Faith in Focus

Were we just out of our league? Or did "the Christians" drop the ball ?


The 1996 election is now history. There were many glum faces around various churches throughout New Zealand on the Sunday morning following the election. How do we understand the election outcome? We acknowledge, as Christians, that all things are ordained by God; so God is still in control, even though we lament that we have no strong Christian voice in Parliament. But acknowledging the sovereignty of God, yes even over New Zealand politics, does not absolve us from some self-examination.

Were we out of our league?

Excuse the sporting metaphor, but did the Christian Coalition's failure to cross the 5% threshold just show we were out of our league? I don't think so. Without a detailed head to head comparison between MPs who were elected and the Christian Coalition candidates, we can still say that the present crop of MPs is a mixed bag indeed. No I think that the Christian candidates offered were just as capable of making an adequate contribution to national government as any others. Many of the Christian candidates were as well qualified academically, for example, as any. We were not out of our league for another reason. Christians are called upon to be salt and light in society. No legitimate opportunity or institution is excluded from salting and enlightening. This certainly includes Government. One of the very positive things to come out of this election was to see many church groups who previously avoided politics as being "of this world" and therefore out-of-bounds, enthusiastically embracing the Christian Coalition. Many of these churches have traditionally been heavily infected with dispensationalism, which is a theological position that hopes things will get worse and worse and then they believe the Lord will return and set up a real Christian political kingdom in a re-built Temple in Jerusalem. It might be that the Scofield reference Bible is not so popular these days or perhaps these people were just being inconsistent with their theology. Who knows? An example of this enthusiasm was evident in my own town where the local Baptist church confidently erected a large Christian Coalition sign on their front lawn. This sort of thing would have been unthinkable even just three years ago. Yes Christians should be involved in politics at every level and most emphatically at the national level.

Lack of ball skills

We have to say, though that the Christian Coalition did drop the ball, even though they had every right to be playing in the big-league. Some of this could charitably be put down to inexperience, but I think our lack of ball skills had a more profound cause.

A lack of common sense prevailed.

One decision stands out that displayed a real lack of common sense. One suspects that the now Pentecostal-dominated coalition somewhat arrogantly thought that they didn't need to do the hard work that other parties who lacked a divine sanction needed. The junior partner to the Coalition, the Christian Democrats, had a policy of not standing for electoral seats. Because of the strong associations of the CD hierarchy with the National Party, they may have thought that their National friends might have lost votes to them if they stood against them in the electorates. The reason I suspect that this is the case, is informed by some personal experience of the players involved. I well remember when we contested our first election as the Christian Heritage Party being pressured by a team of men who are now prominent Christian Democrats not to stand our CHP candidate against their National man in a Christchurch electorate. The thinking there was very much National first and Christian second. Of course they thought that they had good pragmatic reasons to take such a stance. But it was still a silly decision not to stand in all the local electorates. For a start it meant that, as was the case in my own electorate, there was no Christian to vote for and often no pro-life candidate either. It was also silly because it meant that the opportunity for a lot of good local publicity was lost. In the previous election when the CHP stood in all the seats we obtained close to 3% of the vote and that was in a first past the post system. It seems the rumour that Graeme Lee could have stood in his own seat unopposed by National thereby securing a seat for the Coalition, may not be correct. Nevertheless he should have stood in his old seat and may well have won it because of his personal support there. This would have swep several other Christians into Parliament even if they had not achieved the 5% threshold. Whether these poor ball skills were arrogance, ignorance or just lack of common sense we cannot say for sure. But the Christian Coalition should have taken Oliver Cromwell's advice to his troops on board - "trust in the Lord, and keep your powder dry."

Playing the man instead of the ball

There is no more unattractive rugby than when the object of the game becomes to concentrate on neutralising the man rather that playing the ball. This win at all costs type of game is totally unsuited to Christian politics. I am not suggesting that the Christian coalition campaign was ad hominem. (And even after the event I don't think we can blame a few effeminate members of the National Party for throwing a Barbie doll into the works.)

What I am suggesting is that instead of arguing from principle, the Coalition so fudged its alleged biblical base, that it came across as quite irrelevant. At a local electorate meeting the Bible received no mention. And in response to a Mormon who felt miffed because he thought he couldn't become a member of the Coalition, the deputy leader of the Coalition, Annetta Moran said that not only could he become a member, but that she had personally signed up a Hindu; and a Jew was working in the National Office. She didn't explain that it was only the CDs who would accept non-Christian membership. Nevertheless she was right - by joining the CDs you could become a fully fledged member of the Coalition. She did make it clear that only a Christian could be a candidate. This pragmatic approach to try and "soften" the perception of the Coalition was evident too in other debates. The strong stand the CHP have on capital punishment was rejected by the Coalition, the abortion debate became more a debate about reducing numbers and a strong stand against homosexuality was avoided. What the public were dished up became a humanistic pro-family, pro-life caring group of well-meaning people. And because the raison d'etre of a Christian voice, to promote the ethics of the Triune God was sidelined, the likelihood of God blessing such an endeavour, even if we did get into Parliament, was extremely unlikely. (Ironically the ACT Party who took the strategic tactical vote off the Christian Coalition stuck to their principles and didn't try and water down their position. Their emphasis on personal responsibility and governmental non-interference in the economy is essentially a biblical approach to the economy and I wouldn't have been surprised if a number of Christians voted for them in the light of their insights.) The willingness of the Christian Coalition to uncritically put forward women candidates, in spite of the obvious biblical emphasis on male leadership in all spheres of life, also reflects this sidelining of the Word of God. Pragmatism rather than principle seems to have prevailed. Daniel chapter six should be compulsory reading for all budding Christian politicians.

Literature shies away from mentioning our infallible standard

The softly-softly approach is seen in the literature that the coalition put out. The pamphlet does not mentioned the Bible. One of the "compelling reasons" we are urged to support the coalition for is that it is "Standing for principles like truth, justice, fairness and equality." But all the parties say that. What we need to be telling New Zealanders is why we define these principles differently and just where we get these principles from. We have to explain fully why we are different and that means going to the Word of God and doing it publicly. The Coalition Manifesto suffers from the same timidity. The Christian Heritage Party Principle, "We believe that any legislative decision or referendum to be held must not contravene Biblical principles," finds no counterpart in the Coalition's Manifesto. The Coalition's 15 fundamental principles don't even mention the Bible. God the Son and God the Holy Spirit get no mention (God [but which God?] is given the nod as Creator under "Our Vision" and the environment is said to be God-given under "environment"). The nearest principle that might help rescue things is number three, "A Moral Framework - based on the Judeo-Christian ethic ensures that all sectors of society function effectively" For most New Zealanders they wouldn't know a Judeo if they tripped over one and very few would consider Christian to be synonymous with Biblical. No these things have to be spelled out if we are to honour God - and God was not honoured before men.

What of the future?

There are a number of things that we will need to do if we are to become a force for good and have opportunity to be salt and light in national government. Firstly more people who are theologically literate need to become involved at all levels in Christian Politics. This , I suggest, will require men who understand the present Lordship of the Lord Jesus Christ and understand the wonderful prophecies that show that He is bringing all men and powers to submission in history. Those holding end-time views that are essentially pessimistic will always doubt that God really will bless their faithfulness to biblical principle. Such pessimists will never be quite convinced that they really can tell the pagan world that they are wrong and that they need to adopt Christian social ethics, because they doubt that Christ's authority extends over all creation. If this need is to be met, a real spiritual revival is needed among us. How many people are there who could have made a contribution to the Christian politics, but didn't do so because they were apathetic? Rather a lot I suspect. This means that prayer is a priority. Our preaching too will need to cover the whole counsel of God and not just the bits that we are comfortable with. This may mean that some real heart-searching has to take place by the preachers. Are we really committed to a Reformed world and life view, or are we just playing at it?

God is still in control

It would be wrong to try and discern why God did not answer the prayers, with any claim at infallibility, but history may record that this failure of the Christian vote was a blessing and not a curse. Had we entered Parliament on the watered down content of the Coalition and continued in that insipid direction, more harm may have been done than good. We can now re-evaluate our principles and our pragmatism and think again. But sleeves need to be rolled up and sacrifices made. If this doesn't happen then we can hardly expect a reformation of society. And if there is not a widespread desire among Christians to see this, then we must conclude that revival and reformation in the Church remains a priority. Let's not be discouraged at failure, but let's try and fix things - biblically.

G.H.Milne.


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Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / gmilne@ihug.co.nz / revised November 96 / Copyright 1996