First, I want to thank David Fitch and the many others (Brian McLaren, Shane Claiborne, et al) who have participated in this discussion with civility, love, and graciousness. David has responded to my brief reflection on the call, from some quarters of the church, to consider voting as an act of violence. He has offered a brilliant theological reflection on how the church should go about the business of living out an a/political theology within the context of American democracy.
My contention was that there is a hint of privilege at work in this call. That from my location as a Christian voting has been a gift not always enjoyed by historically marginalized groups. In these groups ‘not voting’ would be read a couple of different ways. 1. a complete downplaying of the relative goods brought about by voting in American history (Voting Rights Act, etc.) 2. a missed opportunity to be in civic solidarity with one’s neighbors and participation in the common good. 3. that it could silence the voice to the voiceless in American democracy.
Important note: I do not see ‘voting’ as the one and only means to revitalize and participate in our American democracy. There are a myriad of ways to live deeply into American democracy as Christians. Voting is just a piece of the puzzle. But I guess the question of the hour is this: can we do this (vote) without idolatry and participating in imperial violence?
It has been noted that the social change brought about by the efforts of many prophetic Christians like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King has gone unnoticed by over-emphasizing the vote. Its ok to talk about voting. To simply have a conversation about voting does not commit one to the view that only voting is important democratic practice. I take notice of it everyday. But a part of the work of people like Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, and many others was to broaden and deepen the practice of citizenship in American democracy.
I can’t imagine telling Fannie Lou Hamer, while going through deeply racist regions of Mississippi in the 60s, that her voter registration drives were calls to participate in imperial violence. She’d probably look at me crazy…with love though. She’d probably look around and ask: where are the Christians now? many of whom are lynching, burning down black churches, scaring local black farmers away from participating more deeply into democracy. “So we should do what the white supremacists want us to do? not vote!?” I believe she’d ask. Probably with more grace than I could muster.
But to respond directly to David’s challenging response. Firstly, I have deep affinity with the post-Christendom (or post-Constantinian) posture represented by him and others. By both Christendom and post-Christendom I defer to religious studies professor Craig Carter, in his latest book Rethinking Christ and Culture: A Post-Christendom Perspective:
The term Constantinianism refers to Roman emperor Constantine the Great, who tolerated and then encouraged Christianity beginning in 312. He ended the great persecution of 303-12 and called the Council of Nicea in 325 in order to unify the church in the face of the Arian threat. Although he was not baptized until his deathbed, he came to symbolize the Christianization of the Roman Empire in the fourth century. Although the majority of Christians view this as a triumph for the church, a minority regards it as a tragic compromise of the gospel for the sake of social acceptance and power. John Howard Yoder, for example, uses the term Constantinianism to refer to an eschatological heresy in which the promises of the coming kingdom of God are seen as being fulfilled in history and in the Christendom that results from the Constantinian shift. (p. 15)
In other words. Christendom is the attempt, by Christians, to use worldly power (political, economic, etc.) to make the kingdom happen. Carter, Yoder, and many others point out the tragic history of what happens when Christians take matters into their own hands. I’d imagine an example of this would be President Bush’s, a professing Christian, admission that he prayed before going to war in Iraq or from an earlier time period, the Crusades. A myriad of examples abound of Christians taking matters into their own hands for the kingdom of God.
The maintenance of Christendom should be rejected by Christians who are called to live out Jesus’ non-violent ethic of neighbor/enemy-love in a world addicted to violence and death. A post-Christendom posture would be to follow Jesus all the way to the cross. It is to reject the world’s way of getting things done with violence and death.
It is to have one’s primary allegiances challenged, to love one’s enemies, to forgive, to share one’s bread, to turn the other cheek and many other practices and injunctions that are given glorious embodiment by Jesus of Nazareth. I too share this perspective. I do consider myself a post-Christendom Christian. I pray for the death of a Christendom that is responsible for the millions upon millions of dead African bodies at the bottom of the Atlantic ocean, the Shoah, Trail of tears, and so on.
more later…I gotta go pick my son up from band practice.