SA Voters’ Guide Critique #9: Conclusions

What remains is for us to look at some overall conclusions regarding this collection of principles for Christian voting.

Is that it!?
The first general remark is that this document surely cannot represent all that the Bible has to say about politics in eight narrow principles.

One glaring omission that occurred to me is ecology. Scripture is not unclear at all about our responsibility to ‘have dominion’ over the earth by caring for it and seeing that it flourishes. Furthermore, it is no longer an issue that is of minor importance. We are only now becoming aware of the deep structural damage that we’re able to do to our environment, and of the number of God’s creatures that are critically endangered by our practices (which is all the more serious if you happen to believe in the fixity of species), let alone the thousands that have already passed away forever in recent decades alone.

The eight points that he’s chosen don’t properly address deeper issues of social justice, preferring rather to reduce Biblical economics to the free market, and legal justice to the death penalty.

Having said that, I can appreciate that it is difficult to distil Biblical political issues down into a short series of principles without being unhelpfully reductionistic, and yet there is a need for this kind of thing.

What remains?
The next problem concerns the genuine relevance of the eight principles. Of the eight, which of them represent issues that must shape a Christian’s vote, and which are a matter of preference?

The issues of relative unimportance (at least in the form in which they appear on the document) are:

  • acknowledgement of God in the Constitution;
  • education;
  • free market vs. socialism (on the grounds that neither position is Christian); and
  • self-defence.

Issues that should cause us pause for thought are:

  • capital punishment; and
  • homosexual civil unions.

The important issues are:

  • racial discrimination; and
  • abortion.

Given that affirmative action is not evidence enough of a racist disposition, there is no evidence that any of the parties on the SA Voter’s Guide support racism, and I know of no smaller party that is trying to corner the racist vote either.

Abortion, then, is the only serious issue on the list. While Christians should make abortion a leading policy decision, I am not sure that it ought to outweigh every other consideration. Certainly, if we get the opportunity to vote on the matter of abortion, it’s an easy decision. But in a general election, is it more important that we vote for a party that is likely to lead the country well, or one that merely agrees with us on this one ethical issue?

There are other issues that have serious implications for human life, for our right to exercise our faith, and for the reputation of the gospel (particularly if a party calls itself Christian).

Furthermore, we must ensure that we aren’t using our vote to absolve ourselves of responsibility for abortion, as though as long as we vote for a party that opposes it, we ourselves need not do anything more. If we thinkit is a holocaust, then we need to work at persuading people that it is an evil, and we need to work at solutions for the problems surrounding unwanted pregnancies.

Evaluation
I appreciate the author’s attempt at making a brief guide to issues that should concern Christians, and I can also understand that trying to pose questions and represent issues in a way that gets quickly to the heart of it is very, very difficult. So, some credit must go his way.

However, the author must be rebuked for either sloppiness or dishonesty in the way that he has used scripture and represented the beliefs of the parties. For example, calling certain parties racist on the insubstantial ground that they are in favour of affirmative action, given the extremely sensitive matter that race is in our country, is extremely irresponsible, and no doubt unnecessarily offensive to the parties concerned. Such lack of wisdom on that point is a discredit to the gospel.

He also deserves to be strongly criticised for making right-wing political favourites (such as gun ownership, the free market and anti-affirmative-action) seem as though they are Biblical issues. He presents a number of negotiable issues as though they are Christian duties, while attempting to make it seem as though they have Biblical backing. On the whole, the document ends up being myopic and manipulative, and it needs massive revision if it is to be a genuine help to the Christian church in navigating through political waters.

Clearly, a document that boils down to posing abortion and racism as the only two binding political issues for Christians is a long way from adequate. There is much more to scripture and to politics than a couple of ethical hot potatoes.

The issues that should concern Christians ought to include at least the following:

  • Freedom of religion – we need guarantees that we will be allowed to continue worshipping God in the way prescribed by our scriptures, including the ability to deny office to non-Christians and habitual sinners, especially with the pressure to ordain homosexuals, and with a number of churches still convinced that eldership is a males-only office.
  • Freedom of speech – freedom of speech might allow people to blaspheme and verbally abuse Christians if they like, but it is also the only guarantee that we are able to fulfil the Great Commission. Preaching the gospel can be incredibly offensive to people, as it inevitably means that we need to tell them that their lifestyles are evil, their prophets are liars and their gods are dead idols. If our government removes that right, the gospel is under threat. In addition to this, free speech allows us to criticise injustice, even in the highest office, and it allows us to advocate unpopular opinions if we choose (such as anti-abortion). It is a very important principle for evangelism and social justice. Even Christian parties that would downgrade free speech in order to ‘protect’ the gospel are introducing a deadly precedent and their efforts may have the opposite effect.
  • Consistent application of justice – justice is not exclusively about the legal system, but also concerns fair treatment of the poor and defenceless. A party’s approach to justice can have a big influence of financial security, crime and poverty. For instance, if our tax money is used justly, then it means that the best projects are done most efficiently, improving the lives of those who most need it. If administrators are corrupt, our tax money get spent on multi-million rand birthday parties for officials, contracts are awarded to friends who intend to line their pockets, and no one pays attention to what is best for the country, but only what’s best for themselves. That means we pay more taxes for less, and those who really need the improvements never see them.So, if a party is more concerned with protecting its corrupt members from prosecution than it is with punishing corruption wherever it’s found, then you can be sure that everyone’s lives will be affected for the worse. Every party is likely to say that they are for justice and against corruption, so official statements might not be the best guide. What the parties do about corruption will tell you what they believe.

I would consider these to be three chief political cornerstones for Christians in plural society. They all strike the right balance between freedom and justice, and they are principles that serve a plurality of cultures, without drastically impeding the observance of a variety of beliefs and practices.

I would also be a help to have a short summary of the parties’ views on key matters such as economics and foreign policy, as well as some idea of their analyses of the chief problems in society and proposed solutions. Where appropriate, a biblical appraisal of their answers could be added. For instance, it would be great to know whether or not the Communist Party intends on killing the Bourgeoisie, or whether a Christian party believes that Jesus is returning on World Cup Final day in 2010.

Long story short, much of the information that Christians need is missing from such a document, and probably can’t be reduced to a simple yes/no answer. Perhaps it’s time for evangelical Christians with political training to create a document that will properly fill the gap that SA Voter’s Guide is trying (and failing) to fill.

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8 thoughts on “SA Voters’ Guide Critique #9: Conclusions

  1. Brendon Schafer says:

    You had many valid points throughout your critique and I appreciate the opportunity to think through my own stand again.
    I again, disagree that education is of minor importance. May I point out that SA has implemented an Outcomes Based Education system. May I ask a question in this regard? Who set the outcome? How much of the outcome does the parent have a say in? If a parent doesn’t approve of a textbook, what then? How much say does she have?
    I seriously think that this policy is far more important than you make it out to be. In fact, I’d say it is more important than the abortion issue, simply because if humans are not created in the Image of God and our children are taught the same, then we are just animals and we’ll start behaving as animals. Anything goes. Abortion is only the first part of that massacre.

    • Jordan Pickering says:

      OBE seems to concern itself with achieving demonstrable outcomes, rather than being the first education system to have a goal. Non-OBE systems also were designed. Apartheid education was also goal-directed and selective, and it also wrote history in a way that suited government purposes.

      Secondly, I think we’re a little bit prone to seeing the illuminati behind everything (maybe it’s Tim LaHaye’s fault). What I mean is, we seem always to suspect that there is sinister plot behind these sorts of things. Maybe that’s true, but Occam’s Razor would suggest that our government is as busy as we are and doesn’t have sufficient time to conspire against Christians. Education is being engineered to make sure that all students are taught by capable teachers, according to a single curriculum that has measurable results, and to make sure that there aren’t little enclaves of bigotry ensuring that their children aren’t exposed to the evils of integration (or whatever). Given that in our past we had lots of education curricula, with all of the best of everything going to the white kids, and good education being withheld from the ‘slave races’, I think that it is a reasonable and laudable plan.

      If I am mistaken and all our children become antichrist drones calling for the totalitarian rule of the One, I will be heartily sorry.

  2. Brendon Schafer says:

    Jesus did say that we are to be as cunning as serpents and as gentle as doves, so this comment is said with caution.
    Let’s talk about freedom of speech for a moment.
    Am I free to talk nasty things about you behind your back – basically stuff that degrades your character? I hope the answer is no.
    My point being, that freedom of speech and every other freedom has barriers. The question is where do you want the barriers to be?
    Christians cannot be blasphemed, only God can be blasphemed.
    I haven’t found the need during evangelism to trash the other persons beliefs, idols, gods etc. Calling people sinners in of forgiveness is offensive enough, without having to resort to name calling and some god or idol ridiculing.
    Freedom of speech also permits pornography. Just a correction, we don’t live in a pluralistic society. We live in a permissive society.

    • Jordan Pickering says:

      Regarding boundaries, I do believe that it is your right to say the nastiest things you can muster behind my back, but I earnestly urge you to behave better than that. I draw the line at action. That is, you are not free to wield a half-brick with menace against my person, because that is harder to shrug off than your opinion of me (which I am at liberty to ignore). Similarly, some forms of speech are regarded as crossing a line into action, such as hate speech, which is specific incitement to criminal action (as when you convince your neighbour to take a half-brick to my person – it is usually recognised that you are not blameless before the law when you use language so).

      If we try to draw the line anywhere other than action, it becomes really difficult to manage, because whose opinion of ‘nasty’ do we use? Do we take the lowest common denominator (i.e. the most sensitive conscience)? [There was a ruling in Britain a few years back that prohibited men from using words like ‘luv’ and ‘duck’ and ‘dear’ in reference to women, because it is apparently sexist; it’s much the same with all so-called political correctness].

      Letting people freely air their (sometimes stupid or revolting) ideas, and giving people the freedom to respond to them is the best way of keeping society safe from oppression and bigotry, and free to a variety of beliefs opinions.

      In terms of evangelism, those ideas that I mentioned are always implicit in the gospel, even if there is not always need to bring them out into the open in such a blunt way. There is much antagonism at the moment for the idea that there is a hell, for instance. In the minds of some, to teach children that they’re hell-bound is hateful. There are all sorts of these minefields in the gospel if people are trying to be offended.

      Finally, the permissiveness of society is regrettable, but we at least have the freedom to make a case against pornography (for instance) if we like, as I have tried to do once or twice. Furthermore, there is a recognition in our society that certain freedoms should not be inflicted upon others against their will, and so there are appropriate places for pornography that are (theoretically) avoidable if you wish to avoid them. There are plenty of societies that are not permissive at all, such as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, but their balance between responsibility and freedom ends up looking much more like slavery, and freedom of religion perished along with everything else.

  3. Brendon Schafer says:

    I do believe that it is your right to say the nastiest things you can muster behind my back, but I earnestly urge you to behave better than that.

    And I agree with you.
    Now let’s talk about saying the nastiest things about God? I would earnestly urge people not to say nasty things about Him either. Freedom of speech is good, but we must understand the boundaries. Blasphemy and bearing false witness are both Commandments.

    • Jordan Pickering says:

      “Blasphemy and bearing false witness are both Commandments.”

      Commandments to the church primarily. We also usually fail to consider how God urges the church to respond to the unbelieving world, which is with compassion and patience (which is, incidentally, the way in which God typically treats blasphemers).

      Equally importantly, we still need to look at it from the side of government (i.e. the legal rights perspective). If you can’t ‘defame’ a god, whose god qualifies? Do ancestors qualify? Can living people be gods? Is every Hindu god out of bounds? Can they add gods (if they were interested in, say, deifying Mother Theresa, for instance?

      And then what counts as defamation? Do I have to swear? Do I have to say something untrue (and then how do you prove its truth?)? Do I merely have to offend a religious person? Is it defamation of Allah to say that Christ is Lord? Is it defamation of Allah to say that stoning children for ‘adultery’ (like when your uncle rapes you) is evil? And so it goes on.

      Make no mistake, there are two easily applicable ways of governing these questions fairly for all. Either you allow people freedom to blaspheme, or you insist that everyone keeps their religious views to themselves (unless asked). The first option allows me to be Christian, the second option does not. Consequently, I don’t mind if unbelievers say stupid things about God, because I already know that they are blasphemers, I am not duty bound to take offence, and it guarantees that I am allowed to tell them the gospel in any way that seems right. [It also guarantees that the church is allowed to evict Christian blasphemers, which seems to concern God overwhelmingly more than blaspheming outsiders].

  4. Mary says:

    Thank you for this exposition of your thoughts, Jordan. It’s very thought-provoking. I agree with many things you say and disagree on some issues.

    One thing in particular which I would like to mention concerns your evaluation on the extent to which the issue of abortion should sway our vote. I certainly agree that it is by no means the only important issue. However, I do think it is one of those issues which ought to disqualify a political party from getting a Christian’s vote. The difference is subtle, but important. I don’t automatically vote for a pro-life party, but I categorically refuse to vote for a pro-choice party. John Piper expresses this very well:
    http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articles/ByDate/1995/1524_OneIssue_Politics_OneIssue_Marriage_and_the_Humane_Society/

  5. Geoff says:

    Thanks for the great critique of the so-called SA Voters’ Guide and the expose of its glaring inadequacies, Jordan. Time is coming when it will re-surface once again.

    Perhaps Peter Hammond ought to revise it in the light of Jacob Zuma’s profound insights on the entry requirements for Heaven. Perhaps you need to own a gun AND an ANC membership card. Or will one suffice?

    Maybe the two of them can do a duet of “Umshini wam”?

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