Position Paper – Participation in Civil Political Elections
Standing before Pontius Pilate, the Lord Jesus declared, “My kingdom is not of this world”. For that reason he refused to defend himself, or to have his servants fight for his cause. In this way he distinguished his kingdom, which will rule the world to come, from all other human governments, which belong to this world, and are certain to be broken in pieces and blown away like next summer’s chaff. Ever since, those who have enlisted in Christ’s service have refused military service on behalf of the kingdoms of this world. In fact, this refusal was the trigger for the naming of the Christadelphians as a distinct body of believers. But does this extend to voting? We say, Yes. This paper, from the AACE, argues that participation in a government “of the people, by the people, for the people” is not appropriate for those who are of the Holy Spirit, by Christ, for God. They are “strangers and pilgrims” (1 Pet 2:11–17; Heb 11:8–16), citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20), who seek another country and another city (Heb 13:14). Let others support candidates blue, red or green. We look for the Lord from heaven.
“We, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” 2 Peter 3:13
The Christadelphian body has from its origins held the view that participation in politics and military service should be avoided. This is consistent with our desire to be a distinctly separate people who recognise we consider ourselves citizens of the kingdom of God rather than of the kingdom of men and therefore of the countries in which we reside.
For our conversation (‘citizenship’ esv) is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 3:20
They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. John 17:16
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. 1Peter 2:9 For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Hebrews 11:10
…the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men. Daniel 4:17
Our position stated for us and the community
Our life today in Western countries, with the surfeit of material goods and the prestige of many occupations, can dull our perception of what it means to be “strangers and pilgrims”. The complete avoidance of participation in politics is a helpful reminder to us, and can send a message to others, that our ultimate focus is on the world to come. Such avoidance includes not even voting informally at national, state and local government elections, and stating our reasons respectfully when asked by electoral officers to explain our failure to vote. No doubt personal preaching opportunities may also result from our stand.
Separation from the world is a key principle for nonparticipation in voting. We are told:
No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. 2 Timothy 2:4
We have the example of those in Hebrews 11 whose faith is praised for the fact that they were “strangers and pilgrims”. Separation from the cares of the world enables us to focus our life on the will of God rather than be influenced by those who are uncaring or unheeding of Him.
Whilst we live in a particular country and we are most likely citizens, we aspire to a citizenship of a different world.
Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. John 18:36
It is inappropriate for us to vote in another country, so it is inappropriate for us to vote in Australia.
By not voting we maintain our separation and also place our separation on record. This record will be valuable if our consciences are challenged should questions of conscientious objection to military service arise.
Pursuit of Christian ideals through the political system
A recent political phenomenon in several countries is the rise of the ‘Religious Right’ in politics. This includes the establishment of Christian activist groups promoting issues such as:
- environmental issues on the basis of man’s stewardship of creation
- opposing gay marriage
- promoting family values
- religious freedom, etc.
Such movements may influence us to consider supporting parties that have a platform that may include values that we also hold. We ought to be passionate and vocal about the Father’s values and we are to shine as lights in a dark world. But while we might have sympathy for some of the objectives of these groups, we must appreciate that we are not called upon to attempt to influence the world through involvement in politics. We preach a spiritual message of change at a personal level whilst we wait for a wholesale political change when our Lord returns. It is not possible to support one aspect of politics without being a supporter of the whole system. Political outcomes are generally achieved by compromise and trade-off and even overtly ‘Christian’ parties will not share our views on avoidance of military service and other equally important issues.
We are invited to be Christ’s ‘ambassadors’, representatives of a different kingdom.
“To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:19,20
As ambassadors we present the views of our own country or kingdom that we represent. We may choose to seek to influence the government if we believe it to be appropriate, but take no part in the political process or final decision.
Trust in God
The common motivation for voting in elections is to select the politician or party who would best serve the voters’ individual needs. Our trust needs to be in God and not in man.
Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish. Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God. Psalm 146:3–5 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. Proverbs 3:5
Attitude to political leaders
Due to our neutral approach to politics, along with apostolic guidance we ought to be a people that show the utmost respect to the rulers that have been appointed by God. This would preclude disparaging comments and perhaps even passionate political debate. We ought to distance ourselves from both nationalistic and political pursuits.
Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. 1 Peter 2:12–15 And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? 1 Peter 3:13 Honour the king. 1 Peter 2:17 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 1 Timothy 2:1,2 Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work. Titus 3:1
Obeying the laws of the land
We are to, as best as possible, obey the laws of the land. If the law in Australia demanded that we vote, with no means of exemption, we would be in a position of having to choose between the principle of obeying the laws of the land or demonstrating our commitment to the principle of being “strangers and pilgrims”. Would we die to demonstrate this principle in this way? Would we go to prison for five years? These would be difficult decisions, but we are not in this position. In Australia it is not unlawful to fail to vote on religious grounds (see Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 and receiving a ‘Failure to vote’ notification below.)
Holding a political position
There have been believers down through the ages that have been influential in their countries; for example, Joseph before Pharaoh, Daniel before Nebuchadnezzar and the kings of Persia, and Esther before Ahasuerus. Today many political positions would be impossible for us to assume because they demand an oath of allegiance to the Commonwealth. We are certainly not in a position to offer such an oath. There are, however, many brethren that hold positions in government and public service. This is not contrary to the principles we hold and if they were asked to contravene their conscience, their response would no doubt be similar to Daniel’s when asked by the King not to pray.
We show our allegiance to God by complete separation from the political system at all federal, state and local levels, including elections and referenda. In so doing history has demonstrated we also establish a basis for claiming conscientious objection to military service, either for ourselves or other members. We are, and need to be seen to be, strangers and pilgrims as we await a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.