day, but this blog has crusaded to take over this national holiday–day off work, last day of summer vacation, cook-out customs and all–and add it to the church year as a commemoration of the doctrine of vocation.

That topic is a major theme of this blog.  Vocation is more than just the notion that you can do your work to the glory of God.  It has to do not only with how we make our living–though it includes that–but also with our life in our families, our churches, and our cultures.  The doctrine of vocation is filled with specific details and practical guidance.  It is, in short, the theology of the Christian life.

A good activity for Labor Day would be to read up on the doctrine of vocation.  You could read from my two books on the subject– God at Work and Family Vocation–or, if you are in a hurry to get the car loaded, I’ll post a brief article with a sidebar that I wrote on the subject for  Modern Reformation.  Click “continue” to read it.

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Politics & Vocation

It’s interesting to see Roman Catholics appropriating Luther’s doctrine of vocation.  Traditionally, Catholics have used the term to refer only to the calling to be a priest, a monk, or a nun.  Matthew Cantirino here discusses a prominent Catholic thinker who says that we have a “baptismal vocation” to participate in the political process. It’s not quite as clear as Luther’s point that we have a vocation as citizens.  Still, at a time when many Christians are giving up on civic engagement and many others are misinterpreting what that means (NOT to take over so as to Christianize the government), the doctrine of vocation can help sort out our responsibilities, namely, to love and serve our neighbors in our civic life and political duties.

Harvard Law professor (and longtime First Things contributor and supporter) Mary Ann Glendon offers advice to young Christians inclined to politics in a recent interview with the National Catholic Register. Her main point is one especially worth noting in an election year: that while an obsession with the contemporary political scene can often distract us from more enduring truths, it still must be taken seriously and engaged thoughtfully. Glendon even goes as far as asserting that:

“Nearly everyone who takes his or her baptismal vocation seriously has some form of calling to participate in that process [ie, politics broadly understood], as he or she is able. If we Christians truly believe we are called to be a transformative presence in the world — to be salt, light and leaven — we have to do our best to improve the conditions under which we live, work and raise our children. Even our cloistered contemplatives are not merely meditating on the mystery of the universe — they are praying for the world.”

This is helpful advice for Christians in the public square today, where a sense of defeat can become overwhelming. Indeed, in recent years, there has been a movement among some on the ‘religious right’ towards shunning—even disdaining—politics altogether. This attitude has enjoyed a resurgence as something of a reaction to the previous decades of alliance between Christian leaders and partisan figures, especially in more fundamentalist circles. And, and Glendon notes with concern, many of today’s brightest and most devout students scarcely consider a political career at all, often believing it to be a certain path to corruption.

Ultimately, however, as Glendon points out, this retreat impulse is misguided, overwrought, and even dangerous, as it allows others very hostile to religious faith to step in and have free reign. It is, as the ironic title of her lecture and interview alludes to, an implicit agreement with Max Weber’s thesis that “he who lets himself in for politics … contracts with diabolical powers.” So, she concedes, while “culture” may indeed more important than “politics” narrowly construed, there is a larger sense in which the latter is a constitutive element in the former. Referencing the example of Vaclav Havel, she calls the two part of a “two-way street” and notes that the two are, to a significant extent, inseparable. Especially in today’s America, where (national) politics occupies an admittedly bloated position, Christians really don’t have much of a choice in the matter.

via First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.  Here is a link to Glendon’s interview.

The conventional approach to politics is that everyone should follow his or her own rational self-interests.  The vocational approach says that we must deny our selves in love and service to our neighbor.  How might that latter emphasis manifest itself in a Christian’s political engagement?


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