By Lindsay Wilson
11 April 2022
Let me tell you how to vote. I won’t tell you who to vote for, that is up to you before God. I will go through what kind of facts, principles and values should we consider before we vote. My hope is that it will at least provoke us to explore some key biblical perspectives.
Making statements about politics is often fraught with danger. It is hard to please everyone when speaking politically – you’re either too hard or too soft, too naive or too trusting, too extreme or too moderate.
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Indeed, many here and abroad are cynical about politics and politicians. The famous political theorist Groucho Marx reportedly said, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies”. Despite this, politics matters to society because it is ultimately about how we organise our common life for the benefit of all. And, God is concerned about it because he has a vital stake in every aspect of human lives. We can see that in the active “political” lives of Old Testament characters such as Esther, Daniel and Joseph.
Thus, it is worth asking whether our faith in God has implications for how we vote.
Firstly, being a Christian should make a difference to how we vote, but often it doesn’t. Too many of our votes as Christians echo where we live, where we grew up, or how our parents voted. In 2 Corinthians, Paul tells us that, “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come”. We are new people in Christ, with transformed loyalties. We have put off our old self, put on our new identity, and are being renewed in our thinking (Ephesians 4).
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Why, then, has our new identity made so little difference to our political views? Why do Christians in Toorak typically vote Liberal and those in Truganina so often vote the other way?
I am not saying there is only one way to vote as a Christian, but that often we have not reflected on our views on politics as Christians. Christians who vote Liberal often do so because of personal ethical values, such as attitudes to abortion, euthanasia, religious liberty, sexuality. Those who vote Labor are often attracted to their social ethical policies, for instance care for the poor and needy.
But both are important areas. No one party has a monopoly on biblical values, and no single issue can be the litmus test for how we vote. Like so many other areas of our life, we need to humbly rethink our attitudes to politics now that we follow Christ.
Secondly, Christians must resist the push to put our own interests first. In Philippians Paul writes, “In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others”. It is common after the major parties have released their policies for journalists to ask people whether they will be financially better under Labor or Liberal, as if that ought to be the sole determiner of how to vote. As Christians we should be concerned more for the common good, and especially for those without voices or resources because they are on the margins of society. In Old Testament times, this involved obligations to the poor widows, orphans, and foreigners who had no access to the means for creating wealth, such as we see in Deuteronomy 10.
More broadly, it is not about what is best for me myself, but what is best for us all. After all, God is the owner of all (Psalm 24), and has given us the ability to produce wealth (Deuteronomy 8) for the sake of the community as a whole. In practice, this means that we must consider future generations as well as our own, and those outside our nation, some of whom are refugees within our country. The important issue of climate change touches on both these groups, but so do many other issues. We must take short-term and long-term consequences into account. Clearly, then, we cannot simply base our vote on what will leave us in the best short-term financial position.
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Thirdly, the main task of government is to govern fairly, justly and competently, rather than to impose Christian moral values on society. We are entitled of course to argue that biblical values will of great value to the whole community, but governments are primarily established by God to bring justice and order to the society (Romans 13). We read in 1 Timothy 2 that we are to pray for our political leaders that they order the society so that we may “live peaceful and quiet lives in all holiness and godliness”. Here, Paul hints that this well-managed society will help us pursue our Christian mission. When God appears to Solomon in 1 Kings 3, the king rightly asks for: “a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong”. We are meant to evaluate any policies by their likelihood of promoting a peaceful, orderly society.
Several aspects of this are important. We should expect policies that are fair to all parts of the community, not just the loudest or most powerful. Fairness must include both the city and rural areas, various ethnic groups, and our Indigenous peoples.
We need to evaluate how competent and trustworthy the parties are, for without the ability to achieve their goals, their promises would be of little value. Competency is an important factor in assessing both politicians and their parties. The biblical book of Proverbs has much to say about the kind of daily living that will both honour God and build up the community. It’s worth reading.
Fourthly, so far I have focused on how to evaluate the competing policies. However, the Bible consistently argues that character is a neglected dimension in ethical thinking. We need to evaluate the integrity of people as well as the platforms of the parties. As we read in Colossians 3 and Galatians 5, as Christians we need to have our character because who we are will inevitably affect what we do. This does not mean that we should only vote for Christians. But we certainly should be looking for people of integrity who are committed to serve the community. Given the party structure of federal politics, we ought to assess both the local representatives we directly vote for, and the leaders of the parties who will often determine the policies. We need to look for character as well as competence.
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There is very little about voting in the Bible. The apostles even cast lots for a successor to Judas among their group. Yet there are many key biblical principles that need to affect the way we vote. I would ask, has our thinking about politics been transformed by our Christian faith? What will be best for the community – present and future, at home and abroad – rather than what will be in our short-term interests? Which party is best placed to govern fairly, justly and competently? Are the candidates and their party leaders people of integrity and character?
These may not be all the questions we need to ask, but they are a good place to start.
Lindsay Wilson lectures in Old Testament and Ethics at Ridley College.