It’s the height of election season in Americaland. While many of us probably already feel over-saturated from an election cycle that lasts waaaaaay too long, the intensity of the election is about to hit its final stretch as both the Republicans and Democrats kick off their conventions this month.
While I enjoy staying up-t0-date on the election, and the various issues that are being debated, I have felt somewhat liberated to approach this election differently, as I do not vote. My abstinence from voting is a religious one– I am an Anabaptist, and while we do not all agree on this issue, I am part of the Anabaptist wing who holds the theological conviction that we should not participate in this act.
We have various biblical and ethical reasons for this. Speaking for myself, I feel called to abstain for several reasons.
First, as one committed to nonviolent enemy love as a foundational aspect of my faith, I could not in good conscience vote for a candidate who would annihilate our enemies. Since this is America, and we love our wars and violence, this position I hold automatically rules out everyone.
Second, I believe that the Bible calls us (Christians) to live as immigrants and exiles (1 Peter 2:11) in a nation that is not our native home. I believe this is an invitation to detach from some of the secular political debates of our host country, since this is not our home. Instead, one would simply seek the peace of the place they find themselves in (Jeremiah 29:7), with a mindset not of a loyal citizen, but as a missionary who has been sent far from home to influence that culture in other ways.
This is my religious conviction, and it sits deep within my conscience– and for that, I make no apologies about being faithful and true to my sincere convictions.
Over the course of time however, people have pointed out that for me (and those who share this belief), our privilege in society is a factor in being able to abstain from voting. Essentially, for us to abstain is far less of a sacrifice than it would be for a member of a marginalized group– undocumented immigrants, the poor, LGBTQ, people of color, etc.
And on this point, those voices are entirely correct. While I don’t believe I should abandon my religious beliefs because I am a person who was born with privilege, I do recognize that my privilege certainly makes abstaining from voting something that is unlikely to come back to haunt me. While I am not rich or even middle-class, I have a host of other privileges that will follow me regardless of who is, or who is not president.
I am white, and I am a cis male, so that right there has given me a massive leg up over just about everyone. I have a modest, predictable stream of income. I have healthcare insurance I earned from my pre-Anabaptist days when I was in the military– insurance that is sound, inexpensive, and that I will have for life. I also have access to many, many resources that so many others do not have– a critical factor to consider when considering issues of privilege.
Bottom line? My life probably would not change that much under a President Trump or a President Clinton. Life will probably just go on as normal– and the privilege I enjoy is the precise reason for that.
While I did not ask to be born into privilege, and will not engage in self-loathing for that fact, I do believe that how I use my privilege matters. I can use it for myself, or I can use it for others who do not have it– that part I am entirely responsible for.
So here’s how I have decided to be faithful to my deeply held religious beliefs while also recognizing how easy my privilege has made that for me:
I’m giving away my vote this year. In fact, I’ll probably be giving away my vote from here on out, because it strikes me as the right thing to do.
What does that mean?
It means I’ll be sitting down with someone from the refugee community I have worked with here in my home state of Maine– someone who is a non-citizen, unable to vote, and whose life will surely be impacted greatly by the policies and decisions of the next president. It will likely be a refugee from Somalia, since we have a large population here in Maine, and because even the Christian refugees in our community have a larger portion of privilege than our new Muslim friends.
Surely, a Muslim refugee from Somalia, people of color who are poor, non-citizens, and who belong to the religion we most fear, will be impacted by this election infinitely more than I ever would.
To give away my privilege, I’ll be sitting down with this individual and together we’ll talk through the candidates, the issues, and the referendums on the ballot. When we’re finished, I’ll be making a list of their choices on each of the various federal and local candidates, and each of the referendums being decided. When I walk into that voting booth on election day, I will not be walking in to vote myself– I will be taking their list, and voting their personal choices faithfully.
I’m giving away my vote this year.
No, I didn’t ask for all this privilege that makes abstaining from voting so easy, but I believe that I am responsible for how I choose to respond to this privilege– and how I choose to respond to it this election cycle, is to give away my vote to someone who needs it far more than I do.
What about you? How can you use your privilege for good this election season? I’d invite you to join with me, in giving away your vote this year to someone who does not share the same privileges in society that you or I do.
It strikes me as the right thing to do.
Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. www.Unafraid-book.com.