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.
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.