How to vote when no party is perfect

OPINION | Richard R. Glover
Tuesday 28 June 2016

Voting, for the Christian, is fundamentally an act of love for our neighbours, but determining how to vote can be quite perplexing. It’d be easy just to throw our hands up in the air and take an easy way out: to vote for who we’ve always voted for; to vote for who we think our friends are voting for; to leave the ballot blank; or, worse, to donkey-vote!

None of these are options for us.

Christ’s people are instructed to ‘conduct yourself as a citizen in a way that is worthy of the gospel of Christ’ (Philippians 1:27). Within this broad-reaching statement of the Christian life, voting is a decision we cannot take lightly. Our dilemma about how to cast a vote when we are faced with competing concerns is a concern about how best to honour the Lord Jesus as we have our say in the shape of our nation’s political leadership.

Different parties contribute different policies that often get at something that Christians value, whether it be justice for the vulnerable, care for the non-human creation, fairness in our economic systems, or a particular understanding of the social goods that contribute to a flourishing society. Unfortunately, we often find that one party will be proposing some policies we wholeheartedly support, and others that we loathe. We find ourselves confronted by competing concerns, and no way to adequately account for them all.

If we’re going to reach a meaningful decision about how to cast our ballot, we’ll need to order our concerns. We’ll tackle that here by posing some “diagnostic questions” and “principles” that you can apply to the particular concerns you bring to your decision-making. The list is not aiming to be exhaustive, and won’t make the decision easy; but it will hopefully bring a degree of clarity.

Where does injustice exist in our society?

The responsibility of civil government in God’s purposes is to create conditions of justice (e.g., Romans 13:3–4; 1 Peter 2:14). Freedom of conscience and speech, the ability to provide economically for one’s family, and access to education, employment, and legal systems—Christians will be concerned to resist future challenges to these and other aspects of justice. But they will also consider people for whom such justices are already being denied—that is, people presently facing injustices. Vulnerable people who already experience injustice (Australia’s First Peoples, for example) ought to weigh on us heavily, as we take the opportunity voting presents to seek to right existing wrongs.

Principle: Prioritise addressing present injustices.

Who are the most vulnerable?

The scriptures consistently call leaders and individuals alike to consider the needs of the most vulnerable, frequently summarised as orphans, widows, and the poor. In your decision-making, consider who is most in need, and seek to love them with your vote.

Principle: Prioritise the needs of the most needy.

What instances of coercion are present in our society?

Since the gospel is a free gift to be received, Christians will always be against coercion. Some issues on which we might have strong feelings—about justice for the marginalised, about the moral health of society—can be hard to prioritise. Issues that do not involve the coercion of individuals or groups may be relativised in relation to those issues which do.

Principle: Prioritise moral concerns that involve the coercion of those affected.

Where are my own blind-spots?

Christians are called to love our neighbour as ourselves. To do this we need to be engaging with others so that we can be mindful of their needs, and mindful of our own predispositions and selfishness—that is, we need to hear and respond to the margins. This will often involve opening yourself to sources of information outside the mainstream.

Principle: Deprioritise your own needs—including your own “rights”—in favour of the needs of others.

Which candidates and parties will conduct themselves with integrity?

Our leaders should be concerned for justice, and that should be evident in their own lives. For that reason, corruption in political parties should be a concern for Christian voters, as well as the character of individual candidates. Issues like the reform of political donations and connections between political parties and big business will therefore be of concern for Christians. Note that there may be honourable candidates within corrupt organisations, and corrupt candidates within honourable ones!

Principle: Prioritise candidates who will play “clean” politics.

What will be best for the proclamation of the gospel?

The goal of our prayers for political leaders is ‘that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity’ (1 Timothy 2:1–2). Such conditions mean Christians can get on with living lives that honour Jesus, including sharing his good news with others. This should be a factor as we vote, since coming into the kingdom of God is the best hope we can have for our neighbours! Christians therefore have a stake in and concern for a genuine secular pluralism that extends to freedom of religion—our own and that of others. The silencing of Christians in public debate is to be resisted and mourned; but it should not be the decisive factor.

Principle: Hold on to our religious freedom—loosely, trusting God!

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