Courting the Christian vote

With a budget and election so close, Australians are being asked to pass judgment on a wide range of issues. In the past, politics often seemed to be a simple left-right contest with the main parties competing for the middle ground.  But today, politicians often treat voters less like citizens and more like consumers, offering products specially designed to appeal to particular market segments. Christians are one of those segments.

Many question whether there is really such a thing as the Christian vote, and whether it can be won over by any single set of political offerings. Quite obviously Australian Christians are politically diverse and sophisticated, and they don’t fall neatly into any camp. Kevin Rudd often observed that no political party owned faith, and that Jesus was never the Liberal member for Jerusalem West or the Labor member for Bethlehem.

People of firm faith, and complete goodwill, are perfectly capable of forming differing political views. But what we do bring to our political thinking, whether we be of progressive or conservative bent, is a distinctly Christian faculty – conscience.

Conscience means that political participation, whether voting or advocacy or even civil disobedience, is not something to be taken lightly. It is not an area where Christians should choose easy options, nor should we conform to political norms or pressures when our thoughtful, prayerful deliberations lead us otherwise.

Martin Luther King observed that budgets are moral documents, not just financial ones. He was echoing the words of Jesus who said that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). So a public budget reflects our collective heart, or at least a government’s interpretation of it. It says whose thriving we care about, and whose we care about less.

Last month the leaders of 15 Australian Christian denominations issued a joint call for a pause in the cuts to the Australian aid programme, a call I strongly support. As Christians we need not conform to the radical individualist mindset that puts self-interest ahead of the common good.We should apply the test of conscience.

This does not mean we only accept absolute rights and wrongs. But it does mean taking the time and trouble to think hard about how we best help bend the arc of the moral universe that little bit further towards justice.