You may have seen a comment somewhere in your social media during this election campaign along the lines of ‘If Jesus were voting he definitely would/wouldn’t vote for [insert party/politician].’ For Christians it’s easy to understand the logic behind this; the name ‘Christian’ means ‘little Christ’ and we see imitating Christ’s actions as the best way to live – which resulted in the now passé trend to wear bracelets bearing the letters W.W.J.D. (What Would Jesus Do?). But those of different or no faith can also identify with the sentiment, whether Jesus is seen as a worthy person to imitate or as the representation of our higher ideals.
Ultimately when someone asserts that Jesus (or any other person they esteem significant) would vote a certain way, they are passing one of two judgements; either that one party is clearly superior to the others, or that another is beyond toleration. Both judgements are understandable; one is quick to applaud anyone who seems to reflect our own beliefs, and one would like to trust that a murderous and xenophobic creed such as Nazism would be justifiably denounced. But there are great dangers in making such assertions incautiously.
The first cautionary note is that if one is a Christian, one must not place on government the hopes that we place in Jesus. While the Bible has a high view of government, setting out that it is God-given and for our good, it also makes clear that it is just as fallen and in need of redemption as the rest of creation. Christians who honour a God-given call to get involved in public life continually wrestle with the truth that governing is worth doing well, but it is neither perfect, nor the solution to our woes. In Christian theology it is abundantly clear that only Jesus is Saviour, and you’re setting yourself up for disappointment if you trust in anything else – including government. The idea therefore that Jesus might clearly favour one party, person, or cause over any of the others begins on a flawed premise.
That is not to say however that voting is therefore an inconsequential or immaterial act. Throughout both the Old and New Testament God’s people are encouraged to be good citizens, even where they were living in bondage (Jeremiah 29:7) or subjected to persecution (1 Timothy 2:2). Being a good citizen today can reasonably be expected to include using the privilege of voting to bring about the best possible government for your community. It is not unreasonable therefore to ask the question ‘What kind of vote will bring about outcomes that are honouring to God?’
This presents a challenge that is not unique to Christians. Humanity is imperfect, and consequently no person, party or cause can fully satisfy or match our expectations. This is not just because we have reasonable disagreements on how things should be done, but also because any human endeavour, government included, involves working with people who are not perfect. We still aspire to the very best, but accept that making perfection the goal is unhelpful and only leads to disappointment.
Accepting that humanity can do both good and harm frees us from seeking an unobtainable perfect candidate, to instead seek the best possible (or if you like, ‘least imperfect’) candidate; expecting the best from them, but also under no illusions that they need to be held to account. If you ascribe to any human endeavour the idea that it is pure and perfect, the inevitable by-product is to expect unquestioning loyalty and obedience to that cause. Such dogmatic ideology has proven demonstrably dangerous throughout the course of human history.
If we can agree it is unhelpful to say ‘Jesus would vote for …’ there are perhaps stronger grounds for someone to argue ‘There is no way Jesus would vote for …’ There are utterly poisonous and evil groups who put themselves forward for election, and it is absolutely correct to call them out. However, where one invokes Jesus, another deity, or even an identity, you pronounce a final judgement – there is nothing more to say and the objectionable party is beyond redemption. That too can be exceedingly dangerous.
Remembering that we are all imperfect, we should all be ready to have our views challenged – the Bible poetically says: ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.’ (1 Peter 3:15) It is healthy and good to defend our views, and to always seek to improve our own understanding as much as possible. Our views may not change significantly over our lifetime, but they will most assuredly be refined.
There is absolutely scope within this to challenge other views, but challenging and being challenged have to go hand-in-hand. It is entirely reasonable for a Christian to say ‘I believe Christians should feel uneasy about this party’s policy – I am not sure I could vote for them with an easy conscience.’ It is gentle, respectful, and invites discussion. A direct ‘Thus Sayeth The Lord’ pronouncement that ‘Jesus would never support this party’ is a full stop rather than a pause for response. It does not honour that we are all truth seekers; that in common grace we each have something good to bring to a discussion, and that in common fallibility none of us are perfect. Rather than provoking understanding, and treasuring our common humanity, it instead engenders division and separateness.
This brings us to a practical concluding question: at what point does a party or person overstep the mark, and how does one respond? To that, I venture the following, hopefully constructive suggestions:
- If it is obvious, you probably don’t need to persuade
If for example a party stood on a platform that was overtly xenophobic, it is fairly likely that others have noticed too.
- If it isn’t obvious, it is kind to explain
This is just common courtesy. People respond much better to having facts laid before them rather than being told what to think!
- It doesn’t hurt to be gracious
Sometimes we just disagree. On issues with polarised positions (abortion is the perfect example) each side may consider the other to be morally indefensible. On other issues (taxation, government spending) we may consider alternate viewpoints just as indefensible. If there is scope to set out why you feel this way it leaves room for grace.
- Your friend may need gentleness
It is really not an easy thing to vote differently to how you voted before, or to feel the shame of association if you are uncomfortable with how your associates have conducted themselves. Even if your friend agrees with what you say, they may find it really difficult to come to terms with the implications of that.
- If your friend won’t change their mind, being more emphatic probably won’t change that
If you have made a compelling case for why a party or position is unacceptable and your friend doesn’t agree, arguing further or more forcibly isn’t likely to change their mind, only ruin your friendship.
How would Jesus vote today? I think he would ask us to ask wise and intelligent questions, to not assume we have absolutely perfect understanding, and to be willing to both challenge and be challenged. And I think he would encourage us that to remember that, at heart, we have the shared aspiration for humanity to flourish and thrive, and that our shared humanity is more valuable than our differences.