August 21, 2013

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.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

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