To judge from the news shows and Twitter feeds, the political question in America right now is who should be President in 2017.
A few weeks ago, we had a local primary in Durham for municipal elections. Voter turnout was 7%. When I voted at my local precinct this morning, I was voter number 42. That’s about 15 voters less than the number I was when I voted at the same time a few weeks ago. It doesn’t look like much more than 7% of eligible voters will weigh in on our mayor and city council elections today.
I have friends I respect who are Christian anarchists. Our hope is not in the State, but in the Kingdom of God, they say. Some of them don’t vote because they think voting is a sort of sell-out. What’s much more important, they say, is embodying God’s reign in the places where we live.
Like I said, I respect my friends who insist on being more committed to the common good than the average voter. But my best guess is that these friends are a much smaller minority than the 7% of registered voters who turn out for a local election.
The sad reality is that some 90% of my community simply isn’t involved in our common life. They’re too busy, too disaffected, too cynical or too hopeless to think that engagement can make a difference.
And this is true of your community, too.
Why does this matter to people who are trying to follow the Jesus Way in the world today?
Because Jesus calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves. And by most every indicator we have, the gap between our neighbors who have and those who don’t is at levels this country hasn’t seen since the Great Depression. What’s more, the gap is growing.
While most of us are dazzled or bemused by multi-million dollar Presidential races, the very few people who own both those races and the media corporations that report them know this: there are more of us than there are of them. Multi-ethnic democracy is a threat to their power, but multi-ethnic democracy is the only democracy possible in a country that is fast becoming less and less white.
The alternative to multiethnic democracy in America is a puppet oligarchy in which the local representatives who draw voting districts and manage state and federal tax dollars are bought at the lowest possible price by corporate interests that cannot be challenged, even by a vast majority of people. This is increasingly why city councils and state legislatures—not to mention the US Congress—pass measures that do not reflect public opinion.
For many, this simply increases political cynicism. Why bother when a majority of people can’t even sway their representatives?
But for those of us who’ve been baptized into the politics of Jesus, the abuse of power to cheat the poor and build wealth for the few should stir prophetic dissent. What’s happening isn’t simply bad for democracy. It’s wrong.
A puppet oligarchy in which 7% of a community does the bidding of corporately-funded political action committees is wrong because creates the conditions of oppression that the prophets cry out against. It’s wrong because it is the antithesis of the beloved community Jesus proclaimed and established here on earth. It’s wrong because it inevitably hurts the precious little ones whom Jesus loves. And it’s wrong because it keeps each of us from taking responsibility to be our brother (and sister’s) keeper.
To pray “thy kingdom come on earth…” is to commit ourselves to a local politics that, however imperfect, aspires to something better than this.