By the middle of this year, we will almost certainly be facing a federal election in Australia. For Christians, it will be a test of what we see our calling in society to be.

Too many Christians are defensive of our faith and fearful of losing the status we had many decades ago. There is a longing for the ‘good old days’ when our churches were full and we were supposedly a more Christian society. So, as an election looms, and with the incumbent Prime Minister being a professed Christian himself, there is a hankering for many believers to make the most of this time and fight the ‘good fight’ of the culture wars and make sure our religious freedoms are not eroded or stripped away by the next government.

Voting

Who are you voting for? Nils von Kalm urges Christians to use their vote in support of the rights of others. PICTURE: Element5 Digital/Unsplash 

 

"Christians are never called to protect our own rights. Following Jesus is the exact opposite; it has much more to do with protecting the rights of others. That’s why Jesus said that the greatest commandment of loving God can never be separated from the command to love others, including our enemies."

Such attitudes seem to reveal more of a desire to protect the institution of Christianity and its perceived influence on society than a Christ-like concern for the betterment of society. 

Christians are never called to protect our own rights. Following Jesus is the exact opposite; it has much more to do with protecting the rights of others. That’s why Jesus said that the greatest commandment of loving God can never be separated from the command to love others, including our enemies.

Late last year, the ALP announced that they would increase Australia’s level of overseas aid giving if they are elected. Caring for the poor, as the aid budget is designed to do, would be thought of by most people as a very Christian action to take by a major political party vying to become the next government. Not so for many Christians apparently. 

When Eternity magazine ran an article about Labor’s announcement to increase overseas aid, the response from many Christians was scathing. They criticised the decision by saying they would never vote for a party that would remove our religious freedoms, and that we should look after our own backyard first.

Where do we get these ideas from? Sometimes I just feel sad and in disbelief at what is being taught in our churches for so many Christians to believe such un-Christlike ideas.

The calling of the Christian is always to look out for others, not for ourselves. We are to try to show how to love and live for others rather than trying to defend our own rights.

Christian faith is at best a faith that lives on the margins. It is a movement of people doing their imperfect best to follow Jesus in loving their neighbour because they are being transformed by the gracious love of God. 

The first Christians are a wonderful example of this. Christian leader Dave Andrews has pointed out that the Sermon on the Mount was the guiding framework for the first 300 years of the church. Blessed are the poor, those who are downtrodden, loving your enemies, doing unto others as you would want them to do unto you. These are the teachings of Jesus, that he said the whole law and the prophets are summed up in, that the first Christians literally gave their lives for. You don't see them trying to defend their own rights. You see them giving their lives defending the rights of others. That's why they turned the world upside down. The social historian, Rodney Stark, shows that this was a major reason for the explosive growth in the church in the first few centuries.

When we constantly try to defend our own rights and complain about the death of religious freedom (nothing against religious freedom; we need that), we become just another group amongst the masses shouting about our rights. It is when we try to stick up for the rights of others that we model an alternative kingdom.

I don't see much of the love of Christ in today's Christian lobbying. Where I do see it is in movements like Love Makes A Way, in the sanctuary movement and in conferences like Micah Australia’s 'Voices for Justice' conference, during which hundreds of young Christians descend on Canberra to walk the corridors of power urging our political leaders to do our bit to care for the world’s poor. One of the main points of feedback that the organisers of 'Voices for Justice' receive from politicians is that the movement is respected because it is one of the very few groups that come to Canberra lobbying for others.

"Being Christian is about love, it is about integrity, and it is about humility. It is attractive and it changes the world. Trying to fight for a Christian society won't bring in the kingdom. The kingdom is spread through love for others, including our enemies."

Being Christian is about love, it is about integrity, and it is about humility. It is attractive and it changes the world. Trying to fight for a Christian society won't bring in the kingdom. The kingdom is spread through love for others, including our enemies.

As the election approaches in the coming months, it is incumbent upon Christians in this country to speak out for the rights of those who cannot speak, for the destitute, to defend the rights of the poor and needy, as Proverbs 31 so eloquently says.

Another Christian leader in Australia, John Smith, talks about the attraction of Jesus when we care for others. In the early days of the movement John led, as they were gaining a reputation for caring for the outsider, he recalls receiving a phone call from a desperate woman asking “are you the people who love people?”. 

God help us to have a reputation like this, one where we are known for our sacrificial care for others. 

Jesus never told His disciples to make sure they build a Christian society or that, if they feel like they are being persecuted, to speak out for their freedoms. He told them that the greatest commandment is to love Him and their neighbour, and that people would know they are His disciples by their love for each other. And so they went out and turned the world upside down to the point that, by the time Constantine became Roman Emperor about 300 years later, probably half the Roman Empire was Christian. These Christians did it not by speaking out for their freedoms, but, on the contrary, by loving others despite real persecution (not the type many Christians in the West complain about today), often sacrificing their own lives in the process. 

Thousands of Christians know John 3:16 by heart, but how many of us know I John 3:16? "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters".

Early this century, the Brotherhood of St Laurence had a wonderful slogan in the lead up to a federal election. It simply said, “Vote for someone else”. The brotherhood knew something that the early Christians knew. Wouldn’t it be a great slogan for Christians to be known for as we approach this upcoming election?