Christian Voting? Nuance, Gray and Paradox

Voting was easy.

Then Francis the Brit messed up my politics. I had grown up with a set of moral and political values that integrated beautifully. Why didn’t everyone agree with me?

My wife and I were living in a city with one bomb detonating per week. The good news is that we never heard one. We were helping out a refugee relief team while I did research for my thesis. We had a semi-Western apartment complete with a refrigerator and a gas stove.

Francis deserved a listen. He served destitute refugees during his “workday” and devoted himself to them the rest of his time. Francis lived in a dingy room exposed to nighttime temperatures that dipped to the mid-30s. He had horrid plumbing, a portable gas burner that was semi-functional and a light bulb hanging from the ceiling.

I thought that I understood Francis’ prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. Then he painted a word picture of her that was cohesive but completely unfamiliar to me. He gave personal accounts of how her policies impacted students, workers and artisans. He dared to talk to me about American political leaders. He asked moral questions about issues that had seemed merely political to me.

He made me feel like I had been cherry-picking my morality. As long as my favored leaders harmonized with me on the “important” moral issues, I had been ok with letting them off the hook on other questions. Francis had a moral compass like mine, but our politics were way out of synch with each other.

Francis the Brit taught me the importance of nuance, the beauty of gray, an appreciation of paradox. I learned to esteem and work with people who strongly disagree with me. Now I can see that many things are not black and white, cut and dried, like I wish they were. Doing what seems best for some people will appear unkind to others. Some Christians see Immigration as primarily a justice/criminal enforcement issue. Others look at Immigration and focus on compassion for the alien.

Thank you, Francis. God used you to open up my mind, my heart, and my politics in unexpected ways. But you made voting a lot harder.

Here’s my revised process for voting: Pray. Read. Pray. Listen. Pray. Discuss. (Repeat process.) Vote.

How has your voting evolved?
How do you integrate values and voting?

About Ben Unseth

Executive Director at Project Understanding (2014-2017), social service agency in Ventura, CA
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4 Responses to Christian Voting? Nuance, Gray and Paradox

  1. Pete says:

    Thanks for reminding us that there is more to voting than politics. Thank God that you learned from Francis. I wonder if he says he learned from you. We need to vote for people and issues that reflect God’s heart, not merely the politics I grew up with. We may not agree with each other on the analysis of these issues, but we must agree to work together no matter who wins. Part of a moral approach to politics is working constructively with those who we disagree with. If we work together, listening, we may all learn.

  2. It seems a rare virtue in legislative halls for leaders to disagree without being disagreeable.

  3. A Unseth says:

    Looking from the outside, politics looks easy–serve people. Having served on policy boards, I now realize the poison in every decision was the anecdotal story of a single individual or small group who needed something we could give. Nevertheless, in giving to the one, we would have to take from all. Decisions are much harder to make when the focus is broad rather than microscopic, and hard policies must often be made on principles that will help the most people and provide greater good for the most vulnerable populations. When we focus on the needs of a person who chooses to live in the middle of a busy highway lane and close the road, we can cause the economic needs of an entire city to grind to a slower pace that will hurt hundreds of thousands people–who will not always complain, but figure out for themselves how to adjust. The moral is: Beware the (government subsidized) Public Radio story that focuses on the individual rather than the needs of the many individuals.

  4. Balancing liberty and community, rights and responsibilities, is the constant tension of the American experiment.

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