The second round of the Finnish presidental election had some previously unseen populistic elements. I am referring to the new kind of grass root fellowship people experienced, when proclaming publicly – in the streets and in social media – whom they intended to vote. Is it good to “show your color”? It seems honest, fair enough. But if we stop valuing secrecy in elections, we are in dangerous waters.
Secrecy has fortunately not disappeared from elections, every individual still votes anonymously in a closed booth. Secrecy of the ballot is one of the corner stones of democracy, undermining it chould have unpredictable effects. Many scientific investigations and historical examples show that social pressure can make people do things they never would even imagine doing by own initiative. Secrecy of election gives people the opportunity to vote as the heart says, without social pressure or fear of being discriminated.
On the other hand, people yearn for a revival of human fellowship. It is, of course, nice hanging around with like-minded people, but there is always a danger that this kind of community provokes a fighting spirit against other people, sharpens dividing lines and simplifies complex issues.
This applies to presidential election as well as to church life.
As secrecy of the ballot is a safety mechanism against side effects of collectivity, even church has its counterparty to community: The secrecy of confession. Voting and confessing sins are both acts of extraordinary intimacy, where people’s spiritual integrity must be properly cared for. When sins are confessed to another person (often a priest), this person is not present as an individual, but rather as God’s representative or mediator.
Prayer is also very intimate. Jesus emphasized the individual nature of prayer in a culture where it was usually seen as a collective ritual. He tought: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6 New International Version)
Not only individual prayer, but everything that is individual and private is always holy, because only Holy God sees it. It is no coincidence that the English words “sacred” and “secret” are so close to each other. Both words are linked to the Latin word “sacramentum”, a sacrament.
Even elections have a sacramental aspect: Our Father, “who sees what is done in secret”, sees even the act of election. Everyone has the right to do the final choice only in the electoral booth and vote differently than he or she has publicly proclaimed.
It is important to notice that cherishing electoral secrecy is a way of protecting the weak. If people are – even indirectly and unintentionally – pressed to tell publicly their voting intentions, easily manipulated individuals are deprived their democratic equality.
Genuinly Christian community is not based on opinions or on shared enemies, but to a simple faith in Jesus as savior from all sins. Any additional criteria may endanger real fellowship of the Holy Spirit – not only political stands, but even theological opinions or sympathies toward specific spiritual movements.
We all have repenting to do from treating each other unequally. Fortunately, we are all equal before God, who alone sees into the holy of holies of each person, in politics as well as in the church.