Dean's List: Your Vote Is a Gift for your Neighbor

Aaron T. Fenker

Politics Is Power

Politics is all about power. Who has it. Who wants it. Who should have it. Who shouldn't have it. Who we want to have it. Who we don't want to have it. That's just the nature of things in this life. Politics are embodied in the civil authorities, and that's always a power game. It always has been. Kings, queens, emperors, pharaohs, presidents, prime ministers--whatever titles we give them--are all about having authority, and authority means power.

This is just the way the world works. We observe it in all sorts of situations. When it comes to people, behaviors, societies, communities, governments, and rulers, the political game is as old as government. But why? Because in our hearts, we all want power, we all want control, we don't want anyone else calling the shots for us except us. Thus we fall into the original sin, the original lie of the devil, again and again: "You will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5). This is  seen particularly in our current political predicament.

Seizing power is really evident in history. A ruler comes to power, wields it, and either passes it on or has it forcefully taken away by another ruler. But seizing power is alive and well in our time, too. There's so much money involved in politics all over the globe. It is especially so in the U.S. because technically you and I hold the power. Well,  you do if you can vote. Maybe this is your first time voting, maybe it's not, but either way, it's sadly still a power game, just as much as it was centuries ago with kings and queens.

Now, this isn't going to be an article that complains about politicians wanting your vote because they want power over you, even though that happens. It's not about our finding honorable politicians to vote for, which we should, of course, do. The real problem and danger for us is that we would find politicians who will further our own personal interests, who will wield power for our good but not so much for our neighbor's good. As baptized Christians, elections should serve as a call to repentance for our political selfishness. So, what are we to do as baptized Christians at the voting booth?

Your Baptism at Work

Well, it's just what we have in the Table of Duties, "The commandments. . .are summed up in this one [word]: 'Love your neighbor as yourself’'" (Romans 13:9). You've been baptized for that. For in Baptism you were crucified and raised with Christ so that you would "walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4). Your loving your neighbor is your Baptism at work, for loving your neighbor is a fruit of the Spirit, who was given to you in Holy Baptism. It's a fruit of the Lord's Supper, too. We go to the Sacrament to "learn from [Christ] to love God and my neighbor" (Small Catechism, Christian Question 18). This is the case because in the Sacrament of the Altar, Jesus' Body and Blood are delivered to you to eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins, and "where there is forgiveness of sins there is also life." Through His Body and Blood and the forgiveness of sins, Christ dwells with you and you with Him and you bear much fruit (John 15:5), but through His Body and Blood "we who are many are one body" (1 Corinthians 10:17).

Love for neighbor isn't just that you help those around you in your daily life. It's not just that you're a faithful "father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker." It's whatever "place in life" the Lord's gifted to you. That includes being a citizen, too! Love for neighbor is always expressed "according to the Ten Commandments," and when it comes to being a citizen, that's wrapped up in the Fourth Commandment. So, in our country, where our political system involves elections, using your Baptism in the realm of the Fourth Commandment also includes voting. Voting as a Christian isn't for you to use for yourself, but rather it's another chance for you to love and serve your neighbor.
Your vote is a gift for your neighbor, and not the neighbor you're voting for so that they win and can wield power for your sake. That may be the way of the world, but in and through Holy Baptism we Christians "are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). Your vote is a gift for the neighbor who will benefit from what the elected person will do.

Serving in the Voting Booth

The party of that person may change from election to election, whether it's local, state, or national! It's complex because our heart is directed in faith toward God and in love toward our neighbor, and not in allegiance to a particular party or politician. You're that free, because you're that baptized! In Baptism, Christ is yours, and you are His no matter what. And He put you where you are in life in order to use you to love and serve your neighbor. And one way, as a baptized Christian, you love and serve them in our country, is that you use your vote as a gift to them.

We don't seize power. We serve. That's the baptized life. It's the life of the Cross--Jesus' Cross, His death and the forgiveness achieved there given to you at the font. His resurrection, too! "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). He did that for you, to save you, to save you from you--your sinful selfishness. In and through Holy Baptism and the Supper of His Body and Blood, He forgives your sins and, by the work of the Spirit, He bears the fruit of love and service not only in your daily life but also in the voting booth.

Rev. Aaron T. Fenker is the pastor of Bethlehem and Immanuel Lutheran Churches in Bremen, Kansas, and the dean of theology for Higher Things. 

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