Thursday 5 August 2010

How Should Christians Vote in 2010?

The Australian Christian Values Institute has just published a checklist for assessing the major political parties contesting the Federal election on the 21st August. Checklists of this type have been appearing regularly just before Federal elections for some time. The 'Australian Christian Values Checklist' is used widely by the Christian Democratic Party in its campaigning and is supported by a number of other small organizations.

It is argued by some that there is merit in such a checklist and its desire to compare major parties on a basket of 'Christian Values'. Many Christians struggle to decide who to vote for in any election.  But is this checklist helpful? I don't think so. There are a few reasons.

First, the whole approach is simplistic and reductionist in nature. It is based on the assumption that you can distil what matters most for Christians from a party's policies to a set of values, and that these can be assessed for each party in a fair and equitable way. There is little evidence to suggest that this has been achieved.

Second, the checklist omits many areas that for any Christian should be of concern.  For example, treatment of the homeless, poor, aged, disabled, mentally ill and aliens. While the Australian Christian Values Institute argues (here) that they don't include such issues because there is little difference between the parties on such issues, no real evidence is given to support this claim. To be fair, they also suggest that they focus on the values that they do because they believe that these are the values for which there is a defining difference between the parties. There is some truth in this and I see value in encouraging each other to consider the issues which other parties fail to mention for fear of voter backlash, and those that might be abhorrent to most Christians which might just make it difficult to vote for a party even if their other policies you find acceptable (for example, support for euthanasia).

Third, the creation of a list of this kind presents a view of Christian concern for the world that is a pale shadow of the picture of the concerned, engaged life of the citizen that the Bible presents.  

Fourth, the way the parties are assessed seems rather arbitrary, especially when the question mark is used (with the tick and the cross) for some values, suggesting a degree of uncertainty.

What's missing?

There are a wide range of Christian values that should be included if one is to try to provide a more comprehensive assessment of key issues that should influence our votes. For example:
It doesn't mention the need to support the aged, the homeless and the poor.
It fails to address the call to welcome the alien (see my previous post on 'Boat People').
It omits the need for justice for Indigenous Australians.
It overlooks inequities in health funding and educational provision for isolated communities.
It fails to mention the need to help starving and strife torn nations and those threatened by climate change through foreign aid.
It overlooks care of the disabled and the mentally ill.

What does it conclude?

The checklist concludes that we should all vote for the minor Christian parties. Three parties score almost perfectly on all 23 Christian Values - the Christian Democratic Party, Family First and the Democratic Labor Party (DLP). The Greens Party scores a tick on just one item, 'supporting greater care of God's environment' (but all 7 parties are given ticks on this!). The Labor Party scores just three ticks, and two of these are also given a question mark. The Liberal Party scores 14 ticks (2 with question marks) and the National Party 15 ticks (two with a question mark).

It is difficult to see this as a fair assessment of the parties. To suggest that all seven parties have equal concern for the environment is at best misleading and probably dishonest. There also seem to be many other gross simplifications in the way the parties are assessed. As well, the checklist includes some items that are policy commitments of the minor Christian parties and presents them as 'Christian Values'. For example, suggesting that support for 'educational vouchers' as a Christian value is difficult to justify. It may well be a worthwhile policy agenda that people who send their children to private schools would support, but it is hardly a defining value that should significantly shift our vote.

What is disappointing about the list is that in presenting such an incomplete and flawed list, it might inadvertently deflect attention away from issues that Christians should be concerned about and campaign for.  In taking such limited view of 'Christian Values' it might well lead many Christians to dismiss the checklist without properly considering areas of policy in the major parties that should concern us. For example, The Greens while the key party on the environment, support many policies on the family, abortion and end of life that few Christians would find acceptable. Issues like preservation of marriage, support for families, opposition to abortion and euthanasia, rather than being considered as issues by Christians, might be ignored as some Christians reject the limited nature of the overall assessment of policies.

How should Christians vote?

I believe that it is possible for Christians to vote for different political parties and for different reasons, with a clear conscience. I do not believe that we can use a checklist to establish which party should get our vote, although it might well help us if we can be sure of its accuracy. I also do not believe that we should vote for a party, or even a local politician, just because they say that they are Christian. Mind you character should be at the top of our list, but Christian politicians can be found wanting in relation to character just like some of the non-Christian politicians. It's important to know a lot about the people we vote for; do we want them to lead us?

As well, some Christians will feel so strongly about a single issue such as euthanasia or abortion that they will vote for one local representative over another, or one party over another - I don't usually vote this way, but it's a legitimate response. However, we should never vote out of self-interest, we should seek the good of others. In a recent article Michael Jensen helpfully suggested the following five factors that should inform our vote:
We should vote for the sake of others - honouring one another above self
We should seek righteousness and justice in our community.
We should vote for the poor and the weak.
For freedom to preach the gospel message of Christ.
We should do it prayerfully, praying for our leaders and ourselves as we choose them.
It will be an important day on the 21st August. We should be grateful and thankful to God that we have the opportunity to choose who will govern us in this country. We should all give our vote very careful consideration and vote in an informed way.

Other posts

Michael Jensen, 'How Should a Christian Vote' (here)
'Dispelling Myths About Boat People' (here)


Timaahy said...

Hi Trevor,

Thanks for a thought-provoking post... there is much that I agree with (and of course a few things that I don't agree with :-).

I hope to respond more fully soon, but in the meantime, there are two things worth noting with regards to the Institute's recommendation of Family First:

Comments from Family First senate candidate Wendy Francis that legalising sema-sex marriage would be like legalising child abuse (see

Family First Senator Fielding is a young earth creationist.

Each of the above further highlights the danger of simply ticking a few boxes on some arbitrary check list of subjectively desirable policies. We all need to look into the suitability of the people we are actually voting for.


Trevor Cairney said...

Thanks Tim. Yes, the comments by Wendy Francis were unfortunate and poorly made.


Greg T said...

Hi Trevor,
Thanks for this post. Like you, I find the “tick the boxes” approach to deciding who to vote for highly problematic. Looking at the checklist, the issues seem to have been presented in such a way as to make a vote for the Coalition (if one chooses not to, or can’t, vote for a specifically Christian party) virtually inevitable, and a vote for Labor virtually impossible: an absurd proposition. As you rightly point out, the approach is simplistic and largely ignores areas of concern that ought to be of great concern for Christians. It seems to have been driven by an essentially conservative political agenda. I have to think that it is possible to “tick all the boxes”, using such an approach, and still, sadly, “neglect the more important matters of the law”, such as justice and mercy (Matthew 23:23).
I must say I’ve long had difficulty with the idea of Christians in general having entrenched political positions: there are sins typical of both the right and left of politics, and I think as Christians we need to accept that our position, according to the conventional perception, might be right-leaning on one issue, and left-leaning on another. I suppose examples might be abortion on the one hand, and care of the homeless and marginalised (“boat people” is a good example) on the other. To have what is generally seen as a “conservative” position on all issues is in no sense consistent with the gospel taken as a whole, as far as I can see.


Timaahy said...


I've now had time to read through your post properly, and examine the ACVI's checklist. I think your post is absolutely spot-on. That’s two posts in a row that I agree with completely... time to crack the champagne! 

My observations are below (some of which you touched on in your post).

They have declared by fiat that these are "Christian values", and by implication, opposing one of the policies on the list would be un-Christian. This of course ignores the many divergent views on some of these issues within the Christian faith.

A simple tick or cross is severely misleading, as it in no way addresses the appropriateness of the policies of a particular party. For example, each party scores a tick for being concerned about the environment, but a party that denies climate change (for example) will obviously have vastly different policies to one that does not, even though both express an outward concern for the environment. And even if parties are ideologically aligned, they can have very different views on how that ideology is to be honoured.

The actuary in me is compelled to point out one fairly glaring deficiency that I don’t think you addressed in your post - the list does not take into account each issue’s relative importance. While I find it difficult to put aside my secular humanist beliefs and think like a Christian, I nevertheless find it hard to believe that a Christian would place equal importance on preserving the opening Parliamentary prayer and opposing euthanasia.

I could find only two policies that I support, which, to be honest, surprised even me! I also believe that religious organisations should have the freedom to choose whom they employ (number 20), and I support greater care of the environment (number 23), with the obvious caveat that it’s not “God’s environment” :-). To me, the remaining issues can be variously categorised as trivial, vague, discriminatory, illogical, irrelevant or a violation of church-state separation.

The additional issues you mentioned are just as (if not more) important than many of the issues listed, definitely from a humanist point of view, but also, I suspect, from the point of view of most Christians.

I managed to track down the last list they issued, for the 2007 election For the 2010 list, one issue was added, three were amalgamated into one, and three were removed altogether (one was also reworded slightly, and I’ll come back to that one later). I can understand how issues can be added, but how can issues be removed? The three that were removed were “Income splitting for married couples with dependent children”, “No Medicare funding of IVF for singles & same-sex couples”, and “Prohibit the importation and use of RU 486 abortion pill”. If these issues were deemed to be “Christian values” in 2007, what’s changed? Are these issues no longer deemed to be Christian values? If it was a Christian value to oppose RU486, why is it now not a Christian value to try and have it banned? How can Christians be sure that some of the issues on the 2010 list won’t be discarded in 2013? I don’t expect you to answer any of these questions, and I’m not pinning these inconsistencies on Christians as a group… it’s more of a reflection of the competence (if any) of the people who prepared the lists.

As I mentioned above, one of the issues was reworded slightly, but the rewording changed the meaning significantly. The issue in question was changed from “Life is precious - Oppose abortion” to “Life is precious - Oppose overseas aid for abortion”. How can the ACVI think that Christian values have changed so much in three years, that where once they opposed all abortion, now they only oppose overseas aid for abortion? Again... not directing this at Christians in general, but the ACVI.

All in all a very strange little document...


Timaahy said...


One final thing... Michael Jensen said that "[Christians] should vote for the sake of others". How do you reconcile this concept with the average Christian's objection to same-sex marriage and euthanasia?


Trevor Cairney said...

Hi Tim,

Thanks for your comments. In relation to the first comment about what Michael said, while I can't speak for him, I think what he's saying is that Christians shouldn't vote with self-interest as the priority. Instead, we are to seek the good of others. Seeking the good of others might involve wanting to limit or stop those things which are judged as not for the good of others, or which the Bible opposes. On that basis one might vote for something believing that it is for the good of others, even though the 'other' might not see it this way. But I can't speak for him on this.

In relation to your second comment, it's a bit scary for me too, because I find myself agreeing with a lot of what you are saying. I hadn't seen the 2007 list since 2007 and didn't check (you were right to do this). The dropping of some 'values' does suggest that rather than presenting the core Christian values that the purpose is to choose values that match a specific political agenda at the time (hence dropping the 'RU 486 abortion pill'). They probably say this themselves, and I guess that this is their right. I'd agree, that if it is a foundational value then it should remain, which it does in relation to opposing abortion.

While I have problems with the list I wouldn't agree that the remaining issues "can be variously categorised as trivial, vague, discriminatory, illogical, irrelevant or a violation of church-state separation." I'm not going to argue through the list but we could.

I agree that a judgment on the degree of importance is a good point which I probably should have mentioned. It's implied in my comment that some might vote purely in terms of a single issue. My greatest beef is that it leaves out things which I believe many Christians see as VERY important (e.g. justice issues like homelessness, Indigenous health etc) and includes the issue of parliamentary prayer which many Christians would still want but would see as less 'deal breaking'. To vote on the latter as the single issue would be difficult to justify, but abortion laws would be seen by many as a critical issue of life and death.

In relation to their change in wording on abortion, I think they show their general opposition to abortion in #14, but the change does highlight some potential tailoring of the list to match (or not match) the policies of specific parties. I'd need to check all the policies to see. For the record (and for Christian readers), I'm against abortion. But that's not your point, and I think you're right to question the change. As Christians we should also be scrutinising the list in the same way.

Thanks for your comments.


Matt Stone said...

You may find this of interest. Christian Democrat candidate getting touchy when I asked for their stance on foreign aid -

Trevor Cairney said...

Hi Matt,

Thanks for the comment and the link to the conversation.

Nice to hear from you and to see that you're seeking straight answers from our politicians.