An excerpt from a letter I wrote to a new friend:
I guess I see our democratic context lying within the same root that Jesus challenged in the 1st century: hierarchy, power, and human rule. Given Israel’s history in exile, living as a weak nation among Empire, Jesus had to offer real solutions to people who didn’t understand “the things that make for peace” (Luke 19:42). And I’m seeing evidence now that he can offer us those kind of real solutions too, if we’re wiling to follow him. He didn’t turn a blind eye to injustice. Yet he refused the temptation to rule over others. He often avoided the crowds, chose not to use his considerable social influence, and even rejected the people’s attempt to make him king (John 6). He continually put aside the crowd’s expectations of a Christ that would triumph as a military and political leader–to the point of allowing his cousin John the Baptist to remain a prisoner and die at the hands of a cruel puppet politician. No letter-writing campaigns, no riots, no protests, no storming the city, not even a word to the authorities on John’s behalf…
Of course, like John the Baptist, Jesus made a deep mark on society through his suffering and execution. But the power of their message and example was the miraculous way that God brought them back to life again, without any human social strength or political power to account for it. “We, the people,” whether coming from an activist or from a politician, is a false promise compared to the greatness of God’s eternal love. Worldly citizenry makes reference only to itself and, thus, we have the painful experience of domination by an idol of our own making (not to mention the demonic influence which tempts us to worship ourselves and the “gods” we create). Simone Weil wrote about this here: “The power of the social element. Agreement between several men brings with it a feeling of reality. It brings with it also a sense of duty. Divergence, where this agreement is concerned, appears as a sin. Hence all returns to the fold are possible. The state of conformity is an imitation of grace” (cited from this essay). As followers of Jesus, our basis for community and a just social order comes not from conformity to “We, the people” but through a power and authority we did not create. Being united with others who live according to Jesus and his kingdom helps us continue to trust God’s promises of true liberation and healing. Not needing to wait until others decide it’s time or until we make ourselves move fast enough, work hard enough, muster enough energy, etc.
The apparent freedom and power that comes from voting (along with other democratic tools of engagement) is an illusion coming from “the power of the people,” and seems pretty weak when compared to God’s love and strength. So I don’t vote. However, I have been accepting government medical insurance for my kids and some food stamps. Maybe that isn’t a very consistent message here, I’m not sure. But following Jesus in his poverty and powerlessness has, in some measure, shown me what the root of our captivity really is. And more “hard work” or merely rearranging the chess pieces of society’s structures do not inspire me very much, even if the immediate results sometimes seem good. Trust in his promises, on the other hand, not a mere structure of our own creation, seems to be the only way to truly prove the reality we seek to live out…Jesus’ one true “Body” offers a real alternative and authentic peace for those of us who need it.