As the election season heats up, I frequently hear some form of the following two sentiments from my fellow Americans.
"I'm fed up, so I just won't vote."
Or the opposite: "Just imagine how bad things will be if 'my' candidate doesn't win," implying "my" candidate is going to save the world.
While I am sympathetic to both sentiments, I find both of them to be problematic.
For those who are fed up and not voting as a result, I want to be clear that our choices are not insignificant. Political leaders-at the local, state and national levels-make decisions that affect people's lives in very real ways. Decisions made by U.S. policymakers affect people in this country and, as many Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) workers tell us, around the world. The MCC Washington Office was started for this very reason.
Political decisions directly impact all kinds of things, from how much we pay in taxes to unemployment benefits, low-income heating assistance, public education, the condition of our roads and the availability of cheap goods due to our trade policies, not to mention the ways in which those policies undermine producers in other countries.
As Mennonites, we are far from disengaged in public life, whether we realize it or not. We are implicated in many ways-many good, many not so good. Because of this, we can't pretend our actions don't matter.
Rather, we must carefully weigh candidates' stances and how they line up with our stated values as Mennonites-values such as addressing poverty, caring for the earth, upholding the importance of all human life and seeking peace rather than using military might. Then we decide which candidate for each office, in our view, represents those values best. We may be wrong, and we may choose to vote in the next election for a different candidate, but nonetheless this is the hard, discerning work necessary to be people of faith and integrity in the public sphere.
All of this is challenging to live out, and as Mennonites we must be willing to do it in the context of community, listening to the voices of others, including those who disagree with us. We also must deliberately seek out the voices of those who are directly impacted by a particular policy, so that we can understand how policies impact not just us but also our neighbors.
With regard to the second sentiment, on a particular candidate saving the world: Barack Obama won't save the world. Nor will Mitt Romney. Nor will any congressional or gubernatorial candidates. That role belongs to Jesus alone.
If we find ourselves slipping into thinking a political candidate will save us, we need to pause for reflection and examine what is influencing us to think this way. Do we believe that ultimate power lies with human rulers, or with God? Where do we put our trust?
As Christians, we need to be clear that our ultimate allegiance is to Christ, not to any candidate, party or government system. We can-and, in fact, must-trust that it is God's kingdom that will triumph in the end, and that nations and empires will fall.
The tricky part, of course, is holding all of this together simultaneously. We must acknowledge the many ways in which policymakers' decision impact people's real lives, and at the same time affirm God's sovereignty over the events of our lives.
That is much more complicated than the made-for-sound bite easy answers we hear from candidates throughout the election season. But if we are to be biblically and theologically grounded, we have no other choice.
The MCC Washington Office is happy to serve as a resource on public policy issues: sign up to receive updates from us and view our election resources at washington.mcc.org.