Sunday before last I sat down with a Political candidate (from Wollongong) and we discussed the upcoming Federal election this weekend as well as the not-too-far-away NSW State election.
Christians, (along with everyone else!) are often polarised by political issues and discussions of whom to vote for. This past week I received a number of emails from Christian leaders lobbying against the incumbent party by making extremist, inflammatory and possibly legally libelous remarks about the current Prime Minister. This polarises me, because what was said in these emails was, (frankly speaking), nothing more than ignorant, stupid fear mongering that completely denies the sovereignty of God in all things.
One email I received referred to a website that purported to provide an objective overview of all the political parties on a number of key issues (education, immigration, marriage, environment, welfare, religious freedom, etc) it turned out to be nothing more than a lobbying attempt to persuade people to vote for a certain minority party. Their representation of the views of major parties (Labor, Liberal, National, Greens) bordered on outright dishonesty. What then, or for whom then, should we vote? Is ours strictly a two-party system that makes any other vote a waste of time (should we desire to vote for a smaller party)? Should we follow the advice of Mark Latham and others and leave the voting forms blank? I’ve read more than a few comments in my Facebook newsfeed, especially by younger Christians, possibly voting for the first time, encouraging this practice. After all, they argue, regardless of who you vote for, you still get a politician. They then proceed to make disgusting, ungodly, critical personal remarks about a variety of politicians, which, if it were not for the free speech laws we enjoy in Australia (legislated by the politicians they attack) would result in imprisonment or death in other societies.
So, is this pastor, going to be the expert and tell us who to vote for? Well, had you come along to our discussion Sunday before last, you would know my opinion in that area, however let me provide this summary, as a brief unpacking of Jesus’ own answer when presented with a similar challenge in Mark 12:13-17.
Jesus answer to the question of whether people should pay the poll tax differed significantly from the clichéd political spin. The question was an attempt to entrap him as a cultural revolutionary. The people who came to him asking this question were ideological opposites. No matter which way he answered, so they thought, he would alienate himself and his following would dissipate accordingly. However Jesus’ response was, amazing (v17) and left his detractors speechless. He refused to play their game and his answer runs contrary to his opponents and to many views being touted today by the ill-informed.
He contradicted political simplicity. The Herodians and the Pharisees, thought they represented the two-party system (no other minority view was valid). They ask him the same question twice (v14 & v15) and want to force him to come down on the side of one group or the other. Instead Jesus doesn’t respond to their agenda. Are you guilty of doing what the Herodians and Pharisees were trying to do? Are you insistent that Jesus is for this program, not that program or party or policy etc. Do you get outraged: “How could a Christian ever vote for ?” Are you repaying to Caesar what is God’s and repaying to God what is Caesar’s?
He refuted political complacency. He asks for a denarius (which carried the cameo image of Caesar Tiberius, and the inscription of “Son of the god augustus, pontifix maximus”) and then replies, that whatever images him, give back to him. The coin belongs to Caesar, if he asks for it back then isn’t it fair to return it to him? The legislated society we enjoy today came about through the efforts of politicians. Voting is returning to them what they have given to us. However, we should be reminded that we bear the image of God! God gave us our life, gifts, talents, abilities, skills, resources, etc – shall we return them or try to keep them for ourselves?
Jesus also denied political primacy. His answer is not an acquiescence – but a challenge to be intelligent, interactive citizens. He doesn’t incite to revolt (as the Herodians and Pharisees had hoped), neither did he advocate surrender to blind dictatorial rule. Being a “good citizen” means sometimes you don’t support the government (that’s why we have elections in democratic countries – the people have the opportunity to regularly “over throw” the ruling party). This is not an advocation of being non-political, refusing to vote or casting a donkey vote. Rather it is an acknowledgement that the political process is not the only or main way of dealing with injustice, poverty, education, liberty etc – but it is part of it.
Jesus answer, “Render to Caesar what is Caesars’ and to God what is God’s” is revolutionary, because as a King, Jesus is opposite to the simplistic, complacent view advocated by secularism. The goals of the lobbyists are power, success, comfort & recognition. These are the dominating ideas and goals in the kingdom of this world. These are the things that dictate all of life’s ambitions because these are the things we prioritise and need. Everyone wants to achieve and attain these things for themselves (even the communist/socialist). Jesus’ Kingdom has no earthly power, is little known and has no comfort – he will sacrifice all of these for the sake of others – to the point of death on the cross and being forsaken by the Father. Those that follow Jesus – will lose their life – and live as those these things are not deciding factors but rather what serves God and others. No matter how you view your purpose, if it is designed around power, success, comfort and recognition then what real hope does that present other than an opiate of self-delusion? Jesus offers the kingdom of God – through his loss of power, for my sake he offers me everything – he offers the ultimate revolution. Proclaiming the gospel, Jesus inaugurates his kingdom and it confronts poverty, oppression, injustice, ignorance in a lasting way.
Ahhh, I see what this Pastor is saying. He’s advocating a form of moderation. He’s trying to find the middle road. Yet, in saying that you are falling for a minimalist, simplistic approach. “Being a Christian means you should be a moderate and not go to either extreme.” Yet, if we read Jesus carefully, it may mean becoming more political than you were previously, because you are more open to combating the effects of sin and satan in our world. Health care, welfare, hospitals, education, schools, families, care for the environment are prime on the agenda of every party! Yet they all differ in their policy and strategy of how to implement these. You cannot legislate morality and claim to live in an open democracy. Yet, you can through your vote, influence the direction of your local electorate and federal government if you refuse to be simplistic, complacent and naive. Only Jesus’ kingdom perfectly aligns with scripture – no one political party will do so, regardless of the little tables and charts they put on their websites. So, get out on Saturday and vote! Before you do, pray, ask God how will the gospel shape and influence your decision, not how will this affect my take home pay or how will this make life easier for me.