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.
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;
- free market vs. socialism (on the grounds that neither position is Christian); and
Issues that should cause us pause for thought are:
- capital punishment; and
- homosexual civil unions.
The important issues are:
- racial discrimination; and
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.
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.