Voting as a Christian is hard. Why? Because (as I’ve argued in a previous post) how you engage in politics is a part of your worship. This means four things. First, it means that who you vote for is an expression of your faith, your place in, and your vision of God’s Kingdom. Second, who you vote for expresses your love towards your neighbour and the world around you. Third, who you vote for expresses your love towards God. Fourth, not only does voting impact the world around you, but it also forms and transforms you inwardly. For some Christians, this makes voting easy (whoever is pro-life, right?). For me, it complicates it. Gone are the days when I could pick a single issue and vote with it in mind. Gone are the days when I could make fun of politics (though I still do that) and not care about who influences our nation. Voting matters because, as James K. A. Smith says:
The call to follow Christ, the call to desire his kingdom, does not simplify our lives by segregating us in some “pure” space; to the contrary, the call to bear Christ’s image complicates our lives because it comes to us in the midst of our environments without releasing us from them.– James K. A. Smith in Awaiting the King
As my faith and theology mature, voting becomes increasingly tricky. If voting profoundly impacts the world around me (including myself), then my vote can’t be taken lightly. Add to that the lack of reasonable candidates to vote for is the perfect recipe for a Lamentations part II. No matter who I vote for, I compromise on something. Do I care for the unborn? Of course. Outstanding, but voting for a party with anti-abortion policies means I have to compromise on climate change policies (and the lives climate change affects around the world) and vice versa. There’s always a trade-off, and I hate that this is the reality in which we live. Trying to love one group of neighbours means I have to neglect the other groups. I understand why some people avoid politics altogether (not a luxury we have in Australia). So what do we do? Do we abstain from voting (illegal in most cases in our country)? Do I donkey vote (that feels like a waste of a vote)? Do I vote for independents and hope for the best (does that ever make a difference)? What is the appropriate Christian response here? There’s no clear answer, to be honest. However, there are perhaps a few things to consider before giving up on the system altogether. Nationwide change, where God’s kingdom comes and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:9-13), begins within the Christian, then in the church, and then extends into the world.
- It starts with the Christian. What I mean by this is before you hit the voting booths and you loudly proclaim who you’re voting for, a Christian must learn to live out the values and ideas wisely that they are voting for in the first place. Do you care for the environment and climate change? Then start taking practical steps to reduce your own carbon footprint. Eat a more plant-based diet, and consider changing your lightbulbs to LED. Plant some trees. Do you care about the unborn? Love and educate parents who are considering it and might not know the impact of their choices. Invest in organisations that will incentivise mothers to give up children for adoption rather than aborting, or better yet, help to find ways of addressing why they’re aborting at all in the first place. Finally, no matter the issue, serving in that area only goes so far. The Gospel of Jesus Christ will cause changed hearts that lead to the right praxis. You can plant all the trees in the world and feed all the hungry people you can, but real change happens at a heart level that forms communities of people who want to represent Jesus. This is the local church.
- It moves to church. There are Christians worldwide from different traditions and walks of life who vote and are passionate about various issues. Each one believes they are doing what they think is best to express how they understand the kingdom of God coming to earth. This is called the universal Church. However, God doesn’t leave us to do the work by ourselves. Through His Spirit, God forms visible communities of believers to work out how to do the Christian life together. While members of a local church might differ on politics, what binds them together is the Gospel that saved them and their allegiance to King Jesus – the person every Christian has cast their first vote for. I have argued elsewhere, and I’ll repeat it – the local church is supposed to be a little slice of heaven on earth. The local church is a community of political tyranny made up of different people from different ethnicities, genders, ideas, and such that submit to the one true King. Local churches challenge, spur, encourage and sharpen one another to live out the Gospel and extend the Kingdom of God into the world around us. The pulpit isn’t supposed to be hijacked to peddle anyone’s political agenda. However, the Gospel of King Jesus is intrinsically political as we urge one another to be a part of His Kingdom in all that we do.
- Now, if you must vote, vote. This, I realise, has left us with no real answers on how to vote faithfully. What I’m getting at here is that voting is actually the last thing we do on a list of many meaningful steps of authentic transformation. As we make real changes around us and form Gospel centred communities of people who ultimately see Jesus as the only real solution to anything, voting will be carried along with the ebb and flow of whatever impact we have as we witness to the ends of the earth (or to the darkest corners of our local areas).
Whatever you do during this election, just remember to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself” (Luke 10:27).