Every Christian is familiar with the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion (Eucharist). “Sacrament” comes from the ancient Roman term sacramentum, a soldier’s oath of allegiance to the Roman Emperor. Tertullian, a 3rd-century Christian theologian, argued that just as the soldier’s oath is a sign of beginning one’s new life as a soldier, so too are the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion (Eucharist) sacraments of initiation, sacraments of beginning and deepening one’s new life as a Christian.
Being born or naturalized in the United States (14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution) is the civic equivalent of Baptism. Voting is the civic equivalent of Holy Communion (Eucharist). For just as Christians renew and deepen their identity as Christians by partaking in Holy Communion (Eucharist), so also do U.S. citizens renew and deepen their identity as U.S. citizens by voting.
Saint Augustine of Hippo defined “sacrament” as a visible sign of an invisible reality. If the Christian sacrament of Holy Communion is a visible sign of the invisible reality of ever-deepening communion in the Body of Christ, so too then is voting a visible sign of the invisible reality of our becoming ever more Americans, ever more U.S. citizens. Voting is a visible sign of the invisible reality of our ever-deepening initiation into, critical reappropriation of, and growing relationship with the U.S. and its Constitution.
Voting is then indeed a “civic sacrament” — the sacramentum in its original meaning as “oath of allegiance” — not to an emperor, but rather to know, defend and support the U.S. Constitution. As such, voting is the ultimate, absolute, and necessary expression of our U.S. citizenship. By voting, we as U.S. citizens commit ourselves to the American Experiment; to the never-ending project of forming an ever more perfect Union; to “government of the people, by the people, for the people” (Lincoln); to the battle for the Soul of our Nation, to “America, you great unfinished symphony” (Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton).
Conscientious, deliberate, and well-informed voting is voting one’s conscience. Voting one’s conscience is an inalienable right, a patriotic duty, a sacred trust, a holy obligation, a moral imperative, an essential engagement, an awesome responsibility, a conscious commitment to the Common Good, and the beating heart of our democracy. Voting is and must be the complement, consequence and culmination of public protest. We make the world we strive for and want to see ever more real by our act of voting.
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