How Should Christians Vote in 2010?

August 05, 2010

The Australian Christian Values Institute has just published a checklist for assessing the major political parties contesting the Federal election on the 21st August. Checklists of this type have been appearing regularly just before Federal elections for some time. The 'Australian Christian Values Checklist' is used widely by the Christian Democratic Party in its campaigning and is supported by a number of other small organizations.

It is argued by some that there is merit in such a checklist and its desire to compare major parties on a basket of 'Christian Values'. Many Christians struggle to decide who to vote for in any election.  But is this checklist helpful? I don't think so. There are a few reasons.

First, the whole approach is simplistic and reductionist in nature. It is based on the assumption that you can distil what matters most for Christians from a party's policies to a set of values, and that these can be assessed for each party in a fair and equitable way. There is little evidence to suggest that this has been achieved.

Second, the checklist omits many areas that for any Christian should be of concern.  For example, treatment of the homeless, poor, aged, disabled, mentally ill and aliens. While the Australian Christian Values Institute argues (here) that they don't include such issues because there is little difference between the parties on such issues, no real evidence is given to support this claim. To be fair, they also suggest that they focus on the values that they do because they believe that these are the values for which there is a defining difference between the parties. There is some truth in this and I see value in encouraging each other to consider the issues which other parties fail to mention for fear of voter backlash, and those that might be abhorrent to most Christians which might just make it difficult to vote for a party even if their other policies you find acceptable (for example, support for euthanasia).

Third, the creation of a list of this kind presents a view of Christian concern for the world that is a pale shadow of the picture of the concerned, engaged life of the citizen that the Bible presents.  

Fourth, the way the parties are assessed seems rather arbitrary, especially when the question mark is used (with the tick and the cross) for some values, suggesting a degree of uncertainty.

What's missing?

There are a wide range of Christian values that should be included if one is to try to provide a more comprehensive assessment of key issues that should influence our votes. For example:
It doesn't mention the need to support the aged, the homeless and the poor.
It fails to address the call to welcome the alien (see my previous post on 'Boat People').
It omits the need for justice for Indigenous Australians.
It overlooks inequities in health funding and educational provision for isolated communities.
It fails to mention the need to help starving and strife torn nations and those threatened by climate change through foreign aid.
It overlooks care of the disabled and the mentally ill.

What does it conclude?

The checklist concludes that we should all vote for the minor Christian parties. Three parties score almost perfectly on all 23 Christian Values - the Christian Democratic Party, Family First and the Democratic Labor Party (DLP). The Greens Party scores a tick on just one item, 'supporting greater care of God's environment' (but all 7 parties are given ticks on this!). The Labor Party scores just three ticks, and two of these are also given a question mark. The Liberal Party scores 14 ticks (2 with question marks) and the National Party 15 ticks (two with a question mark).

It is difficult to see this as a fair assessment of the parties. To suggest that all seven parties have equal concern for the environment is at best misleading and probably dishonest. There also seem to be many other gross simplifications in the way the parties are assessed. As well, the checklist includes some items that are policy commitments of the minor Christian parties and presents them as 'Christian Values'. For example, suggesting that support for 'educational vouchers' as a Christian value is difficult to justify. It may well be a worthwhile policy agenda that people who send their children to private schools would support, but it is hardly a defining value that should significantly shift our vote.

What is disappointing about the list is that in presenting such an incomplete and flawed list, it might inadvertently deflect attention away from issues that Christians should be concerned about and campaign for.  In taking such limited view of 'Christian Values' it might well lead many Christians to dismiss the checklist without properly considering areas of policy in the major parties that should concern us. For example, The Greens while the key party on the environment, support many policies on the family, abortion and end of life that few Christians would find acceptable. Issues like preservation of marriage, support for families, opposition to abortion and euthanasia, rather than being considered as issues by Christians, might be ignored as some Christians reject the limited nature of the overall assessment of policies.

How should Christians vote?

I believe that it is possible for Christians to vote for different political parties and for different reasons, with a clear conscience. I do not believe that we can use a checklist to establish which party should get our vote, although it might well help us if we can be sure of its accuracy. I also do not believe that we should vote for a party, or even a local politician, just because they say that they are Christian. Mind you character should be at the top of our list, but Christian politicians can be found wanting in relation to character just like some of the non-Christian politicians. It's important to know a lot about the people we vote for; do we want them to lead us?

As well, some Christians will feel so strongly about a single issue such as euthanasia or abortion that they will vote for one local representative over another, or one party over another - I don't usually vote this way, but it's a legitimate response. However, we should never vote out of self-interest, we should seek the good of others. In a recent article Michael Jensen helpfully suggested the following five factors that should inform our vote:
We should vote for the sake of others - honouring one another above self
We should seek righteousness and justice in our community.
We should vote for the poor and the weak.
For freedom to preach the gospel message of Christ.
We should do it prayerfully, praying for our leaders and ourselves as we choose them.
It will be an important day on the 21st August. We should be grateful and thankful to God that we have the opportunity to choose who will govern us in this country. We should all give our vote very careful consideration and vote in an informed way.

Other posts

Michael Jensen, 'How Should a Christian Vote' (here)
'Dispelling Myths About Boat People' (here)

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