Flat Beer or Stale Bread?







With an election looming these feel like the choices.

It was my first Sunday back teaching at QBC after our break, so I thought I’d launch back in gently… and pick up the topic of ‘how to vote in the coming election’.

As much as some like to avoid mixing their faith and politics I think Ghandi was right when he said: ‘He who says politics and religion do not mix understands neither one.’ We simply cannot be ‘apolitical’ (if there is such a word) in our discipleship. To follow Jesus has political implications and the current hot button of asylum seekers and border protection is a case in point.

So come September 7th we will all vote, but some of us will do it after having moved thru a conscious process while others will simply respond to sound bytes, propaganda and gossip. The question I posed to our crew today was ‘how do you know who to vote for?’

I began by letting people know that Danelle and I are swingers. We have been for a long time and while that might sound odd, we are at ease with it. Of course I’m talking about being swinging voters… That’s what you thought I meant right?…

In the last 30 years I have voted CDP, Liberal, Labour and more recently Green, but I have no allegiance to anyone. Which makes it interesting each time an election comes around. While I have no allegiance I do have a process for arriving at a decision and it is a fairly simple one.

Here it is for what its worth (and this was the guts of what I shared at QBC this morning)

How do we develop a framework for casting a vote that will reflect the priorities of Jesus?

I want to suggest that there is one primary theological lens thru which we can look to assess the merits of the different political parties – and I say ‘parties’ because we are not voting for ‘Rudd’ or ‘Abbott’. These men are not dictators or tyrants – they are subject to the ethos of their own party. So if you don’t like either of them then discard the idea that you are voting for them per se.

That lens I believe we need to look thru if we are vote according to the priorities of Jesus is the lens of the Kingdom of God. The Bible wasn’t written with 21st century western democracy in mind.  Nor was it written for first century imperialism. None of these human forms of government are to be seen as what God ultimately hopes for. They are our best attempts to keep a world in order and keep a society healthy and functioning.

What God had in mind right from the get go in Genesis was a world where he and his creation would live in harmony and where there would be goodness, peace, justice and love. It was the world he originally created. It is the world we – as the church – are seeking to work with him to create at this time. It is the world to come when he restores this world.

It is the kingdom of God. The world where God’s rule is seen and experienced most clearly and powerfully.

So my sole criteria when seeking to decide who I will vote for is to ask ‘whose policies and priorities best depict the kingdom of God?’ Who, if they got in power and were able to get it all own their own way – is likely to move us close to God’s dream for the world?

And what’s interesting is that Godly people can come down in different places on who they see as best moving us in that direction.

But to be able to make that kind of a call you need to be able to both have a grasp of the Bible and also a grasp of what the major political parties are on about. So you do need to do some reading and some thinking.

I think this is where most of us come unstuck. We get sound bytes and propaganda from the various spin doctors but often we don’t take the time to visit the various websites and see who is saying what.

And you need to. Its all there.

So if it’s the kingdom of God as the primary lens thru which we make a decision then we need to know what that means.

If we are envisaging a world formed by God’s rule then we will ask questions like:

  • who best looks after the poor and needy both here and around the world?
  • who will best work to develop a righteous and moral society?
  • who is truthful and honourable in the way they lead?
  • who best calls us and envisions a way to look after the created world?
  • who will best uphold the values of a just and fair society and foster healthy relationships between people?
  •  who will promote strong family as core to the health of a society
  • who will see human rights as a central issue
  • who will protect the rights of the powerless
  •  who will seek peace and healing as ways of resolving conflict and who will avoid war and bloodshed?

And yes – these are complex issues

And there are obviously more, but as you consider the characteristics of the kingdom as described in scripture you can then filter each parties ideas thru that grid.

And the caveat here is that just because a party has Christian in its name, it doesn’t means it is better at envisioning the kingdom of God than those who don’t. Currently neither of the overtly Christian parties take a welcoming / compassionate approach to asylum seekers and for those of us who see this as a significant issue its something of an embarrassment and a puzzle.

So that is the backdrop against which my vote gets cast. Who best envisions a world that looks like what Jesus hopes for?

And the challenge is that many people will prioritise economic development and personal advancement over and above these issues. Because that is in our nature… and because that is in our nature and politicians want to win, they will generally shape their policies to suit our desires.

Its not to say a healthy economy doesn’t matter, so don’t hear me say that – because obviously a country with poor economic health is going to struggle, but I can’t imagine Jesus ever having that as his primary concern – person wealth and societal affluence….

Obviously the hot topic in Aussie politics at the moment is border protection and the treatment of refugees. And both of our major political parties have taken a very hard line on this – which tells you where the bulk of Aussie are at with it. It is an election winner and whoever takes a softer line will not win. And you need to win… even Christians ‘need to win’ apparently…

So – the overarching question is not who can best sustain a western democracy, or who can best effect economic growth, but who can best help us move in the direction of what looks something like the kingdom of God?  (even if they don’t realise they are doing it)

I would suggest to you that this is the core question we need to grapple with each time an election comes around.

And I realise it’s a big question, but I tend to see it as the only question.

The second issue I want to focus on relates to how we determine our vote – an actual process. Because I am guessing many people will feel overwhelmed with the challenge of thinking it thru.

So the next challenge – in how to vote is to put in the effort to make a decision

Think of it as – pray / read / discuss  / pray  / read / discuss / vote

Don’t simply vote in line with family tradition, don’t look for someone with ‘Christian’ in their name and hope they get it right. Don’t simply vote from self interest looking at who will put the most money back in your own pocket. That is not a responsible way to vote. It is selfish. But we do it – see here for the election issues for West Aussies

Choose carefully and be prepared to join the swingers!

Australian theologian John Dickson says:

“Christians should be willing to change voting patterns after Christian reflection on particular policies. A believer who cannot imagine voting for the ”other side” has either determined that only one party aligns with the will of God or, more likely, is more attached to their cultural context than to the wisdom of scripture.”

Its too easy to determine out theology by looking thru the lens of our political ideology, rather than the other way round.

Dickson says we need to avoid polarising arguments and think critically about both our favoured party and the ones we see as less appealing if we are to make a healthy decision. You should be able to find holes in each party’s policies because none of them are perfect. If you can’t then you aren’t looking hard enough.

He has some excellent thoughts here on how to vote as a Christian.

I know that this election I will vote for a party who are ‘for’ some things that I cannot agree with. That is how it rolls…

So will you…

So in that process of pray / read / discuss / pray / read / discuss I am suggesting we:

a) take this seriously and to ask God for guidance in prayer.

b) Then read – firstly scripture – and ask ‘how does the Bible enlighten me on this issue?’ Begin with the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5 and ask who it best describes. But try and reflect on the whole tenor of the Bible and see who emerges.

Then read the websites of the various parties you know are core – read the Libs, Labour, Greens and Christian parties. For fun you can read the Pirate party… the HEMP party and the Sex Party…

c) Then discuss it with friends. Ask one another who you’re going to vote for… And why… Let’s get beyond seeing discussion of politics as taboo. The purpose is not to debate and argue but to understand and respect that different people who love Jesus will vote for different parties at different times.

I know some churches have a party line – there was an article last week in the West about a church’s links with the liberal party and their overt promotion of them as their preferred choice. My mate attends a church that got a very strong message from the Australian Christians about why they should vote for them – and as a church were obviously nailing their colours to the mast.

I am not up for giving my support to any one group because all of them are good in their own way and flawed in their own way. And as a church I believe we are healthier for diversity than for having a party line. My ideal scenario would be to have someone who is going to vote for each of the major parties take some time on a Sunday to give us their reasons for their choice and then allow debate and questioning – kinda like our very own Q&A.

That way we get to really hear the strong and weak aspects of each group. But we won’t be having any one party take the floor to do their thing.

My take is that no one is committed to the kingdom of God as we would hope, (And I don’t think we are as committed to the kingdom of God as we would hope either…)  but that each in their own way are seeking to build a better society.

So while it might feel like a choice between stale bread and flat beer I am hopeful that we can be inspired a bit beyond that…

I haven’t made up mind yet as to who will get my vote. Last time I voted Green, as I felt their justice and environmental policies led us in a kingdom direction, even if I disagreed with their stance on some of the moral issues.  I know this choice had some people question my integrity as a Christian leader. I’m ok with that, as I knew it would happen, but I was disappointed when Bob Brown came out swinging for gay marriage as his first priority.

This time I am puzzled. The asylum seeker question is a significant justice issue and I had hoped Kev would be as good as his word and the do the right thing here, but clearly too many votes are at stake. He has really caved in. Clearly Abbott has no time for them, but at least he has been up front from the get go. The CDP and Australian Christians probably need to have another read of the Bible quite frankly, while the Greens are much more open and compassionate.

Anyway, my hope is that as a Christian community we will take the time, make the effort and use our brains to reach a sensible vote, given that no choice is perfect.

7 thoughts on “Flat Beer or Stale Bread?

  1. great post mate. want to start a political part with me? I was thinking disgust with our political leaders was a poor reason to get into politics. but then I thought, ‘actually, its a fine reason!’
    I don’t think I am serious about entering politics. but I am serious about being disgusted.

  2. It is not a good look that the conservative Christians with near-identical policies (at least compared to the whole political landscape) have divided into separate parties. Just like the history of protestantism itself.

  3. Hamo,

    again your wisdom shines through. I have taken the liberty of giving you a good wrap and posting a link to your post.


  4. The ‘vote-compass’ site was a good way of answering some of the questions you posed, and places people on a graph which shows which ‘flavour’ of politics they are likely to agree with… even if there are topics that the party in that quadrant do ‘wrong’ according to your own internal voice.

    • Yeah toddy – I found it pretty accurate but I didn’t have an opinion on everything – some of it I have no idea about!

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