Reflections after the Australian federation election (2013)

It’s the first day after the election. I thought I might write down some thoughts. I am not a Labor or Coalition supporter. In fact, I am not a supporter of any party. I believe that our voting preference should depend on other factors rather than our party loyalty. I have to say that I am surprised by how some Christians vote for a particular party simply because it is thought that the party leader is a Christian or that some of the party’s policies seem to uphold a particular moral value. (Having said that, I have friends who have carefully considered a party’s policies and ethos carefully, and have subsequently become a supporter of the party. This sounds like an informed decision.)

So, what should we consider when we vote within a democratic system? I am no expert in this area. But here are few thoughts.

First, since the suffering, death and resurrection is the centre of our faith, the cross should shape our voting preferences. The work of Christ is not just for our benefit. Rather, it is God’s way to redeem, restore and transform humanity. Christ died for our sins, so that we may be part of a new Spirit-filled Jesus-community to live for him. Since we live in a democracy (voting is compulsory in Australia), we have the responsibility to prayerfully consider the parties’ policies and decide how to vote accordingly. We are to follow Jesus’ self-giving sacrificial way of life, and put other fellow human beings first. Our voting preferences should reflect this Christ-centred cruciform posture. The parties’ campaigns often focus on the question “what’s in it for me?” But for Christians, the right question is how we can model after Christ’s love in the world.

Second, I have been wondering how our social relationships affect our voting preferences. Over the years my wife and I have come to know a waitress in a restaurant that offers quality cheap lunch. Some years ago she shared with us that she had separated from her husband, and had to raised two young children. The day before this year’s election, she told us that she would have to buy two iPads for her children next year, because that was the requirement of the public school that they would attend. She told us that she was struggling to make ends meet, and the iPad would be another financial burden on her. I can imagine that the axing of Schoolkids Bonus would make life even harder for this family.

So, I wonder to what degree our social network affects our view of the different parties’ policies? What type of people do we hang out with? Single parents living in public housing? People living with mental illness with little income? Non-English-speaking asylum seekers and refugees? Middle-class educated people of our own culture? I have friends who often spend time with the poor and disadvantaged people. They tend to be very concerned with policies that will adversely affect the marginalised. On the other hand, I know committed Christians who love God but their social network consists almost entirely of middle class Australians. Even though they are generous people, their lack of firsthand experience with the poor means that they are generally less aware of how social policies can affect those living on the margins.

This is why Jesus’ incarnational life is a profound expression of God’s love. He was a refugee to Egypt when he was a child, and the Son of Man has no place to lay his head (Luke 9:58). Maybe we can find ways to follow his example? Not that we should all become poor like Mother Theresa. But it will help to spend more time with the poor and listen to their stories.

Third, three Scriptures came to mind in the recent federal elections. They are from the Law, the Prophets and the words of Jesus. Towards the end of Jesus’ ministry, he mentioned seven woes against the religious leaders of his day. The middle of the seven woes says,

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. (Matthew 23:23)

Justice, mercy and faithfulness are the more important matters of the law, according to Jesus. And it seems obvious that the teachers of the law did not understand it. I hope Christians today do understand it.

Not infrequently scholars recognise that Matthew 23:23 echoes a famous verse in Micah 6:8.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

So, what does the Lord require of us? It seems that Jesus’ teaching reflects the prophet’s words that we are to act justly, love mercy and walk in faithfulness with our God.

Micah 6:8, in turn, echoes an important passage in the law of Moses, which says,

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is the one you praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. Your ancestors who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky. (Deuteronomy 10:12–22)

So, let’s fear God, love him, walk with him, for he defends the cause of the fatherless and the widows, and loves the foreigners among us.

(All Bible citations above are from the NIV.)

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