As a pastor, I often get asked a host of diverse questions: “How do I know God’s will for my life?” “Why did God do that in the Bible?” “Can you teach me to pray?” At this time of an election cycle, though, one question crystallises for Christians: “How do I know who to vote for?”
Do we vote to protect our values?
Now, here’s the typical answer to that question. Usually, we say that we should vote in a way that would empower a given political party or leader to protect our values. And this is good, in that it encourages Christians to vote with integrity within our worldview. However, it also has some issues. The first issue is that no party perfectly upholds every Christian value. Some parties care for the climate (a Christian ideal) while being relativistic with moral issues (something Christians are more nervous about). Other parties do the exact inverse. This almost always means that you can’t “vote in a Christian way” unless you elevate one value over another and breed an overbearing pietism which outworks itself in a judgementalism against other Christians. Very unfortunate.
Why it’s more than ‘just a vote’
The second issue is much greater, though. In Australia, you might say that we are culturally secular. Secularism holds that one’s beliefs are private and not public, and that the purpose of a democratic government is to uphold the social contract into which all citizens buy. The way that individual citizens participate, therefore, in politics within a democracy is by electing officials to represent their values. Although this is good, especially given the mixing-pot of values our population holds, there is a cost. And the cost, for Christians, is that we might reduce what we mean by “politics” to a simple “voting according to the private values we hold.”
To be sure, Australia’s liberal democracy makes one’s vote meaningful. However, it’s the secular story of the world which has hoodwinked modern Christians into thinking that our beliefs and our behaviour are private and non-political. And, once we buy that idea, it’s a very quick jump to thinking that all we can do is “vote.”
Where Imperial policy propped up unjust social norms, Christians sought to provide just solutions.
However, the picture of the New Testament—and the story of the early church—challenges this domestication of the church. Living under violent imperialism, early Christians lived lives of radical obedience to Jesus as King. This didn’t entail their trigger-happy disobedience to the State; it entailed their critical reflection and wise action as they sought to be ambassadors for King Jesus in a world that worshipped Caesar. Where Imperial policy propped up unjust social norms, Christians sought to provide just solutions. In doing this, they saw their behaviour as political. Why? Because they thought of it as the outworking of the ethos of the kingdom of God modelled in Jesus.
Being political is more than just politics
Rather than thinking that casting a vote is all we can do, Christians should be people who think that their vote is the least they can do. The story of secularism leaves unsaid the subversive way that our behaviour is, in fact, political. If you think about it on a local and communal level, the way we behave has immense power to shape our world. For example, in Ancient Rome, infanticide was a common practice, propped up by the State. So, early Christians would care for unwanted babies thrown out by unwanting or possibly poor over-stretched parents struggling to feed the children they already had. In a world without a vote, early Christians used their lives to vote for the world God longs for. They embodied the answer their government wouldn’t.
Now, in a safe, liberal democracy where we are given a vote, we can still do the same. Let me put it this way: Finding it hard to pick a party to vote for because they disagree with that Christian ideal? Then, model—in community—the ideal your vote can’t achieve. In other words, Christians have every reason to be people who seek to find local solutions to bigger problems; who bless their neighbourhood through their actions. Sure, we’re not going to usher in the kingdom of God out of human effort any more than we can manufacture the second coming. No, what we’re doing when we do this is simply outworking our call as disciples: following Jesus. It’s a faithful participation in what Jesus modelled and an anticipation of what Jesus promises—a new world of love, joy, peace, and righteousness. It is the kingdom of God.
Research, reflect and pray for wisdom
Now, to be sure, we can do more with our vote. As Christians living in a watching world, we could be voting for the good not of ourselves but of our neighbours. So often, we elevate our own needs at election time—especially when it comes to economic and vocational needs. However, what if Christians voted in a way that secured benefits not for ourselves but for our neighbours or for the marginalised? This would shape out voting around others, not ourselves. Sure, we need wisdom here; it’s not about voting for the party your neighbour wants to win. It’s about pausing long enough to notice the real need of our communities and caring about it enough that you vote to address it. This type of philosophy may even cause us to vote for a party which we might have otherwise disregarded because it doesn’t toe the line on a
particular moral issue.
be an ambassador for the kingdom of God and vote with your life
Voting matters. We should cast our ballot with serious reflection—and, yes, prayer. But, never with anxiety. But as followers of the risen Lord Jesus, we know that our opportunity to outwork political witness in this nation exceeds our vote.
So this election year, be wise when you vote with your ballot. Yet, at the same time, be an ambassador for the kingdom of God and vote with your life.
Alex Stark is the lead pastor at Newlife Church Brisbane