By Roydon Frost.
There is very little democracy in the world of the Bible. It is certainly not the prevailing form of government. That means there is little by way of explicit direct counsel for Christian voters. But that doesn’t mean we can’t draw from the well of biblical wisdom as election day approaches. Here are some biblical truths that might help to guide us come May 8.
There is much in the Bible that bids us to stay engaged with our culture, wherever it is not expressly anti-God. We are to live in the world, give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, pay our taxes. This is not an absolute obligation – withdrawal or opposition are valid options where the culture is openly anti-God. But it would seem that when it comes to voting in this society at this time, nothing disqualifies us from participating. On the contrary, we are called to engage and vote as Christians. But what might that mean?
2. Vote for truth and justice
Given all the injunctions against uneven scales, and bribery in Proverbs (e.g. 11.1, 17.23 20.23); given all the exhortation towards honest dealing, truth-telling and impartial judgement in the same book (e.g. 10.9, 12.19, 24.23) ; given the fulfilment of all this in Christ – it seems obvious that we as Christians should direct our attentions to politicians and parties that are committed to truth in an open, just society. We can give no quarter to those sophists and skeptics who like Pilate would ask “what is truth?”, who care only for what works, and who will say whatever is expedient. In this area as in every other, there are no perfect candidates – but there are some on the ballet who are non-starters.
3. Vote for the poor
Any Christian who casts his ballet must surely be casting with the hope that it will benefit the poorest in our society. God’s heart is for the widow, orphan, poor and the alien in the land. Ours must be the same – no less on voting day. Of course, discerning which policies are in fact pro-poor is another question entirely. In the long run, is capitalism or socialism better for the poor? Or take the explosive issue of land reform: is expropriation without compensation more likely to enrich a political elite and undermine food security, or redress past injustices and secure political stability? Before I’m accused of being a ghost agent for the FFP, or the BLF, let me be clear: I am not advocating for either of these positions. I am making the point that the issues are complex. And perhaps the most important lesson for voting purposes is to steer clear of those peddling simple solutions or silver bullets. Far better the candidate who is determined to help the poor, but also acknowledges the complexity of doing so.
4. Vote for checks and balances
In Deuteronomy 16-18 we find the national power of Israel distributed across four offices under the word of God (judge, king, priest and prophet). While this institutional framework is particular to Old Testament theocratic Israel, there is still divine wisdom for 21st century South African democracy. It is clearly not wise to invest absolute power in any one individual, institution or party. So as voters, strange as it may sound, we should never hope for the overwhelming, unrivalled success of “our” party. We should equally never wish the other parties away. In the Providence of God, they keep each other “honest”, or at least as honest as political parties can be.
5. Vote for freedom of religion
It makes no gospel sense to vote for parties that are hostile to the Christian faith and looking to close down freedoms relating to the propagation of our faith (freedoms of religion, expression, and association). No party is campaigning on that particular platform, though certain ideologies are openly anti-faith. We need to recognise them. We also need to do our research on which politicians from which parties are working to close the space assigned by those three freedoms in our constitution.
6. Vote for peace
Christians are often exhorted to be a people concerned for peace (e.g. Rom 12.18, 1 Tim 2.1-2). It is one thing to provoke short-term strife for the sake of long-term peace. All change causes some turmoil. It is another to be committed to long-term strife by taking entrenched positions in identity politics. People’s identities will not change, so by opposing a certain group, as a position of policy, you are investing in long-term conflict. We need to have a nose for the odor of identity politics, from whichever side of the political street it emanates.
7. Vote in peace
When all is said and done, our colours are not red, blue or Jamaican. Our hope is not in May 8th. We are not citizens in a democracy. We are subjects in a monarchy. Our King is all-powerful, and all good. In the grand scheme of things our vote matters very little. What truly matters is God’s election of us in Christ. All the more reason to go and vote, wisely, prayerfully but also peacefully and cheerfully – with magnanimity for those across the aisle, and with hope for a future which, thank God, does not depend on my vote.