I hold a lot of pride as a Kiwi (New Zealander, not the bird) knowing that my homeland was the first self-governing country to allow women to vote. Before that time, women were excluded from any involvement in politics, deemed to be unfit and seriously lacking in the brain department for making important political decisions.
I am also proud to be able to say that I live in a democratic society, where everyone has the opportunity, albeit not always the access, to be able to take part in electing the governing bodies of this country.
Viewing my right to vote from the perspective of a woman who was once excluded, coupled with the knowledge of how blessed I am to live in a democratic country, motivates me to make that vote count. But what does my vote count for, and for whom?
In September of this year, Kiwis will take to the voting booths to choose our Government for the next three years. We will give a tick to a political party whose vision most aligns with ours. Most of us will vote for individuals or policies that reflect what we want and need for the future of New Zealand.
But there is something not quite right about this scenario. Should it be that we are exercising our rightful freedom of political participation by simply voting for ourselves? The Christian scriptures seem to indicate that we should be using our freedom, status or power to be serving others. But does that also mean our vote?
Two verses spring to mind when I reflect on this:
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mind-set as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”
It seems clear to me that the freedom to vote should not be excluded from the responsibility to use our freedom as a tool for serving others. This alone makes complete sense. The question of whom we serve, and what serves them best, is a little trickier to answer. Fortunately, Jesus gives us some great tips around understanding the former. As a political revolutionary himself, he sets out a great blue-print for us to follow in our political endeavours:
Obery M. Hendricks, Jr in his book The Politics of Jesus explains this well:
“To say that Jesus was a political revolutionary is to say that the message he proclaimed not only called for change in individual hearts but also demanded sweeping and comprehensive change in the political, social, and economic structures in his setting in life: colonized Israel…..It means that an important goal of his ministry was to radically change the distribution of authority and power, goods and resources, so all people – particularly the little people or “least of these”, as Jesus called them – might have lives free of political repression, enforced hunger and poverty, and undue insecurity. It meant that Jesus sought not only to heal people’s pain but also to inspire and empower people to remove the unjust social and political structures that too often were the cause of their pain.”
What an exciting mandate we have as followers of Christ; that we can use our vote to bring about a political revolution such as this. Of course, our vote is not the only thing that can be used to challenge unjust structures within society and bring freedom to the oppressed. But if we are to cast a vote for an authority that has the influence to bring change, this passage sets out a helpful guide as to who Christ calls us to serve.
The second part of that tricky question: ‘what serves them best?’ is what motivates me to write this article. In fact, it has motivated me to write a succession of articles as we lead up to the general elections in September. I want to educate myself on the specific policies that guide our current political parties and will attempt to draw my own personal conclusions on which policies will help to serve the “least of these” the most.
I believe that a large number of Christians, myself included, do not take the time to thoroughly examine the policies of our contending political leaders and can easily become complacent in our political participation. If we believe that we can, and should, use our vote as a way of bringing freedom and love into the lives of others, we have an even greater responsibility to understand which kind of leadership can do that best.
In New Zealand/Aotearoa, we have a Maori proverb that says this:
Ko te manu e kai ana i te miro, nōna te ngahere.
Ko te manu e kai ana i te mātauranga, nōna te ao
The bird who feast on the miro berry, theirs is the forest.
The bird who feasts on knowledge, theirs is the world.
I can assure you now that there will be no black and white answers, but I invite you to journey with me as I take a deeper look into the aspirations of our current political contenders. My hope is that this knowledge can pave the way for a Jesus-inspired political revolution, a revolution that can change the world.
Photo Credits - NZ Politicians: Bill English, Winston Peters and Andrew Little
Winston Peters - By AirflowNZ - received by email from the photographer, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17617250
Bill English - By Flickr user New Zealand Tertiary Education Union. - https://www.flickr.com/photos/teu/29927658485/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53881490
Andrew Little - By New Zealand Tertiary Education Union - This file was derived from Labour MPs at Meeting at TEU house.jpg:, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54009706)
Bex Rillstone lives in Mangere, New Zealand with her husband Sam. Bex has a Masters in International Development and is now undergoing further training to become a Social Worker. She works as a family worker assisting those facing homelessness. Bex is also passionate about building relationships with former refugees in her community, and advocating for justice through her writing.
See all previous articles by Bex Rillstone