How should a Christian vote?

with John Dickson

I don't know if you are a political buff or not; but in Australia, because we have compulsory voting, whether you are interested or not doesn't matter: we all have to make a decision. And if you are like me, not having a strong natural allegiance to one party or another, it is a very difficult time: how should I make the decision? Which issues are most important? Should I leave my faith behind when I enter the ballot booth? Or should I vote for a specifically Christian party?

Let me be up front: I have no interest in convincing you to vote for one party over against another. However, I do think that your Christian faith should inform your vote, just as it should inform all the important decisions of your life, like whether to marry or not and what job to do. The Christian faith certainly is political. What do I mean? It is has a lot to say about who has power, and how we live together. And so I want to urge you to vote Christianly next week: to apply some of your most basic Christian beliefs to the decision you make.

Unfortunately the Bible doesn't give us a how to vote card; but it does give us some insight into what God thinks of governments. The key text is Romans 13:1-7. In it, we see:
1) It is GOD who establishes governments. In fact, Paul goes so far as to say that the authorities are "God's servants" (13:4,6). The authority that human emperors and prime ministers have is derived from God himself. They act as his agents. Ultimately, it is God who reigns: no human beings rules outside of or in challenge to him. The only vote that counts is his in the end.

2) why does God establish governments? "He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer" (13:4). The purpose of the ruler is to enact justice as far as possible on behalf of God. This is quite a limited role, really, but an important one: the ruler deserves the support of the Christian in carrying out justice against those who do wicked things.

3) Paul was not talking about a democratically elected government here (or any particular sort of government exclusively). He was quite happy to consider the Roman emperor, Caesar himself, as God-appointed. That is to say, that while democracy is a great system of government, no system of government is particularly God-ordained more than any other. However, in a democracy - where government is of the people for the people by the people, we are responsible to choose people for our governors who will carry out God's mandate to governments of justice.

4) But notice that good government is not the preserve of believers. Even the pagan governments of Rome are to be regarded as "established by God". This might help us in thinking about whether we should vote for a politician or party simply because they are Christian or not.

5) And of course, the point of the passage is that Paul wants Christians to be ready to obey governments as God's agents for justice. We are to submit to them; and to pay our taxes!
But that isn't all the Bible has to say about governments. Just as every human has rebelled against God, so every human authority is corrupted and will tend to maintaining its own power at the expense of others. Human authorities cannot bring about ultimate change in the world: having a Green government would be not guarantee of saving the environment, just as Communist governments have been no guarantee of justice for workers. And ultimately those powers that range themselves against God or imagine that they have supplanted him are doomed (see Psalm 2 & Revelation).
Christians, as the anticipation of God's new humanity, are called to live as lights in all parts of the world and in all relationship, which includes our society and its government. Anywhere and everywhere, Christians share the wonderful news and renewed life found in Jesus, reflecting his grace and truth, his justice and overturning of human arrogance. Of course, the cross of Jesus is ultimate sign of this.

SO: How NOT to vote.
1) without thinking
Sometimes voting patterns are based on nothing more sophisticated than family heritage or peer pressure. Apparently 90% of people vote as their parents do. It is certainly easier to assume that a certain party represents my sort of person and to leave the detail and the thinking to them. But this is an avoidance of our responsibilities to ensure an accountable and just government. Unthinking voting leads to the worst kind of behaviour from politicians.

2) for a Christian just because they are a Christian
Voting for a candidate just because her or she is Christian is no guarantee of good government. Just because they attend churches or prayer breakfasts or whatever is no pointer as to their suitability for government over and against other candidates. A good example: choosing Julia Gillard over Tony Abbott because one is (supposedly) a Christian and the other is an agnostic. By all means choose a Christian candidate who has a track record of hard work, leadership and pursuing justice; but remember, even secular leaders are God's servants.

3) for the bottom line
Most of the political process in our country revolve around economic prosperity as the chief goal of our nation. This is true of most of the political parties, who appeal to our wallets before anything else. They recognise something about this country: that we are very greedy. Of course, proper financial management is the proper job of our government, so that all may benefit. But if the bottom line is the thing we elevate above everything else, then something is deeply wrong.

So what factors should inform our voting?
How to Vote
1) for the sake of others
It is pretty crucial to the Christian way of the viewing the world that we are devoted to the good of others before ourselves. As Paul says in Romans 12:1 Honour one another above yourselves. Of course this is pretty bizarre in the current political climate. Politicians know we vote out of self-interest: uni students are interested in changes to HECS, Ausstudy and class sizes; old people in aged health care; families care about interest rates on their mortgages.

2) for righteousness and justice in our community
Although the point of voting is not to impose a Christian lifestyle on the community, Christians will go to the polling booth armed with the knowledge that living as the Creator designed is a recipe for the general health of our society. We will want to ask: which party will promote the values that God himself upholds: justice and peace, sexual restraint, honesty, generosity, the family, and mercy (to name some). A whole range of issues will come in to play at this point: the treatment of the unborn and asylum seekers, the war on Iraq, the fairness of the distribution of welfare to those in trouble, and so on. As Proverbs 14:34 says:
Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.
We will vote with this in mind. However, I would want to add that Christians often draw the issue of righteousness too narrowly. We tend to focus on sexual and reproduction issues to the exclusion of a whole range of issues including the environment, treatment of prisoners, refugees, war and overseas aid.

3) for the poor and the weak
I would go further, in fact, and argue that Christians should consider the poor and the weak in our voting. To quote Proverbs again:
He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is king to the needy honours God (14:31)
The requirement of God's people to care for the poor and the needy is quite overwhelming in the Scriptures. And it can scarcely be held that we vote without this in mind. Vote in other words for those who need your vote more than you do. you might consider overseas aid and development under this heading, too.

4) for the freedom to preach the gospel
Christians want more than anything that others hear the gospel and turn to God. We would always want to endorse the policy that enabled the advancement of the gospel. You could imagine a party proposing a restriction on Christian evangelism: Christians would not want to subscribe to that policy I would assume.

5) prayerfully.
Paul urges us to pray for our leaders and for governments (1 Tim 2:13)
God's people are urged to pray for those in power with the result that we can get on with the business of living peaceful and godly lives. Moreover, this outcome somehow works to the pleasure of the God who wants all people to be saved. In other words, good government allows the church to be godly and God's missionary desires to be fulfilled. This comes about not through the vote - but through prayer.


Whatever we chose on August 21st we will be choosing imperfectly. Whoever we elect will be a human person marred by sin. No government will meet all our aspirations for a fair and just society. However, whoever we elect, God will still reign, and will continue to bring about his purposes for the world.

Michael Jensen is rector of St Mark's Darling Point and is the author of the book My God, My God: Is it Possible to Believe Anymore? He's on twitter: @mpjensen

Comments (51)

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  • Michael Jensen
    July 19, 10 - 9:55pm
    IMPORTANT NOTE: Much of the material in this article comes from a piece by John Dickson, with his permission.
  • Ian Welch
    July 19, 10 - 10:03pm
    A good draft but it does seem a bit like teaching granny to suck eggs. The underlying assumption is that Christian people do not think deeply about their vote. I would suggest that they have always done so, and the evidence suggests that they tend to be conservative and right wing politically. In which case exhortations are probably unnecessary or irrelevant.

    The closing line raises as many, perhaps more, reflection as anything else in the item. It is precisely that question that highlights the irrelevance of much Christian posturing on political issues. If God reigns in manner asserted, what does my vote matter?
  • Robert Denham
    July 19, 10 - 10:47pm
    Ian,
    Since God is in control, why should anything we do matter? But it does! It matters because he wants us to be faithful, and in his wisdom, our choices play an enormous part of what happens. This then gets into the sort of discussion that we find in Romans 9:19ff
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    July 19, 10 - 10:57pm
    the evidence suggests that they tend to be conservative and right wing politically. In which case exhortations are probably unnecessary or irrelevant.


    What evidence is that?

    The only recent research I've seen is from Essential Media.

    It is true that Anglicans identify with the Liberal Party over Labor at a ratio 2:1. That result has most to do with the wealthier demographic the Anglican Church tends to draw on.

    But overall the evidence suggests this research would suggest 'Christian vote'** is fairly split between Labor and Liberal.

    What is clear is that Christians are far less likely to vote for the Greens. (Although I'd like to see if age is influencing that result since younger people are less likely to identify as Christians and more likely to vote Green)

    It is also interesting to note that around 15% of people identify with no political party. For those with 'no religion' it is quite high - around one quarter.

    **[DISCLAIMER: this would need to be cross-referenced against church attendance to get a sense of how the level of Christian commitment affects these numbers if at all]
  • Sandy Grant
    July 19, 10 - 11:39pm
    Hi Michael,

    A few thoughts in response.

    First, to be pedantic, I wonder if it is the military action in Afghanistan, now, rather than in Iraq, that may be an issue for some, as I understand our involvement in Iraq has largely ceased beyond embassy protection (ready to stand corrected).

    Secondly, I think you are right that in our concern for "righteousness exalting a nation", sometimes some Christians have focussed too narrowly on sexual and reproductive issues with insufficient concern over other matters, such as you mentioned.

    On the other hand, I think there might be a foundational scriptural reason for focussing on matters that directly undermine or conversely strengthen the family unit (realising that in the Bible the family unit is not always narrowly nuclear). The family seems to be the basic unit of human society. If so, then policies that undermine or redefine marriage, that weaken marital fidelity, that tend towards family dissolution rather than reconciliation, that do not value and welcome the birth of children should perhaps cause special concern.

    Perhaps in this area, I think the answer is not less concern on matters like defending marriage and protecting the unborn, but additional attention on some of the other issues.

    Thirdly, in raising the question of freedom to preach the gospel, it seems to me, that as a consequence, we also need to defend the (legal and non-violent) religious liberties of people of other religions, with whom we disagree.
  • Sandy Grant
    July 19, 10 - 11:44pm
    Lastly, Michael, we may not vote for people because they are Christian. On the other hand, I think character certainly matters in public life. For example, no matter how attractive I might find their personality or their policies, I would find it very hard to vote for someone who is a proven adulterer, since it is impossible to trust their word. And honesty is fundamental to good politics.

    One could multiply other examples, such as if it became known the candidate was a drunk or a violent person.

    Of course, one might reply that all politicians (like the people who elect them) have character flaws; but some are just better hidden or more socially acceptable. However that observation does not deter us from seeking people of excellent character for leadership in the church, nor from seeking to exclude people with persistent character issues from such roles.
  • Michael Canaris
    July 20, 10 - 12:09am
    Yes, character matters- whence ceteris paribus I'd prefer stolid and respectable atheists to flakey hucksters from fly-by-night churches.
  • Dave Lankshear
    July 20, 10 - 12:24am
    I was glad of the way Michael phrased point 2. Many in the USA seem to have adopted the stance that abortion is the *only* issue that should affect votes. When one looks at the cosy relationship between the 'Christian' parties here in Australia and the Liberal party, and the way preferences are dealt out, I think that attidue would rule out Christians voting for *any* party in Australia.

    I also wonder if Michael needed to add an extra point?
    Point 6) We are not voting to make society more Christian: that's the role of the church.
    I know Michael mentioned it in introductory paragraphs above, but more could be said. EG: I'm thinking of the difference between policies that govern the whole of Australia, including non-Christians, and policies that allow Christians to live as Christians.

    Or to be more specific: does voting for a party that allows needle exchange programs and injecting rooms mean I as a Christian am approving of drugs, or am I trying to compassionately assist those with a drug problem? Hmm, that's not controversial enough to illustrate the point.

    Does voting Green for the environment mean I'm also 'approving' homosexuality? Parties have a mixed bag of policies. You might agree with 90% of them and then have 1 shocker that sticks in your throat. Can Christians vote for the 90% they think will ultimately help Australia, and look to the church to 'mop up' the 10% they might disagree with?
  • Dave Lankshear
    July 20, 10 - 12:31am
    PS: I'm not necessarily voting Green as they do not support nuclear power. Advanced new reactors like the General Electric S-PRISM can 'breed' nuclear waste to get every last scrap of energy out of Einstein's E=mc2. They could cheaply produce all the abundant, reliable baseload power we need to solve peak oil and global warming. Today's reactors can also 'burn' bombs.

    10% of USA electricity comes from burning bombs from the former USSR! (See Megatons to Megawatts )

    Given that GenIV reactors now eat nuclear waste, that 'waste' is now worth $30 trillion dollars! (See point 4 here ) The 'waste' we have already created could run the global economy for the next 500 years! I'm so passionate about this meme getting out there I created a poster for activists to download and print out: "Nuclear waste: it's not the problem, it's the solution!"

    With electric cars, electric fast rail, and the ability to produce synthetic fuels out of air and water, we have the technology to solve the looming energy crisis. My concern is that many environmentalists have been sold the lie that renewables could run the economy, when even the likes of Professor Barry Brook are adamant in saying they can't!
  • Kevin Russell
    July 20, 10 - 1:32am
    I once had a congregation member tell me that Christians should vote Liberal based on Ecclesiastes 10:2 “The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of a fool to the left.” Now that is an interesting use of the Bible in suggesting how Christians should vote!

    I would affirm what Michael is suggesting to us.

    I would also like to change the direction of this post, and also point out that elections create a very stressful time for our politicians and their staffers (both the Christians and the Non-Christians). Under the auspices of the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship, Federal Parliament has a Chaplain, the Rev’d Peter Rose, and I would like to encourage people to pray for him and his ministry.

    This former Army Colonel until recently ministered part time in the context of ADF Chaplaincy and Part Time at Federal Parliament. Since May, he has been full time at Federal Parliament. You can read about him on the post "Federal Parliament Chaplain" on the Defence Anglicans site. More importantly, can you pray about the Christian ministry that is going on in the background at Federal Parliament.
  • Jean Marlow
    July 20, 10 - 4:10am
  • Jean Marlow
    July 20, 10 - 4:13am
    In the Weekly News last week, our assistant minister addressed one of these issues: "Does it matter?" if a politician is a Christian when we go to vote.

    http://www.blacktown.anglican.asn.au/BlogRetrieve.aspx?BlogID=419

    As it was written last week and we printed it on Friday, I was impressed with his prescience![
  • Sandy Grant
    July 20, 10 - 5:12am
    One matter that had not been mentioned so far is the care of the severely disabled in our community. This should be a matter of great concern to Anglicans, as we have followed the Kingsdene story and felt for their parents. But of course, many of us also have people struggling with severe disabilities and their families in our own churches as well.

    Bill Shorten had been championing this with moves towards a national no-fault disability insurance scheme to provide the funds and services for people born with disabilities or who acquire them before the age of 65. Currently in some states you might be covered if you acquire a disability at work or in a car accident, but not in others, and not if you are born that way.

    Our concern for the defenceless and vulnerable should certainly see this as a high priority.

    The Mad As Hell website has more information. I hope the major parties will make this an area of attention.
  • Hamish Blair
    July 20, 10 - 6:47am
    We should vote thankfully! Thankful that we can change governments without having to kill anyone. That's the lesson one of our ministers taught prior to the last election. He had a refugee staying with them, and was trying to explain what an election was.

    Slowly it dawned on them: "You mean you can change governments without having to kill anyone?"
  • Dave Lankshear
    July 20, 10 - 7:12am
    Too right Hamish.

    It's also an interesting proposition: one directly opposite to Paul's experience of living under government. We are to obey the laws and honour those who govern us, yet we also get to discuss their policies. Some pastors I have read of even write 'interesting things' about the character of those we might be voting for, all in the name of 'Christian advice" on voting. (I think they may take democracy for granted!)

    Seriously: given the state society is already in, what do they fear might happen?
  • Sandy Grant
    July 20, 10 - 7:39am
    Hamish, a great point which had also been made by refugees in our congregations and by linking missionaries returning from some other countries.

    Dave, I think I am the only pastor on this thread to make comments about candidates' character (and I have also made them elsewhere).

    But I think you are being a little presumptuous to allege people such as myself take democracy for granted. What evidence do you have for this statement? I find it hard to know without the tone and body language of a personal conversation whether you are having a playful stir there or are actually taking a pointed potshot.

    I agree we must obey the laws unless so doing would cause us to disobey God, and to honour those who govern us. And we pastors must be cautious in advocating particular policies as opposed to general principles.

    However this respect and submission did not stop the OT prophets critiquing the immorality of national leaders (both in personal morality and social justice issues) not only of Judah and Israel, but also of surrounding nations (think of Jonah for example.)

    There was an interesting two part discussion on the role of Christian leaders in speaking into the political realm some time ago, over on Sola Panel (Part 1 and Part 2. I think Carl Henry's position at the beginning of part 2 is helpful. Notably the Sola Panellists did not all agree!!
  • Dave Lankshear
    July 20, 10 - 8:29am
    Sorry Sandy, that comment was not directed at you or anyone else on this list, and the Pastor I had in mind was not even an Anglican (or I would have said "Minister").

    So it is a pointed potshot, but not at anyone here. Sorry for the confusion.

    The Sola Panel discussion sounds interesting: I hope I can make time for it.
  • Rob Callander
    July 20, 10 - 9:58pm
    The authority that human emperors and prime ministers have is derived from God himself. They act as his agents.


    Whilst our current Prime Minister’s lack of a religious faith has been mentioned, she has another attribute which I thought might have elicited a modicum of scrutiny…

    1 Timothy 2:12
    12I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.

    Does this count against voting for Julia? – or was the purview of Paul's comments limited to the structure of the Church.

    Or is a woman as *Prime*Minister perfectly acceptable – just not one as a ’minister’?

    Rob
  • Hamish Blair
    July 20, 10 - 11:17pm
    Last election the Australian Christian Lobby produced a checklist of about 20 points and compared each party's policy against each point. Issues such as abortion, definition of marriage etc.

    Can't seem to find it - anyone know of the old link, or better, an updated link?
  • Michael Canaris
    July 20, 10 - 11:33pm
    Rob,
    Does this count against voting for Julia? – or was the purview of Paul's comments limited to the structure of the Church.
    Knox apart, it has generally been taken that way in the English-speaking world.
  • Ian Welch
    July 20, 10 - 11:40pm
    Is Rob fair dinkum, or just enjoying a bit of pot-stirring?
  • Dave Lankshear
    July 20, 10 - 11:45pm
    Hi Sandy,
    I read the Sola panel articles with growing dismay. I agree with the general principles Tony and others were discussing. The bible is only authoritative in the fields God claims it to be.

    I also agree that with the general principle that while the bible might give us general principles and goals to fight for, it does not tell us how to do so. EG: Fighting injustice and protecting the poor and weak in society are both biblical concerns. But how we get there seem to be a matter of personal conscience. Do we get there by raising taxes and growing the welfare state, or lowering taxes to attract big corporations into Australia to encourage economic growth and job creation? Depends where you stand on the political spectrum, and I support Christian freedom to choose either side.

    What I found distressing was the general scepticism towards climate science strongly hinted at in the articles (supporting Big Oil and Big Business etc) and of course the comments. So while I agree with the incompetence of the church to back specific policies in dealing with global warming, why can't they agree with the general goal of addressing it? It seems they need to read Andrew Cameron's "How sceptical is too sceptical?"

    BTW — I can't find a party that supports nuclear power in Australia and so have no one to vote for on our energy security.
  • Bryan Pevely
    July 21, 10 - 4:07am
    Hamish might have seen this in 2007
    http://www.christianvalues.org.au/CheckList_Federal_Elections_07_FINAL_WEB.pdf
    Bryan
  • Hamish Blair
    July 21, 10 - 4:19am
    Bingo. Thanks Bryan.
    On the income-splitting thing, in the USA you can file jointly if married http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Income_tax_in_the_United_States

    And in Ireland there is a similar process i.e. the husband and wife's income is aggregated and taxed together, at higher brackets.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxation_in_the_Republic_of_Ireland

    Seems to make sense to me.

    One of the questions I am asking - to what extent are each of the major parties driven more by ideology over pragmatism, or the other way around. Seems "we" elected a party driven by ideology last time but due to lack of pragmatism they failed to deliver?
  • Ian Welch
    July 21, 10 - 9:49pm
    The issue of income-splitting has been raised many times in Australia and rejected because, in equity, it reduces the family tax bill. It is thus regressive in nature and Australian tax principles are based on progression, a more equitable model for the country as a whole. As others have pointed out, Christian principles are not readily applied in such issues beyond the general rule of loving our neighbour and even there, we increasingly hear about 'Hard Love.'

    All political movements, not excluding such bodies as synods, are in constant tension over ideology/pragmatism. That is why there are 'left' and 'right' and 'centre' groupings. Paul wrote about feeling wretched because of the gap between what he thought and what he did. It is in the old and now almost disappeared General Confession and perhaps we need to revive the idea of sins of omission and commission. Australians actually seem stronger on political omissions, eg climate change, than they do on commission, eg mining tax.

    I am not sure the Rudd Government was guilty of failure to deliver, rather, I think, it was because they lacked pragmatism by raising expectations beyond what could actually be done. It was the Senate that rejected their legislation on climate issues and, taken by and large, the NSW Government that messed about with the management of the school building program. Recall Rudd's farewell address listing achievements to the media when he was sacked.
  • Alan Dungey
    July 22, 10 - 11:53am
    Ian, it is in every State, not just NSW, that government schools have got much less for their money from the Building the Education Revolution programme than private schools.

    The whole episode has demonstrated the folly of centralising power and decision-making, as opposed to allowing diversity, competition and choice.

    As to the relevant issues in casting your vote?

    While Michael correctly lists the things which are important in the Bible, what Christian church leaders, especially Anglican bishops (whose rhetoric uniformly tends to veer Left, however their flock actually votes) tend to ignore is to what extent the major parties actually differ in relation to these issues.

    May I venture to suggest that there is no "oppression" of the poor in Australia? Rather, government in Australia is uniformly generous: providing income, housing, health care, and innumerable other benefits to people regardless of their contribution in taxes. Poverty is largely related to lifestyle choice in this country (acknowledging that there are serious cultural impediments in some Australian cultures towards appropriate choices).

    Why do so many Christians focus on moral and family issues in choosing for whom to vote? Perhaps because many Christians sense, quite sensibly, that unlike in relation to other issues important to Christians, here will you find an obvious and perhaps growing difference in culture (whatever the rhetoric) between the two parties who are competing to form government.
  • Dave Lankshear
    July 22, 10 - 12:25pm
    @ Alan:
    quote]Poverty is largely related to lifestyle choice in this country
    Have you ever done youth work or welfare work of any kind? Have you ever studied drug addiction issues, generational inequity, geographical limitations in employment (EG: being born Aboriginal in some outback community), mental health issues in relation to employment, deep cultural discrimination issues, sexual abuse of youth, any of it?

    Why do so many Christians focus on moral and family issues in choosing for whom to vote? Perhaps because many Christians sense, quite sensibly, that unlike in relation to other issues important to Christians, here will you find an obvious and perhaps growing difference in culture (whatever the rhetoric) between the two parties who are competing to form government.


    Really? Like what for example? They're both carbon copies of each other, sitting on the middle-wing taking cheap pot shots at each other. From chats I've had in the blogosphere, the mood is out. There has never been as small a gap between the 2 majors as there is now.

    I know lifetime members of the Labor party that are doing the donkey out of sheer protest and disgust.

    So I'm very interested in where you're seeing a difference?
  • Alan Dungey
    July 22, 10 - 12:48pm
    Dave, I am a criminal defence lawyer in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. No, I haven't studied those issues. I merely represent, daily, people who experience them.

    My personal experience of social issues others may merely have studied doesn't mean anyone has to agree with what I say; but please don't suggest I speak out of ignorance.

    As for the difference between the parties - please be fair: I think my previous post made it clear that I thought it a difference in culture (rather than defined policy distinction).
  • Ian Welch
    July 22, 10 - 10:03pm
    Alan, thanks for your response.

    It is not possible, constitutionally, for the Commonwealth Government to fund government schools directly. The money goes to the State Treasury and at that point, the Commonwealth cannot control how the money is spent.

    No matter how tightly the funding arrangement (the contract if you will) is written, the legal facts are that the Commonwealth cannot control how the money is spent. The Commonwealth can't even audit the expenditure.

    In the case of Catholic and Independent Schools, it goes to the coordinating bodies (Cath Ed Commn etc) who can provide funds direct to the schools. The issue is not one of inefficiency on the part of the Commonwealth but of constitutional authority.

    Secondly, South Australia seems to have made a real success of the initiative, with various scales of efficiency downwards to NSW at the bottom—is that a surprise?

    If people had the chance to examine how the States use other Commonwealth funding, for example, hospitals, roads, etc., they might be as angry as many people seem to be about the schools program.

    I had nearly forty years intimate association with schooling, initially in Victoria, and later nationally. It was rare, prior to the advent of the Schools Commission in 1972 or so, to see any improvements in schools from the day they were originally built, many in the 19C. Catholic schools were notably sub-standard until federal money arrived in the last quarter of the 20C.
  • Dave Lankshear
    July 22, 10 - 11:13pm
    @ Ian,
    that was a great post. Let's be grateful that our schools do get the occasional make over and improvements! The media hypes up a few cases where projects are not implemented according to community wishes, and glosses over the many who are happy. The North Epping school hall project is humming along nicely. We were able to demolish the disgusting old toilets that I used as a kid back in the 70's. Rather than look at those ramshackle old 'shed' toilets, we now have a nicely framed courtyard with a new school hall, new toilets and a kiosk.

    We couldn't be more delighted! Anyone complaining about modern facilities should do a history tour of how kids used to study!

    @ Alan
    Where does the 'culture' of one party appear more moral than the other, and how should this affect who I vote for as a Christian, especially if this 'culture' does not work its way into actual policy?
  • Alan Dungey
    July 22, 10 - 11:59pm
    @Ian
    You may be right that some States administered the funds better than others. (Though SA school-building projects are being investigated for rorts as well: http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/sa-school-infrastructure-projects-to-be-investigated/story-e6frea83-1225862758534)

    My point was only that the BER money wasn't entirely wasted: it did remind us - we need to be reminded from time to time - of why competitive free enterprise is such a better system of distributing resources than government, whatever level of government you are talking about.

    @Dave
    Point taken about the current similarity of the two parties on family/moral issues - we do seem to be in somewhat of a lull in the "culture wars" for the moment. Though if a "Labor-Green" coalition (in effect) is elected to power, I imagine it will crank up again.

    I can understand why supporters of each of the two main parties may wish that their standard-bearers were somewhat purer in their ideology: in the case of Labor, that it were more collectivist, and in the case of Liberal more free-enterprise. Labor's backdown on carbon taxes, and the Liberals' backdown on workplace reform are disappointing to those supporters.

    But, from another perspective, the consensus between the two main parties on so many issues ought to be regarded as a blessing. Would any of us really want the alternative? Radical changes of direction every time the government changed?
  • Ian Welch
    July 23, 10 - 12:07am
    Ah, Alan, the wonders of "free" enterprise especially when dealing with jobs like the BER. The rorting of the system by private contractors is at the heart of the complaints. I wouldn't put my faith in an unregenerate (not sure always about the regenerate but let's leave that) private contractor any more than I would in anyone else. It is value for money that counts, not ideology.

    Christians should vote according to their conscience about which party offers the greatest benefit for the greatest number and always bear in mind our Lord's clear instruction to love our neighbour as ourselves. Politicians are as ambitious as the rest of us and most will say almost anything to get elected, to keep the job and win a ministry and enjoy the perks of power.

    Leave questions of personal morality to one side. If we have learned nothing else in the past decade or two, it is that there are plenty of lions dressed up like lambs within the ranks of professiing Christians. There are, I suspect, plenty of agnostics and even atheists who inhabit the churches for whatever advantage they think it gives them. The Bible is full of this kind of warning and we should give more heed to its counsels.
  • Dave Lankshear
    July 23, 10 - 12:11am
    @ Alan
    You know that from where I'm sitting we need a radical change to solve climate and peak oil. It's so frustrating because we have the technology to solve this! We don't need an overly complicated and costly CPRS to fix this. We don't need to tax carbon. We just need to create something this country has never had, a truly 'free' market for energy in Australia. When fossil fuels get $10 billion worth of subsidies a year, is that really a free market?

    I'm into Social Liberalism:
    Civil rights, Social Justice and State funded welfare in a Market Economy.

    Because energy security is one of those foundational sectors that undermines our whole civilisation, I don't care if it is delivered by Big Government or the Free Marketplace as long as it is reliable. But if peak oil hits too hard, it could threaten the viability of Australian society. In that case we'd probably see Big Government throw money into energy systems. As we have already left it too late this is probably what will happen.

    Just 35 AP1000's could wean Australia off coal, 40 would see us head off oil. If we were really smart we'd market Australia as the safest place to dump 'waste.' Then we'd order S-PRISM reactors from GE that breed waste! Then we'd have the fuel for free!
  • Alan Dungey
    July 23, 10 - 3:44am
    @ian
    I wouldn't put my faith in an unregenerate (not sure always about the regenerate but let's leave that) private contractor any more than I would in anyone else.

    I wouldn't put my faith in anyone. I'd just give folks the choice. When people get to choose, they usually get a better deal. If this observation is ideology, then I'll have to wear that label I suppose.
  • Dave Lankshear
    July 23, 10 - 3:56am
    When people get to choose, they usually get a better deal.


    Unless of course they are completely uninformed and unable to make a good choice. In the case of energy security we need leaders, not followers. I really hope that renewable energy can come through with reliable, baseload supply. But right now that seems a long way away. Until then we need to move to nuclear, fast. But of course, utilities don't have that choice.
  • Ian Welch
    July 23, 10 - 4:01am
    @Alan.
    As a lawyer, and a Western Australian, you know better than most folk that Australian government does not and cannot operate that way. We don't give people a choice about lots of things, not least the right to vote (just as well or we would have Hitler or Stalin types in charge), or where the post office is located, or how the law courts operate. It is hard to imagine a free choice legal system but if it did, it would probably look a lot like feudal England or old Port Arthur. Its not even ideology, I suspect, just something all Australians would prefer—a better and fairer world and one in which the ripoff artists got their uppance. Still, I believe in things unseen so I can't pretend all earthly wisdom or knowledge.
  • Michael Russell
    July 24, 10 - 3:42am
    Hi to Michael. I'm thankful for the many thoughtful articles you post on here. Where do you get all the time?
    It seems to me that this question needs to be informed by discussion of the relative importance of the different issues.
    So, what about a top 20 list of issues? Jesus did speak about 'the greater sin' and the 'greatest commandments' as though order of importance of issues can be discerned.
    So, here's a crack at the most important political issues - At the top: Issues to do with saving life (and the salvation of lives through the gospel), in particular, decisions about going to war and conduct in war, treatment of the unborn, the amount of aid we give that saves lives, freedom to preach the gospel in general and in our institutions in particular, health spending that saves lives. Related to this is the economy, since money ultimately can save lives ('money is the answer for everything' Eccl 10)
    Also at the top: Issues to do with justice that are serious enough to merit the death penalty in the Old Testament law (how else can we weigh seriousness?) - this includes - support for parents' discipline of children (disobedience to parents is a capital crime in OT), marriage and divorce law, the need for a common day off when all are available to worship, and discouragements of adultery and homosexual practice.

    Surely some will disagree with this list, and with my methods, but just as surely, we need to attempt to construct such a list to finalize our vote.
  • Dave Lankshear
    July 24, 10 - 8:12am
    Also at the top: Issues to do with justice that are serious enough to merit the death penalty in the Old Testament law (how else can we weigh seriousness?)


    I know, like wearing clothing made of 2 different fabrics! (Winks)

    We have to be careful how we apply the OT.
  • Michael Russell
    July 24, 10 - 10:23am
    Dear Dave(@38), Hi! Thanks for responding. I wonder, do you have a reference where wearing clothing of 2 different fabrics gets the death penalty in the OT? Leviticus 19:19 says '"'Keep my decrees. "'Do not mate different kinds of animals. "'Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. "'Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.' Verse 20 has a new, different command. So there is no death penalty decreed for wearing the clothing of two different materials in Lev 19:19. Do you have some other verse in mind? I am not aware of such a reference. I suspect the reality is that you didn't read my comment carefully, but I could be wrong.

    My thesis is that the Old Testament only applies the death penalty to sins that are considered the most serious. My thesis is further that the serious sins of the OT have at least some element to them that remain just as serious today. That's not to say they should be capital crimes today. But it is to say we can identify the most serious issues by cataloguing the OT death penalty sins.
    Consider the alternative: Do you prefer the view that the selection of capital crimes in the OT is arbitrary? If so, are you not implying that God was mean to the Old Testament Jews by giving them a set of punishments which did not consistently and proportionally fit the crimes? Have you carefully considered your view as to the basis on which God assigned the death penalty to crimes in the OT?
  • Michael Russell
    July 24, 10 - 11:37am
    I don't want to sidetrack us, so back to the point: Michael J. and John D. are great biblical guys, so the issues they mention for consideration at the ballot box are biblical and wise. But the final selection of candidate and party will depend on the relative weighting of the issues. I detect no argument in the article as to how one should weight the issues and finalize a 'top 10 issues'. In terms of weighting the issues, it seems to me the article gives us little more than 'these are some biblical issues that Michael and John have identified'? So I've suggested a principle for weighting the most important issues: the most important issues are those related to life and death (both physical and spiritual), and those issues identifiable in their being OT capital crimes. I wonder if someone else has a better principle for ranking the issues? For those who want to dismiss my principle, what is your principle? Or can you defend having no principle for weighting the issues?
  • Dave Lankshear
    July 24, 10 - 12:36pm
    @ Michael,
    sure it doesn't say that, but check this out. The chapter begins giving certain commands without specifying consequences, but ends in death as a consequence. With the consequences prior not expanded upon, some have applied death to everything in the passage.

    The writers of "West Wing" certainly thought so. Check this out.
  • Dave Lankshear
    July 24, 10 - 12:49pm
    It's just that in the NT we don't kill people for those things any more. We just preach against them! Paul's argument in Romans is that the law can't save, only the gospel. Try and order the Church & State DVD from New College in which Kevin Rudd and John Anderson spoke. Peter Jensen responds here.

    PS: Re West Wing above: Here's a transcript of the pertinent paragraph if you don't watch youtube, but to really catch the vibe there's nothing like Martin Sheen in full flight.

    BARTLET: Here’s one that’s really important, because we’ve got a lot of sports fans in this town. Touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean. Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point? Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother John for planting different crops side by side? Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads? Think about those questions, would you?
    (The camera pushes in on the president.)

    I'm just discussing public perceptions...
  • Michael Russell
    July 25, 10 - 12:42pm
    Dear David, hi again! I wonder if you are willing to state your own biblically derived principles for determining which political issues are most important?

    In terms of your critique of my principles, you raise Deut. 22, and make a false inference (you suggest that Deut. 22:1-12 lists a bunch of capital crimes). I can't see how you got that from the Deuteronomy text. I would point out that verse 13 is clearly the start of a new section, and also point out that the first mention of a death sentence is verse 21, for the girl who was promiscuous in her father's house. Then verses 22-24 list a couple more capital offences. That's it for capital offences. I am surprised that you argue against this plain reading of the text using Martin Sheen's speech in the West Wing.

    You also write: 'It is just in the NT we don't kill people for those things any more'. I feel like you didn't read me carefully. I said in #39, 'That's not to say they should be capital crimes today'. Maybe it's all or nothing for you - either (1) we pass these as laws with the same death penalty today or (2) we ignore them altogether.
    I disagree with the all-or-nothing assumption. At least one alternative application is (3) we assume that sins requiring capital punishment in the OT are chosen by God carefully, and His choice helps us identify some of the 'greater sins'.
    This observation is quite helpful in politics, where the key is to distinguish between 'greater' and 'lesser' issues.
  • Dave Lankshear
    July 25, 10 - 1:39pm
    You didn't read my post correctly. I was talking about how this would affect Christian PR if it came out that we were using the OT as a means of making voting choices. I was writing from the perspective of the non-Christian prejudices against the OT, especially as it affects politics, especially as interpreted by the popular culture as portrayed in West Wing. In other words, it's not how I interpret that chapter, but is how West Wing did.

    And I also stated what I thought was helpful in thinking through these issues. Get the Church & State DVD I linked to from New College, it's brilliant.
  • Michael Russell
    July 26, 10 - 12:17am
    Dear Dave, my wife, Ally (nee Roe)knows you from New College,so hi from us all over here in Adelaide.
    You raise a very important point, when you worry about the negative press we Christians would get if we were seen to argue for voting choices from the (OT) Scriptures. My view is that Australian Christian politicians give away a massive amount when they stand for major political parties, because they in effect give away their freedom to argue Christianly (from the bible). When did you last hear a Christian politician say, 'The bible says....', and argue for a political position? Even Steve Fielding doesn't! They don't argue from the bible, because they wouldn't be preselected. So they argue for Christian policies using non-Christian reasoning. That is, they give away their most effective weapon - the public use of the Scriptures. That's why I think we need an 'Evangelical Christian Party' - where unity is around belief in the word of God, and where candidates argue positions from the word of God, unashamed.
    I know you believe in the power of the preached/publicly spoken word of God, Dave. So why not embrace an argument from the Scriptures for how to vote, if it's a good argument. If it's a bad argument, show why it's flawed. We need to educate the public on the OT, not cower. We should not be afraid of the PR that might come just because we are using the OT. Are we really so timid in the face of President Bartlet's fictional attack on the OT?
  • Dave Lankshear
    July 26, 10 - 12:28am
    No, but there seem to be important theological issues you are skipping over. Again, buy the DVD. It is only $15 and will do a much better job than I can.

    PS: I don't want to be government by OT laws. Do you? Grace, not law. Freedom, not food laws. Read Romans and Hebrews and Galations again. If the Christian church is not governed by OT laws, why would we want to impose that on society?

    Get the DVD and then get back to us. It's really good, and I might have to go check it out again myself!
  • Michael Russell
    July 26, 10 - 1:07am
    Dear Dave, I'm certainly open to getting the DVD. However, I don't agree that I need to listen to it to be competent in this discussion, which sounds like your implication. Is there material in the DVD that is more advanced than Oliver O'Donovan's "Ways of Judgement"? That's my starting point on political theology. At college, I took the fourth year course 'Social Ethics', and since then my main reflections have been through O'Donovan's take on politics and the bible, which is the leading evangelical approach in my opinion. But I don't need College training or that DVD to be competent in this discussion. I have the Scriptures and the Spirit in me.
    It sounds to me like you are pushing for a Lutheran approach - i.e. that there is no valid use of the OT in application to our moral conduct today. I disagree with this approach, for a number of reasons. But on an Anglican site, I expect my approach to get a hearing, since the 39 Articles speaks of the 'Moral Commandments' discernible through the OT.
    As for your instruction that I read Romans, Hebrews and Galatians again, I presume you are pointing me to the passages on freedom and grace. In short, there's a long history of understanding where we can preach a gospel of grace apart from law, and still consider ourselves bound by the 'moral commandments' reflected in the OT.
    What I'm saying is, come on you Anglicans who believe in Article 7 - use the OT to inform your voting!
  • Dave Lankshear
    July 26, 10 - 1:21am
    What do you make of Peter Jensen's comment here?

    The connection between church and state in Australia is far deeper and more complex than some slogans suggest. We have rightly committed ourselves to a form of government that is secular; that is, interested in the affairs of this world and not dominated by a state church or religion. But the nation itself has never been secular.
  • Michael Russell
    July 26, 10 - 1:47am
    Yes Dave, I agree with Archbishop Jensen's comment. I don't know what angle you are pursuing in that quote, so I'll try this: The authority of secular government resides in the practice of judgment. Within the ambit of 'judgment', I include the writing of laws, the dissemination of laws, the policing of laws, and the sentencing and punishment of those who have broken our laws. The purpose of political judgment is to defend and uphold and clarify the common good. This is not all a government does, but this is the essence of government.
    It is wise to give authority to our government representatives to govern our nation to that end. I do not believe it is wise to give the same individuals authority in the running of our churches or religions. That is, it is wise to have a secular form of government. Nevertheless, the government will run best when it rightly and wisely determines the 'common good' which it is to defend. Such determination is only available through the revelation of God, and so right application of the Scriptures is key to good government. This includes the OT Scriptures!
  • Ian Welch
    July 26, 10 - 2:08am
    I sometimes wonder if we are in the same society. We certainly have divergent views.

    Let me affirm, as strongly as possible, that the Christian Church is one of the major beneficiaries, big-time, of the secular decisions of Aust. governments.

    With tax concessions, which are coming under increasing question due to the behaviour of some sections of the church, and adding together payments to church schools, church hospitals, church aged care, and the rest, the annual amount was estimated in The Financial Review a year or two ago as around $30 billion annually.

    I agree totally with Michael Russell that it is the duty of elected governments to "defend, and uphold and clarify the common good" and that includes the vast majority who are not evangelicals, and for that matter, not Christians.

    There is no doubt that Dean Jensen's remarks are correct but that is miles from assertions about "Christian" government or an Evangelical Politicla Party. Fielding got in only because the Labor Party blundered in allocating preferences and has not been a marked gain for anything in particular. If Fred Nile, with his frequent outbursts of arrant prejudice or the scrubbed Liberal candidate in Chifley electorate, are samples of Christian Pollies I prefer a secular system.

    I am not sure I am happy with the less than democratic, closed and non-transparent way in which the Christian Church, collectively and denominationally, is governed so that the common good is often obscured.
  • Allan Patterson
    July 26, 10 - 3:27am
    How should we vote? Both major parties lack leadership. God tells us in Psalm 146 not to put our trust in human leaders, but to trust Him. He also gives an agenda. He judges in favour of the oppressed, gives food to the hungry. Sets prisoners free. Gives sight to the blind. Lifts those who have fallen. He protects the stranger in the land and helps widows and orphans. Who do we vote for?