Election 2015: Mistakes to Avoid
Before moving into academia, Regent College President Jeff Greenman worked in the US government in the areas of education and juvenile justice, and also served in national politics. We asked him to advise Christians on what to consider when voting in the October 19, 2015 federal election.
A tight race
Like most Canadians, I am not sure yet how I will vote in the upcoming federal election on October 19. Polls tell us that most people are undecided. It is an unusually tight race. No party has separated itself from the others, nor distinguished itself by its obviously superior platform or leadership. The rhetoric is increasingly heated. This election seems even more complicated than previous ones. How should people of Christian conviction think about voting?
To vote or not to vote?
Let’s start with the basics. I would argue that Christians should be informed about the issues and that Christians should vote. Some evangelicals in recent years have advocated not voting as a way of resisting the idolatries of the nation-state or as a means of demonstrating that our ultimate loyalty is to Jesus, his kingdom and the church, not to our nations. Some even argue that our heavenly citizenship (Phil. 3:20) means our earthly citizenship is unimportant.
Not so. We need to avoid two equal and opposite mistakes: either over-valuing politics or under-valuing it. The biblical pattern is for Christians to be engaged in the real world, not to withdraw from it. We need to live faithfully within the messy world as it is, not opt out for the sake of a preference for some ideal, non-existent world. The Bible calls for Christ followers to recognize the God-given nature of political authorities, to obey their governments, show honour and respect, and offer prayers for those in positions of authority. Yes, it also teaches that Christians should sooner disobey the state than disobey God.
But the core teaching of the Bible toward engagement with society would prompt us to seek involvement with elections whenever we have an opportunity to vote. Voting is a fruitful way for Christians, alongside all other citizens, to participate meaningfully in their societies. Many of our brothers and sisters around the world living under dictatorships would love to have the chance to vote. Let’s not throw away this privilege.
How should Christians vote?
It is our calling “to seek the welfare of the city” in which we live (Jer. 29:7). Christians have a stake in the society in which we live. We should care for the physical, economic, social, cultural, and educational health of our communities. Loving our neighbours means caring about the kind of society everyone shares. Neighbour love in practice means that Christians should care deeply about the ways in which their society treats the poor, vulnerable, and sick; care about the natural environment being respected; care about religious freedom being protected; and care about justice being done.
If so, how should Christians vote? I would advise people against being one-issue voters, even if they are passionate about one big issue. That strategy seems too simple.
I would also caution against voting for candidates based on your short-term economic self-interest. It is better to be guided by your answers to some wider questions, such as:
- Which candidate would do the most for the overall flourishing of our society?
- Which candidate’s platform is most consistent with a vision of the common good informed by our faith?
What if I don't like any of the candidates?
Politics is the realm of the relative and of the possible, not the absolute and the perfect. Recognizing the significant good that government is meant to provide for their society, Christians should study the issues, be prepared to exercise their freedom according to democratic processes, and vote for the candidate which they discern to be best able to do the most good for the society.
Party platforms: This CBC article gathers the platforms of all four federal parties in one place.
Where to vote: The Elections Canada website will tell you where to vote, what ID to bring, and which candidates are running in your riding.
Generation Squeeze: This website by UBC professor Paul Kershaw provides analysis of the party platforms based along generational lines, looking at specific issues such as housing, climate change, family policy, health care, education, and pensions. Kershaw, who believes the government is spending much less on younger Canadians than it should, has also produced a report with more analysis of these issues.