Two years ago I made a conscious decision not to vote. Let me explain.
I was in college. I was living in a town that I loved fiercely. I wanted to memorize every inch of it, so aware that I was leaving so soon. But I was in college. I was transient. I was unemployed. I was not registered to vote in that town. My registration card was for a surburban town I’d spent 21 years hating. And I didn’t think my voice would carry. I said that it wouldn’t matter, that the same people would just keep winning. I was in college, and I was arrogant and jaded all at once. I thought I understood what it meant to be a citizen of heaven.
I used to tell people that if they weren’t willing to renounce their American citizenship, then they shouldn’t call themselves a Christian. I believed it. Voting seemed tied up in all of that. It seemed like a tithe to a country I didn’t inhabit. And while I would still tell people that same thing, I come to different conclusions this year.
This year I lived back in a state I’ve never loved very much. But I’m on the other side of town. I’m still trying to care for it. I’m still trying to learn. But I stayed up last night with my eyes half closed and researched every office on the ballot. I made a cram sheet and yes, I may have peeked at it while filling out my ballot. And no, I can’t pretend like I totally understood every issue, but I did everything I could.
Does this somehow negate my citizenship in heaven? Have I rendered Caesar hours that should have been God’s? Is it foolish to think that voting can actually change anything?
I don’t think it is. Let me say this first: I don’t think that Christians should trust or rely on the government to bring the kingdom. The government is never going to love our the neighbor the way we can (the way we have to start actually loving them). Voting is not your quick fix to not think about social problems until the next election. Voting for a judge committed to reducing incarceration of mothers in favor of rehabilitation arrangements that don’t put their kids in foster care is great, but it doesn’t erase our need to go visit the mothers in prison and to love their kids well.
But let me say this second. I voted. I voted because I love a lot of children with some very special needs, and the school system isn’t what they need it to be. I voted because I fiercely believe in the value of their lives. I voted because my sister in law lays awake at night trying to figure out how to get refugee kids to pass a state reading test. I voted because the families working with the organization my best friend works for are worth fighting to preserve. I voted because I know too much about healthcare and I’ve seen too many families who have to fight the system every day of their lives. And I cannot look these people in the eyes and tell them I love them if I’m not willing to speak these small words with my small voice. If I’m not willing to do what I can to make the world a little less sharp for them, then what am I doing? I’ll be honest, some of my ballot choices weren’t what I thought was best for Oklahoma, or even for America. They were the things I thought looked like Jesus. The things I thought would make life a little more livable for the people I’m actively fighting for every day.
I know it will never be perfect. I’m not here to pretend like any politician is ever going to get it right. America will never be the Kingdom. That is coming, is written on our hearts.
For those of you who voted, great. I pray you did so with people in mind who could use your voice. I pray you will continue to vote for them with the way you spend your money and the way you spend your time. I pray you will let your life form around these causes we advocate for every few years. I pray you will love actively in the space between elections. I pray that you will not let your vote be your final word, because there are so many better things in which to put our hope.
For those of you who didn’t, I pray you will remember the power of your voice. I don’t want to sound like I’m scolding you. I know many of you, and your hands are dirty every day from fighting for people. It doesn’t make you a bad person, and it doesn’t mean you don’t care deeply. But I pray you will use this last thing you have in an effort to help where you can. I pray you will lend your voice to those who don’t get heard very often. I pray you will take the opportunity to learn about your home. To love it. To actually have reasons to care about county commissioners and district courthouses. I pray you will love your neighbor in this small way, and then will continue to do the heavy work of the country that holds your true allegiance.
Two years ago I didn’t speak. I wonder sometimes about what will happen with affordable housing in Waco. I wonder if judges and officials will look at kids and families I know with the love and compassion I want them to. I wonder if parents will find jobs, and if teachers will get the kids I love ready for jobs or college. I so desperately want the folks I love in Waco to be taken care of. And I hate that I never said it. I hate that I never told the city that this matters to me. I left, and I came here.
And this time I won’t wonder. I will know exactly what needs to change in the courts and in the schools and in the workforce. I will study it, and I will say what I feel I need to. And then I will try to find ways to remember how much it matters every day.
We vote every day, you and I. Let’s do it thoughtfully and with great love.