When Politics Clouds the Gospel
17 May 2022 Hits:505
Whenever there is an election, I am reminded of the little some quarters of the church have learned about how detrimental to the Gospel it is for churches and church leaders to make polarising political statements.
While Christian people have as much right as anyone to engage with politics or stand for political office, the church MUST be above politics, non-partisan, and stick to its central message – the good news about God’s love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Anything that clouds that message is an enemy of the Gospel.
Several years ago, the Barna Foundation commissioned research amongst young adults (16-29) to discover why they didn’t engage with a church. One of the six reasons was that the church was “too political.”
So, I find it gobsmacking that some Christians and church leaders are still making politically divisive statements and actions even though the evidence is that this harms the cause of Christ.
A while ago, I saw a post on a pastor’s Facebook page encouraging their followers/congregation to “Let righteousness reign. Put Labor and the Greens last!” I realise this reflects many conservative Christians’ views, but what message does this send to people who may disagree? What about people who do vote Labor or The Greens and still love Jesus? What about people in the broader community who consider Jesus and Church, but are then put off by this statement? Isn’t the Gospel inclusive, or do you have to change how you vote when you become a Christian? Also, why is it “righteous” to vote for a conservative party?
This same leader posted the following chart compiled by the Australian Christian Values Institute.
The Christian Values Checklist informs voters of what each political party stands for on various issues. If you’re a genuine Christian, the report concludes that you’ll vote for Australian Federation, One Nation, or Christian Democrats. If you can’t stomach any of those parties, then United Australia, the Nationals or the Libs would be your choice. But whatever you do, “Let righteousness reign. Put Labor and the Greens last!”
A Closer Look
Let’s examine those Christian values. Predictably they’re what you’d expect from conservative Christianity in Australia, highly influenced by American Evangelicalism. In this tradition, the two main things Christians should focus on are anything to do with abortion or gay people (stop both as much as you can).
While the chart helps you understand what various parties advocate on these issues, I can’t help but notice the missing things. Are not refugees, the homeless, those living with a mental illness, and victims of domestic violence unworthy of the Christian vote? And which party/parties would have the best policies to help those on the margins of society? It also appears that poverty and the environment (points 18 and 19) were tacked on as an afterthought! Maybe I’m wrong, but are they less important than opening parliament with Christian prayer (point 5)? Didn’t Jesus warn people about standing up and repeating rote prayers publicly?
How Should I Vote?
So, with this in mind, here are four things to consider each time you vote:
- Have the courage to look through fresh eyes. I was born and raised in a conservative British family. My parents voted conservative and Liberal all of their lives. For many years I followed their example. But I dared to look through fresh eyes. In the famous words of Jim Wallis, sometimes “The Right gets it wrong, and the Left doesn’t get it.” Chat with people who see things differently from you. Ask questions. Listen. Learn. I’m a political moderate (centrist) and a swinging voter these days.
- Exercise the privilege of a democratic choice. I’ve heard some well-intentioned (but misguided) Christians say that they don’t vote because they believe in leaving the selection of a government up to God Himself. It sounds spiritual but doesn’t consider that God isn’t registered with the Australian Electoral Commission, and neither is Australia a Theocracy! Exercise the privilege of a democratic choice. Express your voice through your vote.
- Ask, “What is important to me?” But don’t stop there. What is important to us will invariably reflect our passions and life circumstances. But what about others, especially those on the margins, those in Scripture that Jesus showed the most concern? Paul wrote, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.“ Being like Jesus means we will be interested in the people he showed interest in ~ people who were homeless, sick, or in prison. The poor, orphans and widows. Those living with a disability or who are the victims of domestic violence.
Our vote must not just reflect selfish concerns of personal comfort but should support those who will show love and care towards the most vulnerable, the least powerful, in our community. Beyond that, Christians believe God created this world and gave it to people to look after. And so, we will consider policies that care for the environment when we vote.
- You vote for your LOCAL member. We don’t vote for the person who will become Prime Minister or Premier. We vote for our local members.
Finally, be realistic. No ONE political party or candidate will tick every box, so don’t expect them to, or you will be constantly disappointed. Democracy is not a perfect political system, but it is better than some alternatives.