“Why do we vote for ourselves and not for others?” A friend asked this question some years ago. This certainly challenged the way I voted in that year’s election. As a voter, it is natural for us to vote according to how a prospective government would affect ourselves. It is natural for us to ask how it would affect the future of our children, how much tax we would have to pay, and whether our mortgage payment would increase. This is not wrong. But, as Christians, we should carefully examine our value system in everything we do. We need to remember that our whole Christian life is based on Christ's self-giving love. The cross itself is a symbol of Jesus’ sacrificial life, and He has called us to love our neighbour as ourselves. How we vote in an election is an expression of that. Do we vote for ourselves? Or do we vote for others?

Voting1

HOW WILL YOU VOTE? Siu Fung Wu argues that Christians need to think wider than themselves when considering who to vote for. PICTURE: © R Rob M Ferguson (www.istockphoto.com)

 

"Our commitment to Christ means that we are to be thoughtful and prayerful when it comes to voting...Our love for God and for our neighbour calls us to examine our lives and repent of our selfishness. And in this process we learn to be better citizens of heaven and followers of Jesus."

Our interest
Throughout the election campaign period, we hear all sorts of news about the political parties’ policies. They include, for example, macroeconomic policies, healthcare reform, funding of government and independent schools. It is easy for us to think first about ourselves when we hear these policies. Will we pay more or less taxes? Will the private health insurance premium increase? Will our children’s school get more funding? These are important questions, and cannot be dismissed. 

But if we truly love our neighbour as ourselves, then we also have to consider how these policies will affect others, especially the life of the disadvantaged. In other words, we need to be aware that how we vote will affect the very people that Jesus cares for. 

How will a school funding policy work? Will it adversely affect kids whose parents cannot afford to go to independent schools? Will it marginalise children living in low-income suburbs? How about health services for those suffering from mental illnesses, especially those of lower socioeconomic backgrounds? Does a political party have a comprehensive plan on this issue – one that is not opportunistic but shows genuine interest in people?  

Indigenous Australians can expect to live substantially shorter lives than other Australians – up to 20 years in some cases. Children born to Indigenous parents die at twice the rate of other Australian babies. How do our political parties plan to close the gap?

Do we vote according to our self-interest, or the interest of others?

National interest
Often we hear politicians talk about our national interest. What does this mean to Christians? The Bible has something to say about this. Paul says that our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 1: 27; 3: 20). There are many who live as enemies of the cross (3: 18), but we are to follow the way of the cross. In Jesus’ words, His disciples are to “take up the cross daily” as they follow him (Luke 9: 23). 

The apostle Paul was writing to the followers of Christ in Philippi, which was a Roman colony at the time. Some of them would have Roman citizenship, and some would not. But they were all reminded that their citizenship was, in fact, in heaven. It did not mean that they were to live in whatever way they liked until they got to heaven. On the contrary, they were to model their lives after Christ’s self-giving love as they waited for Him to come back from heaven. In other words, they were not to live an otherworldly life, but live in a manner worthy of the Gospel in this age (Philippians 1: 27). They were to give their primary allegiance to Christ, not to Caesar - even if they were Roman citizens.

Likewise, we should give our primary allegiance to Christ. We have a dual citizenship, if you like. On the one hand, we are citizens of Australia, and there are rights and responsibilities associated with that. On the other hand, we should give our first and foremost loyalty to Christ Himself.

If we are committed to Christ in this way, then we need to follow His way of life and adopt the value system of His kingdom. Should our asylum seekers policy be simply about border protection? Or should it be firstly about loving our neighbour as ourselves? According to the United Nations agency, UNHCR, the number of asylum claims lodged in Australia in 2009 was 6,170. This is a small number compared with, for example, 33,250 in Canada, 29,840 in the UK, and 41,980 in France. Surely we can be more compassionate when it comes to our asylum seekers policy.

In recent years, Australia has increased its level of overseas aid. But Australia is still one of the few developed countries not committed to reaching 0.7 per cent of gross national income, in accordance of the Millennium Development Goals (Sixteen out of twenty three developed countries have committed to reach 0.7 per cent by 2015 at the latest.). Which of the political parties are committed to this level of aid? About 8.8 million children die every year before they reach their fifth birthday because of preventable diseases. Surely Australia can do more to change this.

Voting for others
My friend is right. Voting for the benefit of others should be the priority of Christians as they live in a democracy. I am not suggesting that social, economic and foreign policies are simple matters. Homelessness, climate change, and indeed the matters mentioned above, are all complex issues. But in all these issues we must maintain an attitude and mindset that does not conform to the pattern of this world (Romans 12: 1-2). We need to orient our lives towards God, and seek to bear witness to Christ’s way of life as we exercise our democratic rights. 

Our commitment to Christ means that we are to be thoughtful and prayerful when it comes to voting. We may find ourselves having to examine each political party’s policies - and not just the statements of their individual policies, but also the priorities they place against each policy. Our love for God and for our neighbour calls us to examine our lives and repent of our selfishness. And in this process we learn to be better citizens of heaven and followers of Jesus.