A wise man once gave me a valuable principle for life.
“If you want to really understand an issue,” he said with a furrowed brow, “you shouldn’t just try to learn as much as you can about it.”
He paused, then explained himself.
“To really understand an issue, you need to grasp the organising principle that lies behind it.”
In a nutshell, that is what’s risky about Christian voting guides, including ACL’s.
They are lists of issues without a backstory.
See, as Christians, we are not just ticking boxes; we are trying to discern something deeper.
Lists don’t always betray the ideology and moral condition of their proponents.
Consider the Greens – not because this is just about them, but as one case study example.
I have absolutely no hesitation in saying to all who will listen that they are doggedly opposed to Christianity.
Yet they rate wonderfully on a list of “Christian issues” that includes many acts of charity.
Their refugee intake is big, their foreign aid spend would be astonishing, their expenditure on the less fortunate among us would be massive.
But if they ever won government, religious freedom would be finished. By that, I mean the very gospel itself would be attacked and suppressed. I am so sure of that, I am happy to write it down publicly.
Which of these considerations is more important?
To test the moral mettle of a leader, acts of charity are not enough. Especially when they are costless.
It is almost impossible for a policymaker to undertake costly acts of charity. They are spending other people’s money with the stroke of a pen, and that is all.
The neighbour love of the Good Samaritan is something more. It cost him. It cost him his time, his dignity, his money, his convenience. It risked his safety and his reputation. It was self-giving, sacrificial, person-to-person. It told us something quite profound about who he was. It told us something about the moral fibre of the man simply because of what he gave of himself.
A politician with a public purse is a very different thing.
In fact, a politician with a public purse might just be a “whitewashed tomb” – made to look good by external acts of “charity” (ie spending other people’s money), but ideologically corrupt.
The Pharisees were great at that.
So, if I want to try my best to discern the moral mettle of a leader, whilst this is relevant, it is not enough.
I am more interested in the “organising principles” which lie beneath their actions – their inner character, and the ideas which drive them.
Character is a tough one. Without a crystal ball into their private lives, we are left to rely on our gut instinct, what is publicly known of them, their words, and the sum-total of their public acts. But in many cases, much can be discerned from that alone.
But ideology is not so difficult to figure out.
And to those who doubt its importance, recall that the Apostle Paul ascribes living, spiritual power and energy to ideologies. These are driven with great vigour by the unseen realm. This is the very struggle in which we are engaged, says Paul.
This is something I have learned for myself in recent years. Ideologies are often alive. That sounds strange, but I am not sure how else to put it.
Take what we often call “rainbow ideology” – all things LGBT, Queer, and so forth. It is totalising. It is relentless. It will not be happy until every last drop of opposition is extinguished, right down to the realm of thought… Hence “hate speech” laws and the like.
So, we must look for tell-tale signs of their deeper ideology. What does it oppose? What does it promote? What is its energy directed at?
For example, what do they think of Christ and the gospel? In an era of religious freedom concerns, this isn’t so hard to discern, and surely it is above all things a litmus test.
If they ignore the Easter campaign moratorium, but observe it on ANZAC day as a public demonstration of their indifference to Easter, one asks questions.
If they staunchly boycott the Lord’s prayer in parliament as a statement of their opposition to Christianity, it might tell you something.
If they champion everything LGBT and attack Christian truth on the subject, it’ll betray something of their moral compass.
If they believe Christian parents are a risk to their LGBT kids, and the government should intervene, then every parent’s hair should be standing on end.
If they truly believe that life is something to be controlled by us – whether it be suicide for the sick and elderly, or abortion on demand to kill the inconvenient – than you must wonder about their consciousness of God at all.
When we vote, we contemplate the scripture that “righteousness exalts a nation.” But a clear theology of such things tells us that righteousness is more than a collection of external deeds – for they may well just be “filthy rags.”
Ideas matter, and ideas lie behind the issues.
Character matters, and character lies behind the ideas.
Let us pray that God would raise up leaders of character, by bringing new people to the task, strengthening good people who are already there, and saving those who otherwise might oppose Him.
“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” [1 Sam 16:7]