Nonviolent votes?

From this week’s Sojourners newsletter:

We recoil from nonviolence at our peril. Dr. King rightly saw it at the heart of democracy. Our nation is a great cathedral of votes — votes not only for Congress and for president, but also votes on Supreme Court decisions and on countless juries. Votes govern the boards of great corporations and tiny charities alike. Visibly and invisibly, everything runs on votes. And every vote is nothing but a piece of nonviolence.

– Historian Taylor Branch, in a recent op-ed, “The Last Wish of Martin Luther King.”

How is voting, particularly in government, nonviolent when every act of government is back up with the threat of violence? Votes are cast for those who support a certain sense of morality so that those who transgress that morality will be threatened with violence. As long as there are prisons, police, judges and soldiers then voting will be a violent act.

The Presidential Election

I’m amused by the grand pageant that is a presidential race. I follow along halfheartedly, thinking of the various personalities as characters on some TV dramedy, and just trying to see where the story goes. There are some I like more than others, and many I truly despise.

That said, I’m not voting. I haven’t in many years.

Now, knowing that any political post is quickly followed up by people saying “Oh, but you’re wrong!”, I’m going to write about this anyway.

The foundation of my decision not to vote is that participation in an election is entrusting one’s authority to make decisions to another party. Voting is giving sanction to the government, telling them by casting a vote I endorse the form of government and its ability to make decisions in my place. Voting is also taking on responsibility for the actions of the government. If I had voted for a senator who voted for the Patriot Act? I’d have given them the authority to do that. Voting is giving away the right to self-determination and taking responsibility for the theft of that right from others.

A further reason for not voting in a presidential race is that the President of the USA is the commander of the military forces of the country. As a pacifist I cannot say, “Oh, I’d like this person to be in charge of the murder of people.” No. I will not choose the person who has access to that little red button. I’ll settle for nothing less than the destruction of that button. I won’t try to choose someone who will use their military might with restraint. That is a sanction of the use of said force AT ALL. I won’t compromise.

Is Dubya a psychopathic warmonger? Yes. Without question.

Was Clinton better?

Earlier today, I ordered America’s armed forces to strike military and security targets in Iraq. They are joined by British forces. Their mission is to attack Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors.

Their purpose is to protect the national interest of the United States, and indeed the interests of people throughout the Middle East and around the world.

Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons.

I want to explain why I have decided, with the unanimous recommendation of my national security team, to use force in Iraq; why we have acted now; and what we aim to accomplish.

Bill Clinton, December 16, 1998

Sounds like a familiar justification to me. Less psychopathic? Yes. Still evil? Yes.

In keeping with the pacifist reasons for not voting, years ago I came to realize that the central principal of any form of government is violence. There is very little difference between Capitol Hill and the Mafia. Deviate from approved behavior and we are met with thugs threatening or using violence. Refuse to pay for protection (is there a difference between taxes and protection money?) and the thugs are at our door, stealing and brutalizing if we don’t comply. Choosing nicer bosses for the thugs does not change the centrality of violence to government, and sanctioning government by voting is saying that this violence is okay.

I’m not going to offer up my power to make decisions, my power to work for good in the world. I’m not going to say that violence is okay when the majority agrees on who should direct it. No. Not me. I will not vote.

Hypocrisy and incoherency as marks of faith

In Lamenting an Anti-Pacifist Church Alan Hartung writes:

Backtracking to my brief mention of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I feel that neither side will find absolute justification in the Scriptures. I cannot imagine that it would not have been sin to allow Hitler to live knowing what he was doing if one had the opportunity to take his life. Remember, however, Bonhoeffer considered both actions sinful – the terrible result of being caught in a sin-stained world which sometimes left one with no truly righteous options. That being said, I leave myself open to accusations of hypocrisy and incoherency. All I can say to that charge is that I believe any incoherency my beliefs contain still lie closer to the way of Christ than the coherency of the Doctrine of Just War.”

That acknowledgment and acceptance of “hypocrisy and incoherency” speaks to me on a deep level. It sounds something like the “orthoparadoxy” that others in the emergent conversation have mentioned. We fall somewhere between striving and failing, and in that place lies our wretched and beautiful humanity.