Apr/May 2009  •   Salon

Jesus Told Me Not to Vote for You

by Tom Dooley

Artwork by Robert Hoover

Photograph by Rus Bowden

In the run up to the November elections, a coworker of mine let it be known she wanted her elected leaders to possess the same beliefs as hers, the same moral compass. Pressed for specifics, she stated she would only vote for a Christian. Under no circumstances would she ever vote for an agnostic or an atheist. She said she didn't think it was possible for someone to have any moral compass at all without a belief in God. Such a person couldn't be trusted on even the most basic level.

This is not the kind of conversation one wants to pursue in the workplace, but I've never been smart about keeping my mouth shut, so I asked how a professed belief in God could really make someone worth trusting. I cited a few Christian leaders, Ted Haggard among them, who had lied, broken the law, and even (gasp!) committed homosexual acts, and asked how, given the transgressions of such devout believers, an openly agnostic politician could be any less trustworthy.

My coworker's response was she found it unfair for everyone to expect Christians to be perfect.

That was the end of the conversation, but I'd like to take a moment here to revisit it.

If it's okay for Christians to be imperfect, why isn't it okay for non-Christians to be imperfect? And if identifying oneself as a Christian doesn't result in one being perfect or even "Christian," and let's face it, it doesn't, then why should that be the only litmus test for whether or not someone is worthy of one's vote? Or even a litmus test at all?

My core values are honesty, compassion, fairness, reason, and integrity. I love my family, truth, humanity, freedom, justice, representative democracy, the arts, and yes, damn it, my country. I believe all children deserve love and discipline and an opportunity to thrive. I agree with the core tenets of Christianity: things like loving thy neighbor, teaching a man to fish, not judging others lest ye be judged, showing mercy, being resolute in one's beliefs...

I am not perfect, and I fall short of living up to my ideals, but I do not lie, cheat, steal, nor intentionally hurt anyone, and I try to do right by my fellow man. All of these things make up my moral compass, even though I am an agnostic. I can't imagine myself ever running for public office, but I am saddened someone I know and work with would not vote for me if I did, based solely on my lack of religious faith.

I'm pretty sure Jesus would find such a position untenable. He might advise those amongst us without sin to withhold our votes from nonbelievers, but I doubt it. I think he'd deem all of humanity—prostitutes, lepers, and politicians—worthy of our love. And, depending upon such sectarian concerns as platforms and records, our votes.