Tuesday, October 28, 2008

One Week to Go: PRAY. SMILE. VOTE.

Reflections and Guidance on Voting in America
by Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock
October 28, 2008

Taxes. It seems that the people of God have always lived with them. Paying taxes is also participating in the political culture, in society. Maybe it's at the lowest and most passive level, but when you pay taxes, you are participating. A tax is usually compulsory payment to Caesar or government to pay for common interests: security, education, goods, etc. It may be taken without reference to its use or benefit. The penalties for non-payment have always been severe.

So, what is expected of the Children of God? What should Orthodox Christians vote in America?

"Give unto Caesar's that which is Caesar's and unto God that which is God's." Luke 20:25

In the founding of the United States America, a noble experiment was engaged. The American Revolution for independence and self-determination in 1776 was centered on the problem of taxation without representation. Standard policy for a monarchy or dictatorship is to exact compulsory charges or payments from individuals, families, businesses, cities, towns. These charges or payments are taxes. Most early Americans were seeking freedom in religion, lifestyle, commerce. King George of the British Empire of which American colonies were part, was doing what every monarch had done before him. He taxed to the far reaches of his empire. The amount of taxation and the rules of taxation in the Colonies were seen as unfair. But, since the King is sovereign, there was no equivalent representation to bring related concerns to the King. Instead of paying taxes without representational voice in their own governing, incidents of revolution happened. One of the first happened in Boston, where tea - a principle export to England - was dumped into the harbor.

In the grand context of humanity and inalienable rights of individuals, the United States of America is primarily constituted around the principle of democracy that requires representation for all taxation. The US Constitution divides government into parts with checks and balances on each other, so that the ultimate power remained local and representational.

The main instrument of individual participation in America is the local vote, not taxes. The vote of each citizen determines the governments over neighborhoods and the nation as a whole. Taxes are the result of those entrusted with representation who together determine common good within the parameters of a free society - idealized in the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble of the US Constitution.

In the over 200 years of American history, there have been scoundrels and treacherous liars who have betrayed representational trust or constitutional oath, but these eventually were voted out, resigned, or were thrown out. This powerful ability of individual voters to have a voice in government is called "the will of the people." In America, this is different than the will of the wealthy and from the will of a monarch - as any citizen regardless of wealth or status has the same power of individual vote.

This should sound familiar to Orthodox Christians and anyone who reads the New Testament. It sounds a bit like the kingdom of God described there. But there, God is a sovereign who exacts no taxes. Yet in that kingdom there is neither master or slave. Wealth has no bearing. The only treasures there are those created by the good done to fellow human beings in this world, in this society, among these people.

An old Russian monk once said, in his broken English, "God's mercy and grace has given the United States to the world." He said every Christian has a duty to serve the community and culture they are living. "In America, the minimum is voting," he said, even though he could not vote being Russian and hoping for the fall of Soviet oppression. As a side note, he died long before modern voting was possible in Russia - as he prayed that he would some day.

Should priests and bishops be active in politics? When I was a candidate for the priesthood in the 1980s, it was made clear biblically and traditionally, that those in holy orders should not be intentionally involved. I was told not to join a political party nor break the trust of American civility by endorsing one candidate or party over another. This is the wisdom of a church that has suffered in various political climates over the centuries and has been a witness to the consequences of church leaders that sought secular powers to govern. Nevertheless, I am a citizen as well as a priest and I have voted in every major election and ballot in my adult life. I have taken advantage of early voting laws in my state this cycle to cast my ballot already. I can say that I have voted for candidates of both major parties and a few "third" parties over the years. I have never felt less Christian even when I have held my nose to cast a ballot, voting for the lesser of two evils. I have yet to encounter a candidate that fully espouses Orthodox Christian morality or ethics, but some get closer than others.

I also pay taxes.

"I do not mean that you should separate completely from all immoral people of this world...otherwise you would be obliged to leave this world." 1 Corinthians 5:10

Orthodox Christians, no matter how pure, no matter how holy, are among people. The priority of Orthodox Christians should be in participation with God; our progress toward His ideals for individuals and for humanity as a whole. In America, every Orthodox Christian who is a citizen, has the right to vote. The combination of "living in the world but not being of it" and participating in local and national elections are not contrary, but complimentary.

The summation of what Orthodox Christians should do: "Love God with all our mind, heart and soul; and our neighbor as ourselves."

God is first - so PRAY.

Our neighbors are next - so SMILE.

God, neighbors and ourselves together - so VOTE.


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