"If God had wanted us to vote, he would have given us candidates."
— Jay Leno
Four short and frenzied weeks from now, after layers and Lehrers of even more arguments, policies, polls and debates, voters will go and select the next American president.
Mitt Romney, a Mormon.
Or Barack Obama, a Protestant.
On Election Day, many Americans will take someone else into the voting booth with them.
Like tithing or fasting, voting has become a spiritual practice of sorts, with high stakes: One candidate we believe to be the answer to our country's spiritual emergency; the other is the Dumpster fire behind it all.
Here in southern Appalachia, Christianity is the lens through which we often see our politics. Many of you -- of us -- have well-worn Bibles nearby, underlined and memorized like a treasure map.
Jesus then becomes our ultimate political adviser. I get that. I understand.
But there's one problem.
I'm not sure Jesus would have even voted at all.
Christ taught many things, but foremost among them: Power is defined by servanthood. Washing feet. Last become first. The least of these are invited to the banquet. Wayward sons get rings and robes. We win by losing.
Crazy, right? The Christian perspective would say that your housekeeper is more powerful than the president.
We ought to read the Gospels while standing on our heads so topsy-turvy do they make things. Turn the other cheek? Love your enemies? The son of the Divine born in a barn?
Compare that to the president of the United States, also known as the most powerful person on earth. The commander-in-chief, in charge of the most widespread and expensive military on the planet. Given the power to veto laws, appoint judges, enforce the law of the land.
He's almost godlike. (Wait a minute. Last campaign, Obama won by promising hope — or HOPE — as the campaign posters said. Isn't that the same thing Christ promised?)
Imagine Christ as a candidate. Think he'd have a war chest? Or $10,000-a-plate fundraisers? The Sermon on the Mount is a direct contradiction to the Oval Office. Christ wouldn't even clear a Homeland Security background check (agitator, enemy of the state, death row inmate).
How many people has the American government killed? How much money is tied up in the functioning of the behemoth that is our nation-state, with its levers of power based in coercion and aggression?
All this violates the Christian ethic, which promises a power of mercy and grace, which finds God residing in the poor, downtrodden and wrecked. There was no Secret Service at the foot of the cross.
When we vote, we encourage and support this system. Our vote is a sign of allegiance as we transfer power from our hands into those of our elected representatives.
Yet Christ said his kingdom was not of this earth. Why then should Christians pass allegiance on to any other authority, especially one so corrupt, vitriolic and centralized? You can't serve two masters.
The servant Christ and the American president? It's like speaking Latin to a water buffalo. Doesn't translate. Two different universes.
Or two different kingdoms.
At this point, if you've made it this far in today's column, you may feel like Zaccheus, the guy who fell out of the tree. Stunned. Confused. With a bad headache.
Thou Shalt Not Vote? What?!?
Don't worry. These are just ideas. In the realms of religion and politics, there is much to consider. This, just something else to chew on.
Halfway through writing this column, I got a call from a woman, distraught and sinking. In debt, sick, can't work, elderly and alone in this world.
So yes, politics matter. Certain policies and budgetary decisions can save her life, or make it even more unbearable. So voting, most certainly, can be an extension of our faith.
Me? I'll vote on Election Day.
But I'll probably ask for forgiveness afterward.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...