Before we begin, let’s clear something up: there’s no such thing as the “Christian Vote”.
I encountered this misnomer many times when I was growing up. The “Christian Vote” was often referred to in church discussions about general elections, but the term misses the point that Christians (unbelievably!) aren’t all the same. I even recall one well-meaning leader in a church I attended praying that people would vote the “right” way (which precludes that there must be a “wrong” party to vote for; we were never informed which party this would be).
A bit of background: my father is a staunch National voter – he has been all his voting life. In fact, he was treasurer for our electorate for many years, and we hosted National Party meetings at our house. Unfortunately for dad, Sydenham was Jim Anderton’s seat, so National never got close to winning there. My dad’s relationship with the National Party formed my political view for much of young life – and this is something that I believe many other Christians would experience as well. National is often considered the “moral” party by Christians, and since it’s often opposed Labour’s more progressive policies, it’s considered “safe” to vote for them.
But is National really a moral choice? Aside from the casual arrogance now on display from a government that perceives itself as waltzing into a third term unopposed, other factors need to be thought through. For example, National’s decision to allow SkyCity to build a convention centre in exchange for more pokies is an action that could be described as questionable at best, and morally reprehensible at worst. Decisions like this seem to point to a party more interested in pleasing lobby groups and business backers than doing the “moral” thing.
Political parties love to spin things, and trust that the electorate has a short memory. Hence the timing of controversial decisions like SkyCity, Civil Union and Anti-Smacking bills in the middle of government terms. But you don’t have to believe the hype – and it’s never more true than when it comes to the leaders of National & Labour respectively.
John Key and David Cunliffe are streets apart in their Public Relations skills. Key is charismatic and holds a massive presence online, while Cunliffe struggles to get traction with the media. But leading a country has nothing to do with how social media savvy you are. Labour are not as bad as David Cunliffe might make them seem, and National are not as good as John Key would make them appear (yes, he’s featured in every picture on their “Plan” page). If you want to really find out what each party is about, you owe to yourself to head over to their websites and check out their policies (I’ve included links at the bottom of this post)
But back to who Christians should vote for in the New Zealand election. It’s simple – if you’re a Christian, you need to ask yourself: which party do you feel best represents the values that Christians follow? No political party is perfect, but The Bible gives some clear guidance on how we’re supposed to treat the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed. Jesus chose to spend his time with people like this, and told us to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. If we’re going to elect a government that acts on behalf of us, then we need to look at how each of these parties treats people in these categories.
Ask yourself if you want to have a government that looks on those who are disadvantaged as bludgers and losers, or if you want a government that will actively work for those who live in poverty. Also consider each party’s links with business communities and unions. Are you comfortable with a government that will give a casino permission to install pokies, a major cause of problem gambling in exchange for a free building? Many were upset with perceived “social engineering” when Labour was last in government – would you be ok if these kinds of policies were tabled again?
These aren’t easy questions, and if you came here in search of an easy or controversial answer, you won’t find one here. (Sorry!) I will offer this: don’t just vote by default for a certain party. Think of the voiceless and the forgotten in New Zealand, and consider how you would like to be treated if you were in that category. Then think about how each party has acted in the past, and what it proposes to do in the future – you should find a measure of guidance there. I’d also suggest that old chestnut, some good old prayer and reflection.
But most of all, don’t believe the hype. Look beyond smooth PR (or bad PR), and look for evidence that a party will stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.
I’m sure Jesus would be cool with that.