waking up to politics (4)

With fear and trembling, I’d like to have a crack at specifying what it might look like to live out 1 Peter’s vision of Christian social engagement.

I was initially thinking I might (outrageously) suggest that donkey voting at the upcoming election may in fact be a faithful form of Christian engagement in contemporary Australian politics. But I’m wary (a) of the legality of advocating such action and (b) of giving lazy people an out.

But I do wonder — if it was a matter of informed and responsible decision, etc — why wouldn’t such a ‘wasted’ vote count as a genuine instance of Christian political engagement?

I keep thinking about Peter’s picture of Christians as exiles. Being in exile necessarily entails not belonging. And so runs radically counter to the vision of Christendom — in which we attempt to ‘make ourselves at home’, seeking to influence society by commandeering the established social and political structures. (And surely the call to vote in ways that promote ‘Christian values’ veers dangerously close to such self-betrayal.)

But obviously I wouldn’t want to say that it’s wrong to want to influence society for the good. What I would want to say is that we need to sort out how to influence society without betraying our (exilic) identity and mission. And to this end I’d want to dwell on Jeremiah’s message to the Jewish exiles in Babylon. For Jeremiah walks a tightrope between instilling a readiness to leave Babylon and calling for a wholehearted pursuit of what will make for the peace of the city?

Now maybe, in our context, donkey voting would mean defaulting on this obligation. Although, as Nathan Kerr helpfully points out, ‘To “seek the peace of the city” in a foreign land is not … to sanctify its given structures and polities, but rather to live in that city by way of positive relation to that which is in excess of it’ — namely, God and his kingdom (Christ, History and Apocalyptic, p 185).

And maybe there are better ways to walk the Jeremianic tightrope. Like John Dickson’s call to vote in a way that doesn’t revolve around securing ‘our’ interests perhaps. Or Anglicare Sydney’s evidence-based advocacy of broadening the election campaign to include concern about issues of ‘social exclusion’.

But given that our democratic right/obligation to vote is not the ultimate good (although it is no doubt a good gift from God), would it be barking up completely the wrong tree to at least contemplate ‘throwing away’ your vote like this?



  1. hmm interesting, my question about donkey voting though is whether it can ever be considered more than a “lazy vote”?

    after all, it’s not quite like refusing to vote or submitting an inadmissable vote as a “protest” or, if i’ve understood correctly, as a statement regarding the relationship between believers and the world and how we ought to seek the good of our society, because in the end one party still gets your preferential vote and its still counted…

    perhaps the question makes more sense in considering if it is ever acceptable for a Christian to refuse the legal obligation/right to vote?

    1. You may be right, Brett. Perhaps I should be asking the stronger question. Any thoughts about what kind of situation might make refusing the legal obligation to vote acceptable (and meaningful)?

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