Seven tips on how not to vote
As I’ve listened to my Australian friends talk about the upcoming Federal Election, one thing has become clear: no election in living memory seems to have inspired so much apathy and disappointment towards the major parties. Without commenting on whether or not this sense of frustration is warranted (which it absolutely is), it’s obvious that many people are feeling disillusioned enough to even question the value of their vote. But is that a healthy way for anyone (let alone Christians) to approach the privilege of casting a ballot? How should Christians approach the God-given opportunity to vote?
Having looked at a biblical view of government and a biblical view of interacting with government in the first two parts of this series, what about our vote? How should we vote – and how should we not vote? (Sorry, I’m not going to tell you WHO to vote for!)
I suppose a prior question for some people is: Should I vote at all? Australia is one of only (around) 12 countries with enforced compulsory voting, so whether to vote is a real consideration for many, many people. I don’t think the Bible gives us clear instruction on this, though I would suggest that since, as we’ve seen, Christians are to be good citizens, more often than not this will mean at least enough engagement with the political process to make an informed decision and turn up to vote. It’s not sinful not to, but the motivation behind not voting could well be something that the Bible’s teaching corrects.
So then, how not to vote (followed by how to vote in our next post):
Don’t vote for someone because you’ve ‘always voted that way’. Our voting patterns can often be formed by things like family heritage, geographical location, or our own sworn allegiance. But if our higher allegiance is to God and his word, if we believe that politicians and parties are fallible and can potentially change and move in unhelpful directions, then simply voting for someone because you have before would not seem to be a thoughtful Christian vote. Incidentally, if this is right, it may mean that it’s unwise to be a member of a particular political party (if party membership entails always voting for that party – which, presumably, it would).
Don’t vote with cynicism. It can be easy to disengage from the political process and become overly cynical because our politicians let us down in some way, or because we listen too much to the media (which makes a living off political cynicism). We don’t unthinkingly follow our leaders on everything – cynicism is different to criticism. But we do need to remember that our leaders are appointed by God, and that as good citizens and thoughtful Christians, we will avoid the cynicism that comes so naturally. I suppose in a voluntary voting system, cynicism might be most often expressed by not voting at all – but it takes many other forms, all of which I think are unhelpful.
Don’t vote for someone just because they’re Christian. A candidate’s faith might be a factor in your decision – maybe even a major one. But I want to suggest that, given the Bible’s picture of government, shared Christian faith is not reason enough to vote for someone. We saw from Romans 13 that governments are legitimate whether or not they are ‘Christian’ (whatever that would mean for a whole government). The same is true for individuals. Personal faith in Jesus and an intimate knowledge of his word can obviously help, but in itself this is no guarantee that the person will make a good politician, or that their presence will equal more peace and prosperity for our nation. Most of the Christians I know (myself included) would make terrible politicians.
Don’t vote to impose Christianity on our society. Romans 13 and 1 Timothy 2 make clear that imposing a belief system on society is not the role of government. Pray in line with 1 Timothy 2, but don’t think that secular governments can advance the cause of the gospel directly in themselves. Don’t expect it, or even want it, from your leaders. Advancing the gospel is not the government’s job (it’s the job of churches, para-church ministries and individual Christians).
Don’t vote superficially. We live in an age of soundbites and slogans, where the best-looking politicians are often the most successful. Christians need to apply their worldview by looking beyond those things and thinking seriously and deeply about who to vote for. Superficiality is poisonous to theology and a right understanding of God, and it can be just as poisonous to effective politics.
Don’t allow your vote to divide the body of Christ. However you choose to vote, however passionate you are that your candidate is THE candidate and anyone who can’t see it is a raving lunatic – somewhere a sensible Christian brother or sister will disagree. What unites you to them remains far more important than what divides you politically. Don’t let your politics ruin your Christian fellowship.
Don’t vote selfishly. In much of Western politics people’s votes are essentially for sale. The biggest tax cut or the biggest financial helping hand will usually sway people’s decision. Compassion and justice might get a look in somewhere, yet they’re a long way down the list. But a Christian’s first motivation should not be financial – and, more importantly, it should not be self-centred in any way. Don’t vote just for yourself and your own self-interest.