Why Saturday’s election is like all the others, and yet not
Voting in elections, like pretty much everything we do, is an exercise in glorifying God by loving our neighbour.
Or as Paul puts it: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 10:31-11:1).
The principle as it applies to voting is simple enough: we should do everything for the glory of God by seeking the advantage of many. As we eat or drink or work or drive or vote, we should not seek our own good, but the good of many others, and especially their chief good of being saved in Christ.
What does this mean for our vote this Saturday?
Well there are many ‘goods’ we can and should seek for our neighbours—the good of employment, the good of adequate health care, the good of hospitality (if they are seeking our refuge or help), the good of a safe and sustainable environment, and so on. And when we vote, we are considering which of the available candidates and parties are likely to bring about these goods, based on what they are proposing to do, as well as how likely they are to achieve it (which brings into play their experience, character and record).
Our decisions about these things are complex, because we have to consider not only the ordering of these goods (which of them might be more important to achieve than others, given limited resources), but also the means by which the various parties are proposing to achieve them. In fact, this is usually the most significant difference between Left-leaning and Right-leaning political views—not so much the goods that they wish to achieve (e.g. security, health-provision, economic prosperity, a fair go for all, and so on), but the means by which they propose to attain them. Left-leaning parties tend to favour a more centralized, state-driven approach to achieving social goods; right-leaning parties favour a more privatised, market-driven approach.
Neither of these tendencies or approaches (centrist or privatist) are inherently good or evil. And as Christian citizens our task is essentially one of wisdom—to judge which approach on which issues is more likely to be effective in bringing about the goods that will be of most benefit to our neighbours (remembering that our focus should be on others rather than ourselves).
Every election is like this, and the one we are facing now in Australia is no different. As Christians, we should make a considered, thoughtful, prayerful judgement as to which of the candidates and parties is likely to bring about the best mix of ‘goods’ for the benefit society as a whole.
And because these judgements are complex and (frankly) impossible to be certain about, we will come to different decisions, based on our experience and wisdom and personal insights. This is why Christian pastors and leaders are wise not to endorse one side of politics over another—it ends up making complex wisdom judgements the stuff of division and disunity.
However, as we think about which goods are most important, Christians will regard people’s destiny in Christ as their chief good. As we consider all the good and harm that may be attained through governmental action, we will give a special priority to those actions that provide space and opportunity for the gospel to be clearly proclaimed. As Paul said, do everything for the glory of God by seeking the good of many, so that they may be saved.
And that’s why this election is unlike any I’ve voted in over the past 36 years in Australia.
In all of those elections, as far as my middle-aged brain can recall, the issues that divided the major parties had very little impact one way or the other on gospel preaching. Should we have Medicare or not? Or a GST or not? Or tax cuts or not? Or WorkChoices or not? These were huge questions that helped determine the outcome of elections—but none of the policies of the major parties on these issues made any material difference to the opportunities or space Christians had to preach the gospel that brings salvation.
This time, however, there’s a good chance that they will.
If the next Australian government legislates for ‘same-sex marriage’, the consequences for free and open gospel preaching are likely to be serious and widespread. (This is quite apart from whatever personal, relational and social harm we think might ensue from our society going down this path.)
If ‘same-sex marriage’ is made law, then we are almost to certain to see greater restrictions being placed on the open proclamation of Christ, especially in public spaces like schools. I say ‘greater restrictions’, because restrictions have already commenced.
To give just three brief examples of many:
•‘Special Religious Education’ (SRE) has already been removed from the school curriculum in Victoria, and is under active investigation in NSW and Queensland for its supposedly hateful and harmful teaching on human sexuality.
•Churches that meet in schools are already having their hiring agreements cancelled because of the content of sermons on homosexuality.
•Some university Christian groups have already stopped teaching publicly about sexuality on campus in order to avoid being denied use of campus facilities.
This trend will doubtless continue. If ‘same-sex marriage’ becomes law, it will very likely accelerate.
This is why the differing positions of the major parties on same-sex marriage are significant at this election for Christians.
Under the policy framework of the Greens and Labor, ‘same-sex marriage’ will become law, and quickly. Under the policy of the Liberal-National coalition, the issue will be determined by a plebiscite of the Australian people.
Now it is quite possible that such a plebiscite will still lead to ‘same-sex marriage’ legislation. But it also very possibly may not, and we (like all citizens) will have the right to argue our case and express our will, if given this opportunity.
All of which leads this article towards a distinctly uncomfortable and seemingly partisan conclusion—uncomfortable for some readers with particular political leanings, and very uncomfortable for me as a Christian leader and writer who has assiduously avoided any partisan political statements in 27 years of public teaching and writing. Am I going to complete the logic of this article by urging evangelical Christians not to vote for Labor or the Greens at this Saturday’s election?
I am not, because readers must test the logic and assumptions of my argument and draw their own conclusions—as they must always do.
It is possible, after all, that I have over-estimated the threat to gospel preaching that the legalisation of ‘same-sex marriage’ will entail. Perhaps freedom of religion protections in the legislation will be adequate. Perhaps there will be a public backlash against the overly-zealous pursuit of Christian organizations, resulting in a backdown. Or perhaps a spot of persecution and public restriction will in fact result in more boldness and gospel preaching than at present.
All these matters, readers must judge for themselves, weighing them against the other ‘goods’ that are at stake in the proposed policies of each party, and then giving glory to God by voting not for ourselves but in love for the good of many, that they may be saved.