Originally published at Convivium on September 2, 2021.
Some people are jaded because of the behaviour of politicians. They challenge us to convince them they should, first, care, and second, vote.
Others want to make an informed choice and are seeking guidance on how to properly assess the options. Still others have decided. Disappointment with a party leader has left them feeling politically homeless, considering a new-to-them party because prior preferences have lost their zing.
In response to Christian friends, I committed to write an outline of how I make the decision.
Please don’t feel bound by this process. If it inspires your own (other than dartboard, Magic 8 ball, or some other randomizing device) then the effort was worth it. If we arrive at different conclusions, that’s okay.
In Canada we have a dual democratic privilege when marking our federal X. First, we elect someone who will serve and represent us as constituents in the electoral district (also called riding or constituency) in which we live. Second, we elect someone who may be aligned with a political party that we think is suited to govern. Most times, the two are in sync. Sometimes, they’re in conflict. I try to resolve any conflict by considering the character of the candidate in my riding, the character of the party leader, and position on key policy issues of concern.
The place I begin my ballot box exploration is the Bible.
Jesus, Peter and Paul―key commentators on the relationship between Christians and government―did not have the opportunity we have living in a democracy of casting a vote for their governance.
There is no explicit Biblical direction about how to vote in a democracy. That means we need to dig deeper into God’s Word.
Scripture tells us not to put our trust in princes (Psalm 146) nor in the military (Psalm 20)―formulas for disappointment or dictatorship―and encourages that we put our trust in God.
First, pray. I pray about the election, the nation (in this instance as it’s a federal election), and several issues that I know from Scripture, and guidance provided by trustworthy Christian organizations, are Biblically significant and definable: care for the poor, the elderly, the sick; justice for those who have been disadvantaged; support for families and children; freedom of religion; ethical considerations; thoughtfulness toward future generations, etc.
Here are a few places you can find background on policy issues of general interest to a diversity of Christians: The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada election kit; Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops key issues (scroll down); Centre for Public Dialogue resources on issues; Citizens for Public Justice election bulletin; Cardus research and explorations.
In Jeremiah 29 the Israelites were encouraged by God to follow a way that speaks to us today as well:
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
God wants us to live fulfilling lives and to seek the peace and flourishing of our neighbours. As Paul writes in Romans 12, “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
This includes realizing we are responsible for stewarding the world we live in for the benefit of future generations. Genesis 1 describes human beings as the culmination of creation, with the responsibility described in Genesis 2 to take care of the world entrusted to us.
In 2019, a significant percentage of Canadians shifted party support or cast ballots for parties with little likelihood of electing the 12 MPs required for official party status in the House of Commons. Some did so for principled reasons, after engaging their own assessment process of candidates, leaders, and party policies. Others did so out of protest, dissatisfaction with a party or leader with whom they were otherwise reasonably aligned.
I read one example of protest ‘voting’ in Scripture. In 1 Samuel 8 the people of Israel decided they wanted a king instead of being led by God’s appointed prophets. God let the people decide. Their choice of a king would lead to the division and destruction of their nation.
It’s important for Christians to have a principled foundation to our electoral choices.
There are two primary camps into which Christian political participation falls.
The first I will call Christian political idealism―the idea that a political party has the potential to form a government that will govern based on Biblical principles. Political idealists may also attach themselves to a particular public policy issue and assess voting options based primarily on a party’s commitment to implementing that policy.
The second is based on American theologian Reinhold Niehbuhr’s concept of Christian realism―identifying the available political options and analyzing them based on theological considerations of policy initiatives such as noted above, as well as assessing the resource capacity available to satisfy political commitments made by a candidate. Most policy initiatives of any political party will only partially align with our personal policy desires. A party that aligns with our desires on one issue may differ on another. Canadian public theologian John Stackhouse encourages us to make the best of it, weigh our Christian convictions and the available political options to make our best decision in the circumstance.
Idealist or realist, your assessment and vote are important. I fit into the realist camp.
As a realist with concern for a variety of policy issues, I narrow my interest to assessing the three national parties with the greatest likelihood of forming government, and look at the fourth that may influence a minority government. I review the publicly issued policy platforms of the Liberal, Conservative, NDP, and Bloc Québécois parties. If I find no alignment on key issues with the three national parties, I move on to other parties. It would take something akin to a miracle for another party to form government. In the current election, either the Liberals or the Conservatives are most likely to do so.
To summarize: character of the party leader and local candidate; party proposals on key issues; and, realistic likelihood of forming government. For idealists, the party that best aligns with your position on a particular issue, whether or not likely to form government.
We may arrive at different conclusions. That’s democracy. Our X need not divide us, in church or nation. Regardless of who forms government, Christians remain called to love God, love one another, and seek the best for our neighbours.
Bring on the debates!