Should a Christian vote Green?

Danny Green

Well now, there’s a fire starter.  Of course if you were around fifty years ago the word “Green” would be removed from that sentence and it would an even hotter topic.  We’ve come a long way from the full-blown compound-esque Christianity which angsted over whether or not whether it should even dignify the “worldly” political process by turning up at the ballot box.  I still recall that my great grandparents – Open Brethren in Belfast, Northern Ireland – had nothing to do with the political process because it was worldly – (they probably had a point, it being Northern Ireland and all that – pacificist Ed).

But should a Christian vote Green?  I ask the question because time after time on Facebook and elsewhere I see Australians who are Christian bemoaning the manner in which mainstream politics is being played out in this country.  It may surprise some Greens to realise that many mainstream traditional Christians – a group often suspicious of the Greens wider agenda – would consider them on Sept 7 just to make a point about justice for asylum seekers. I can see the pencils hovering over the ballot papers even now. That has been the conversation I have had with several people, and indeed have had with myself.

But then there is the other side of the coin – the redefinition of marriage, the almost celebratory aspect held towards abortion and euthanasia that I believe that the Green parties hold.  I dunno, but I get troubled when sobering matters such as those latter two in particular are held out primarily (note that word) as expressions of the triumph of individual rights.  There is a perceived gleefulness towards them from the Greens that I draw back from.

The Green Lantern

So in a real sense the party that champions the rights of the individual on some matters (abortion, euthanasia gay marriage etc), finds itself hoist on its own petard on other matters. What do I mean by that? Well, in what is, rightly, a call for a more compassionate community approach to the asylum seeker issue, the Greens are calling for us all to pull together, to be a community that puts aside our individual rights and see the bigger picture for what it is.  Much of the push back against asylum seekers in Australia appears to be from a sense that “they jumped the cue and they are going to make life just that little bit harder – for me and what is mine.” People – voters – are thinking “What’s in it for me?” or more to the point “What of mine is being threatened by this?”  It’s an individualistic approach, and I applaud the Greens for standing their ground on this one.

But, back to the original question: Should a Christian vote Green?  Should they not?  Well, before I answer that, let me give you some more food for thought. The primary problem I can see for the Greens (and other strongly self-pronounced ideological parties)  is that “law” will not transform someone’s actions and thoughts, only “gospel” will.  Now why did I bring the gospel into this one? Simply because the baseline problem of the Greens is the baseline mistake of many sermons one hears in churches today, indeed of many Christian political parties too.  And that is this: If I point out people’s faults constantly, where they are going wrong and how they need to improve/change/adjust, then somehow over time they will fall into line and change!  That somehow, given enough “tellings off” they will alter their behaviour!  No one ever changes that way – or if they do, it is sullenly, and often only temporary, or in appearance only, whereupon they find a way to get around the law and continue to do what they want.  That’s the nature of law – it won’t transform you in order for you to want to change, it can only compel you by force, and once their back is turned, outward change dissipates.

Green Acres (in black and white? – Ed)

Now “law” is not all bad, is it? Get enough speeding fines and soon enough you start to get the point – or the bus.  However, I worked the phones in the Traffic Camera Section of the Police Dept of WA for a year (don’t despise me please) and law did not humble people.  It did not bring out the best in them, it simply made them more self-righteous and angry.  My wife worked in the prison system for several years, and let me tell you self-righteousness goes all the way down to the men held in isolation for their own safety.

 This struck me when watching various Greens Senators on Q and A over the past few years.  Every opportunity to speak ended up sounding like too many sermons I have heard – and wish I never had.  Sermon not envisioning us with “gospel”, but haranguing us with “law”.  And if “law” has never internally transformed one Christian to change their outward behaviour effectively and over a long period of time, then why should it change the average Australian, who probably resents being told they earn too much, give too much, think too little about the bigger issues, and drive a V6 that sucks up way too much juice?  Whilst all those things may be true of Aussies, it all feels a little like receiving the speeding fine in the mail – you hear it and you naturally self-justify.

Green Goblin

As a Christian I find my view on asylum seekers coinciding with the Greens, but not my foundational reasoning for it – not insofar as the party’s public platform is concerned, notwithstanding Christians who are members of the Greens.  Yes, there is a human rights viewpoint.  Yes there is a desperate need for the community to be compassionate – to all pull together on this one.  But for me, the reason is far deeper – and it is a gospel reason, not a law one.  It is because Messiah Jesus has welcomed me in – a stranger, someone excluded from the benefits of belonging to covenant Israel.  Just as Israel itself – the OT church – was called to welcome the alien in her midst because of her own alienation in Egypt, my reasons are theological, they are covenantal, they are gospel.  And in a secular setting this cannot be appealed to outside of the church in a way that will soften hearts.  All that is left, therefore, is law.  I know, I know, people will point to Wilberforce, but it was gospel that he appealed to when he called for the abolition of slavery.  He and his crew were under no illusions that England at that time was governed by the gospel, but realised that England still claimed to be! He said, “Ok, if that is what you call yourselves – Christian – then I appeal to you from the God of your Scriptures – put this practice aside.”  We have no such common call.  The very mosaic culture we celebrate – mosaic lifestyles, mosaic spirituality, mosaic understandings of family, gender, sexuality, is the very thing that enervates a call for common decency when it comes to the asylum seeker matter. Political parties that are publicly perceived as more ideological than pragmatic will a), never really come to grips with this, and b) never fully be trusted with the reins of power in a privatised, pragmatically driven culture. Which leaves the asylum seekers, literally, all at sea.

The point of this post was not to have a go at the Australian Greens.  It was to point out what happens when we try to engineer the culture through sheer willpower to do what power itself is powerless to do.  And that is why I also have a problem with political parties or political movements within the church that attempt to go toe to toe with secular politics in order to push an agenda on the other issues that I mentioned – gay marriage, abortion and euthanasia.  Unless we can find a common ground to fight a battle then that battle is pretty much over before it’s begun.  There may well be some common ground in this increasingly mosaic culture, so look for it, but as the monolithic ice sheet of common cultural assumptions breaks up we may find ourselves marooned on ever shrinking pieces of an ice floe, calling out across a bleak ocean.

So should a Christian vote for the Greens? Well, that’s up to you.  Here’s an idea. Phone up your local candidate, sit down with them and have a chat.  Then do that with the other parties as well.  Read up their websites if you cannot get hold of them.  Are they a person committed to public office, who will represent you and your region well and with bravery and honesty?  If so, despite the differences you have on some matters – even important matters – make a community decision – one that is not simply in your self interest, but also in the interest of others. I knew a Greens MLC here in WA highly committed to mental health solutions here in the Eastern suburbs.  That’s a great raison d’être.  Who knows, the Greens candidate could end up being the one who gets that eye-sore of a local park up to a standard good enough that families in the area start bringing their kids along to it again. You could end up meeting people you don’t know and start to share life with them, maybe even the gospel. And that would be a benefit not just for the community in this age, but for the age to come as well.

14 Comments

    1. Steve, I only just ‘discovered’ your blog and deeply appreciate your insightful, nuanced and gospel-centred approach. And that’s good, practical advice in your last paragraph. Thank you!

  1. Hi Steve, I would have thought that law, (while not producing a heart change) would at very least stop people treasuring up so much wrath for themselves on the day of wrath-which would be an act of grace. In which case it would be better if Christian values were the ones our government enforced, and not purely humanistic values. Thus, wouldn’t it be good for Christians to be involved in politics? (And greens to not be)

    1. Yep – good point Ashley. I think it does do that. However the NT does seem to have a complex relationship to law. So Paul can say that we should heed our rulers as God has put them in place to govern justly, whilst at the same time Revelation excoriates the rulers of the day, in light of their rebellion against the King. In a democracy this becomes more complex still, as in that time there was no recourse to change things. There is now – and still will be for some time. But, for example, what the law gives it can take away. It gives us the right for freedom of worship/expression etc, but gives it to those we fundamentally oppose also. By that I mean that coercion cannot be the future even in areas of sexuality, perhaps not even in how the STATE views marriage, because we cannot expect the state to function Christianly. I think we should strongly express our views on these matters, but the day is probably coming when we will be on the wrong side of the law on many issues – laws that have been put into place by a duly elected democratic government. The church will – on marriage – probably end up like much of Europe – where a civic ceremony is required that is separate from the church and then anyone with Christian beliefs (or any other) can do the “religious bit” afterwards. The only place it would seem to protest is if the church is coerced to marry those whom it does not believe God has joined together. In that case we can simply refer to the first point “Freedom of worship/expression/conscience” etc – which we must allow to be universalised for those who do not agree with us also.

      1. Hi Steve, thanks for the reply. I’m not entirely sure what your thesis is here, but i’ll have a crack at what I think it is.

        Yep, I understand that the first century rulers were less than ideal, and that Christians were to respect them. However, this appears to tell us nothing about the involvement of Christians in government, but rather what to do when you already have a dodgey government that can’t be changed by anything other than rebellion. I would say that the very reason we should be involved in politics is because in a democracy values can be enforced without rebellion, and in fact should be because of my above argument.

        I’m not sure why coercion cannot be the future in areas of sexuality etc. In your example of freedom of worship/expression, it is entirely possible that other religions could be outlawed as they have been in previous civilizations (not saying I’m for that btw). It doesn’t prove that we must have such tolerance of other views, it only states a current situation. Your argument that we cannot expect the state to function Christianly only describes expectations and not necessarily what is right. Just because we expect that p platers will speed does not mean we don’t try to stop them from doing it.

        I agree that when we have such laws already and are unable to change them, we should only disobey if we find ourselves in an Acts 5:29 situation-obeying God rather than man. But in the meantime, your argument appears to give no reason for why Christians should stay out of politics. It seems to be that because we aren’t a Christian nation we should not try to change any laws, which would actually be an ungracious response if my original argument holds true.

        Or, have I been barking up the wrong tree and you are OK with Christian values being championed in politics but you are just expecting that we shouldn’t get too excited about it if (or most likely when) we will no longer have any ability to influence laws?

  2. (I suspect you may have been expecting a comment from me on this one?!)

    So… are you saying the major parties *aren’t* ideological??

    On your last paragraph, this is something I have been thinking about – voting for the best person rather than the best party. Do you reckon that’s generally the best approach? I kind of feel like if everyone did that (ie. put aside ideology and voted for PEOPLE of integrity, compassion, justice etc), we’d end up with a better government regardless of which party was in power. But then there’s the issue that power will always corrupt even those who start out with great intentions.

    That’s why in my own thinking I keep coming back to the idea that regardless of how Christians cast their ballots, we shouldn’t leave it at that. I feel that perhaps our primary involvement in politics should be of a prophetic nature, on the other 1094 days of the election cycle – calling parties and individual politicians to account, exposing corruption and greed, lobbying (as well as working) for the protection of society’s most vulnerable (the unborn, the elderly, the poor, the asylum seekers, the children of addicts and inmates, the homeless, etc) and for stewardship of the planet, etc etc. I feel like democracy has a lot of untapped potential that we are not realising because many Christians get fixated on finding the party they are most aligned to and leaving it at that.

    Yes, legislation won’t change hearts, but it still matters, and while we do have the right and the opportunity to influence it, I totally believe there is a place for that.

    In fact, when I was reading through some of the Greens’ policies and core principles recently, I was thinking how their principle of ‘grassroots participatory democracy’ could mean that if large numbers of Christians actually joined the Greens out of solidarity with their commitment to at least the CONCEPT of social justice, sound ecological stewardship, and peace & non-violence (even if framed by differing world views), theoretically they might have to change their position on some of the points of contention?! (see here – http://greens.org.au/about)

    To sum up, I agree: real change comes from the heart. But just because legislation won’t necessarily prevent a man from beating his wife, doesn’t mean the law should abandon her to such treatment while waiting for him to undergo a spiritual transformation. And the solution to greed in big corporations is heart-change, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be kept accountable to paying fair taxes, treating their employees properly, stamping out sexual harassment in their workplaces etc. EVERY party will legislate about things where the ultimate solution is gospel transformation – I feel that the issue is choosing what are your ‘deal-breakers’ in terms of what you believe the role of government should be. Personally I feel like it is more realistic in a fallen world to legislate economic justice than to legislate sexual morality. And actually, even on that point you might be surprised by how ‘conservative’ the Greens’ policies are with regard to things like the objectification of women and sexualisation of children in the media etc.

    Now, I would be curious to know what you think of donkey voting 😉

    1. Hi Deb – well thought out as usual. Perhaps this is where the watershed lies – I do think that we should be politically involved, but perhaps putting caveats on it for my friends in Christian parties etc. I am not being pessimistic about it, but rather saying, we cannot expect it to go our way – which is, I think, where many are coming from. And I guess on the issue of “a fallen world” there would be people whose perspective it is that issues such as abortion etc are far more pressing than legislating economic justice (should we have to choose?). I am probably down the end of the spectrum in which creating a counter community to the secular culture is more important – a counter community that bleeds into the wider culture. I do think that Christians should take their place at the table – the political/literary/economic tables etc, but need to be realistic about what they can achieve and what they need to compromise on. The primary problem with working alongside deeply ideological groups is that pragmatism is seen as a sign of weakness, when in fact it is probably democracy’s strength. I do think think the majors have ideology and I couched my language about the Greens in light of the fact that they often see pragmatism as betrayal to the ideology. Australians are suspicion of ideologies – and they lump the church in with that.

  3. I guess the other point I would make Deb is whether or not the Greens would work with you (the collective youse), when your differences on matters such as sexuality come to the fore. After all, I’ve had friends from the political centre virtually accuse me of being the equivalent of an unreconstructed racist from the Deep South for my perspective on marriage equality. And I am not even advocating a hard right response. So a committed person on the Left – indeed someone in the Greens – who holds a different perspective to you on this matter, doesn’t just hold a different perspective, (and why cant we all just get along), they would view it as betrayal if they were to work with someone on Social Justice issues who held what they view as a KKK equivalent view on marriage. The next question is: Which of you (youse) will shift position on that to accommodate working together on the Social Justice issue? I think that is where the difficult conversations begin, not on the soft edges of common grace matters.

  4. Hi Ash – I read through your well-considered response to get to the last sentence which sums up my view actually! I think we can get involved in politics, however my observation is that we DO get over-excited about it, over-reach ourselves or get hijacked by other agendas in the process of it – so for me it’s a case of proceeding with extreme caution. James Davison Hunter’s book “To Change the World” is the instructive one for me. I also grew up in a time (makes me sound old!) in which some of the Christian Reconstructionists such as Roussas Rushdoony were still making noise. Of course we can be coercive about anything – and laws are exactly that – but only in the sense that I would never see that as anything but a temporary “triumph” that yet, will not change peoples’ predispositions or desires. How we view the church and its function in the wider culture is part of our different perspectives on this, I think. Another blog post – clarifying and widening? – might help. Perhaps you may care to guest blog for me?

    1. Thanks for clarifying Steve. I understand what you mean because I have (all to often!) seen truth expressed in such a way that I want to distance myself from those who state it. Perhaps a little like the atheists Jordan kept running into who felt the need to say that they were an atheist “but not like Dawkins!”. I don’t think I’m the ideal person for a guest blog about the issue though, but thanks for the offer!

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