How Should Orthodox Christians Vote?

Both political parties today advocate unacceptable positions alongside admirable ones.

Americans are approaching an important election this fall. All presidential elections are important, but few have been this close or this polarized. Those of us who seek to live and act in a way that is consistent with the life and theology of the Orthodox Church do well to reflect upon how we will act on November 2. Some Orthodox I know believe that the only way an Orthodox Christian could possibly vote is Republican/Conservative. Others whom I know have exactly the opposite impression. Where do we find ourselves in the political landscape today? There may not be a single answer for all Orthodox Christians, but we can at least clarify the questions.

1. Church and State

The relationship between Church and State has always been a delicate matter. History has seen experimentation with many possibilities, and the truth is that none have really worked. There is too great a variety of religious views among the governed and the governing. Looking at our own faith, Christ never set up a system of governance, but rather acknowledged that there is Caesar and there is God, and that we owe a different kind of obedience to each.

Neither is there any one system of governance, be it monarchy, democracy, plutocracy, or theocracy, which the Church would sanction as such to be the Christian way of establishing and maintaining a state. It is also quite evident that, given history, geography, and culture, different kinds of government are appropriate in different places. The Church isn't non-committal in this sphere; it has taken stands against forms of government, such as totalitarian dictatorship or anarchy, which are unacceptable to Christianity.

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But Christians are not ipso facto socialists, capitalists, or monarchists. And much as we Americans are accustomed to the logic of democracy, democracy is neither the way in which the Church governs itself, nor is it the only or the obvious Christian kind of state government. Christians are Christians, and that makes us people who have to decide in each particular case what best meets the criteria of Christian life.

2. To Vote or Stay Home?

The canons which forbid an ordained person from holding public office indicate the Church's ambivalent relationship to government. The Church is aware of the inevitable conflicts of interest that arise when a visible representative of the Church is asked to represent an electorate of diverse religious and moral principles. But does this ambivalence mean that we should keep out of the process entirely?

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Dr. Peter C. Bouteneff
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