The call to vote responsibly finds its place within this wider context. The state is a vital part of the broader political community with a particular role to play, including setting and upholding the law, overseeing the administration of a nation’s institutions, developing policy, protecting the vulnerable, and so on. As Christians living in a modern constitutional democracy, through voting we have a say in who will govern the state, set its laws, and shape its institutions and policies. This has not always been the case: for much of history, many members of most political communities had no say in who would govern them. Thus, we have the privilege—and the burden—of having some influence in determining who will govern us.
Christians, then, have a responsibility in the way they vote—as best as they can judge—to seek the common good in Aotearoa, New Zealand. In exercising that responsibility within a modern constitutional democracy, Christians face certain tensions, limitations, and ambiguities. This is not unique to our situation. The people of God have oftentimes found themselves in political contexts facing tensions, limitations, and ambiguities—in other words, in contexts where it’s hard to be completely at home. Indeed, a crucial passage that has shaped the Church’s teaching in calling its members to seek the common good—Jeremiah 29—was originally addressed to those who had been forcibly taken from their homes. Despite their sense of alienation at being exiled from their homeland and out of sync with the surrounding culture, God addresses the exiles as follows:
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.” (Jeremiah 29:4-7)
Like these exiles, we are called to build houses and settle down; to plant gardens and eat what they produce; to seek the peace and prosperity of the political community of Aotearoa, New Zealand.
One significant tension we confront arises from the fact that those who comprise the political community don’t always share the same beliefs, commitments, and values as ourselves. I say “don’t always” because oftentimes they do; there can be significant overlap between what people want for Aotearoa, New Zealand, and a consensus on how to achieve it. But not always, and sometimes radically so. What is true here for the political community writ large is reflected across and within the different political parties. When it comes to voting for a political party to govern, we all face the tension of choosing one that, in all likelihood, does not fully reflect our beliefs, commitments, and values. When a government, then, is finally formed after a General Election, even if the party one votes for is part of the government, to a greater or lesser degree one will be governed by those who do not fully share the same set of beliefs, commitments, and values.
My beliefs, commitments, and values are determined and shaped by my Christian faith. I hope fundamentally and significantly so. My Christian faith, therefore, should inform how I vote, sometimes in a decisive way that calls for courage. But I also want to acknowledge that other things shape—and continue to shape—my beliefs, commitments, values, and policy judgments, and the weighting I give to these when voting. For example, my experiences in life, not least having lived in two different countries, or my background as an economist, which informs my views on the relative success of some policies over others. Your experiences and skills and expertise will also do the same for you. These other factors comprise one of the reasons why even Christians will vote for different political parties.
We face two further limitations when it comes to voting. First, although we have some apprehension of the common good for Aotearoa, New Zealand and what is required to achieve it, our understanding is not comprehensive. One cannot possibly know all the challenges and opportunities facing persons and communities throughout this whenua. Nor can one completely comprehend what resources need to be orchestrated to meet these challenges and opportunities, especially if they require particular expertise. This does not mean we need fall into a morass of moral and practical agnosticism or scepticism when it comes to knowing and pursuing the common good. It does, however, mean that when we do so, it is with a good measure of humility.
Second, not only are there limitations to our understanding because we are finite creatures and because the issues facing our political community are often complex, but we also wrestle with sinful impulses. Our desires are disordered and inordinate, though hopefully less so because of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. This means, unless one is a saint, sinful impulses continue to influence our decisions and actions. Particularly relevant here when thinking about voting is our tendency to have an undue concern for our own interests and the interests of those social groups to which we belong. For this reason, we should be attentive to the temptations we confront generally, to aid us in voting responsibly.
In sum: we have a responsibility to seek the common good—the peace and prosperity—of Aotearoa, New Zealand, and this includes voting with integrity in relation to our commitments, values, and beliefs, as best as we are able. In doing so, we discharge this responsibility aware that we face certain limits and tensions. In other words, voting with integrity does not require complete alignment with a party’s values and policies, if the party represents the best available option as we weigh the pursuit of the common good given particular tensions and limits. How then might we prepare to do so as we approach the General Election?