I read the news today, oh boy. I must admit, in my more ungodly moments I have let it be known that a greater intellect or an otherwise increased acumen would have been a marvelous idea in the drawing boards of my creation. If potters may reserve absolute rights in their designing then clay has a way of feeling rather desperate from time to time. I’m tempted to say that is especially true these days in contrast to sunnier ones. But not only would that imply a sort of chicken-little take on things in general, but it would also fly in the face of the fact that even in brighter times my ungodliness covets what is not my own.
Nevertheless, the world keeps coldly spinning with little regard to how I may or may not apprehend it. I look for wisdom wherever I may find it.
In a recent article entitled Priests in Voting Booths Lutheran Uwe Siemon Netto suggests the sort of posture believers might contemplate. But as I read it I wonder, Where is the guy who said wisdom is fleeting when you need him? He seemed on to something.
The first hint for me that all is not quite kosher is how Netto draws up seating arrangements for things ideological and theological:
“Church-owned publications cannot endorse political candidates. Of course, we have a clear position on issues of theological concern, such as the sanctity of life and of marriage as the union between one man and one woman. But the Lutheran Witness would be wrong to tell Washington how to fight wars in the Middle East, end the immigration quagmire, or salvage Social Security. Such problems cannot be resolves by faith but only by reason, a gift from God to help us function in this world.”
How are “sanctity of life and marriage” concerns more theological than war and economics? This sort of parsing is rather ubiquitous anymore.
But it seems to me there are three options: Either they are all theological, or they are split into ideological or theological categories, or they are all ideological and subject to natural law. The problem with the first option is that we get into the sort of transformational messes—both sacred and secular—which characterize our age. The problem with the second option, which is Netto’s, is that one suspects that to claim some issues as theological is to actually reserve high-octane fire power against those with whom one disagrees for fear of losing the day over something with which one may feel particularly strong. The first two options always seem to forget that very little can be accomplished in the real world when the process involves fellow participants who don’t share any certain theological devotions. The third option is the one the first two fear. There are various reasons for this, not the least of which is that impiety must be lurking. But how is it impious to suggest that Christ is Lord over all things created, formally acknowledged or not? In point of fact, it has always seemed to me that to not let natural law play out appropriately, which is to say staking anything grounded in creation from marriage to economics in the redemption sphere, is to show less faith, not more.
Throughout the balance of the article Netto goes on to suggest that,
“Christian voters will follow nothing less than a divine calling to be a special kind of priest…the Lutheran church has to remind Christian voters of this fact: They are the divinely appointed sovereigns in a democracy and as such compelled to exercise their office by virtue of good sense…A Christian failing to vote resembles the useless servant who kept the pound entrusted to him laid away in a napkin…If Christian voters are priests in the left-hand kingdom, so are Christians as rulers…let’s pray that American voters do see themselves as priests in the world and elect leaders….”
For those historically so well versed in the dexterity of right and left hands it can be not a little disheartening when so much is given with one only to be taken away with the other. Suffer a brief comparison. As I have contemplated the difference between evangelicals and Reformed it has always seemed to me that where the former lack it altogether the latter begin with a healthy doctrine of creation. Where many Reformed go south rather quickly, however, is in various forms of transformationalism. The right hand gives the doctrine of creation, but the left one takes it away by trying to redeem it somehow, as if it were sub-material in the first place.
In a similar way, it seems some Lutherans, again in contrast to evangelicals, begin with a robust doctrine of the two kingdoms but take the proverbial left turn at Albuquerque the way Reformed transformationalists do with creation. I think it should be cause for hesitation when voting is cast as an ordained task from on high instead of simply understood as a necessary tool in the service of a liberal democracy. In the latter view, this ratchets down the stakes of voting while at the same time allowing it to retain its admittedly God-ordained dignity. Indeed, for those even so inclined, neglecting one’s duty as a citizen of a liberal democracy can simply be understood as bad citizenry instead of a screechy impiety.
Netto rightly takes to task those on the right or left for baptizing certain ideological agendas, but he flirts rather heavily with the very same as he over-realizes the act of voting itself. One has to wonder—when a liberal democracy is seen as some sort of above-and-beyond gift of God and voters are framed as “priests of God” instead of citizens in a particular slice of the larger kingdom of man under Christ’s relentless Lordship—what becomes of those believers in other kingdom-outposts? Are they second-class priests? Moreover, it is ironic how ostensibly conservative religious views can look a lot like secular Utopian ones. The common denominator seems to be the assumption that socio-political action can do more than that for which it was ordained. Instead of getting us from today to tomorrow in relatively one piece the idea seems to be that an ultimate righteousness can indeed be brokered.
I tend to see this sort of sentiment hurrahed more and more in Reformed circles. And not just by transformationalists who might be happy to see that a Lutheran has wandered off the reservation. The tie that binds can be an American patriotism of affirmation not as in check as could be. But if we Reformed are right about criticizing evangelicals and their fishy practice of doling out of voters’ guides, it is not clear how it follows that certain Lutherans are given a pass for these “voter-priests” be-attitudes, a working lexicon with “left and right hand kingdoms” and a laudable sub-text for worldly involvement notwithstanding. If the problem with voters’ guides isn’t the fact that a secular burden is curiously expanded to a sacred duty then what’s the fuss? After all, when I was an evangelical those voters’ guides were pretty neutral and innocuously informing. (The genius seemed to be this: mix one part telling everyone directly or indirectly how to think politically in plenty of other venues; one part voting-as-sacred-duty; one part bloodless pamphlets, and voilà, an instant yet potent voting bloc and nobody loses their tax-exempt status. It’s the sort of misguided brilliance that gave us faith-based initiatives.)
Since it seems so brimming with nobility, I hate to break it to Netto, but voting is just voting. Maybe such mediocrity is enough to get me defrocked as a voter-priest. But since this kind of thing only seems to fuel the fires of unrealistic expectation followed by disillusionment and the sort of civil abstinence Netto fears, wouldn’t it be wiser to take better advantage of the priesthood of all believers and administer sanity?