How do Christians navigate the tricky waters of voting in South Africa? I’m not writing to tell you who to vote for, nor to deal with issue of voting pragmatically vs. based on principle. Rather I want to address a pernicious threat to Christians as they consider enjoying their democratic privilege. If you would like to think through how Christians should vote please see the two articles I link to at the end of this post for some ideas.
As Christians seek to make a tick in a godly way, many are looking to the Christian voters guide put out by the African Christian Action as a buoy in the waters of SA politics. This is specifically targeting those Christians who believe they need to vote in a principled way for the party that best represents biblical values. It is the exact guide I shared and suggested in my previous article, four years ago, on voting in South Africa (my views have changed slightly since then). Nothing I say is meant to disparage African Christian Action, or the good work they do on some fronts; their professed love of the gospel is wonderful, and I pray for them as brothers in Christ. However I do feel that on this issue they have missed the boat.
Since I last endorsed the guide I would like to think I have a deeper understanding of some of the issues and how they relate politically. I now think that the ‘Christian Voters Guide’ is, at best, looking at issues superficially, and in the worst case is pushing a cultural agenda riding on Christianity.
Consider the following elements:
1. Racial Discrimination
The 8th point on the list, which is stated as “Opposes Discrimination based on Race” is where the issue clearly raises its head. It is my personal opinion that this must be a crux issue in South Africa, especially amongst Christians, since it was so called ‘Christianity’ that was involved in defending Apartheid. It becomes plainly obvious that those who formed this document see Affirmative Action as a bad thing in and of itself. I have yet to hear of any other solution to the damage caused by the past racial injustice in South Africa by all of the non-AA policy holding parties. I also find it interesting that restitution is not listed on the guide, even though it is arguably a bigger issue in Scripture than discrimination. (To see restitution as a biblical principle check: Exodus 22:1, 3-6, 14; Lev 6:2-5; Luke 19).
The irony of this attitude is that several other biblical points were called out for us to consider, such as: Eradication of Pornography, Homosexual Marriage, Capital Punishment, Parent controlled Education and Pro-life legislation. All of these find their societal benefit in the protection of the family, which is the basic building block of a civilization in a Christian worldview. However, to say that other political parties who attempt to rectify the systemic racial injustice in our history are themselves being racist, actually makes light of the family.
Consider the effect apartheid had on families. Men were separated from their wives in order to make any realistic income and provide for their family back home. Children were thus raised generally by one parent. The men who were away from their families would then find another partner in the area they are living. What kind of children were the products of these fragmented relationships? What kind of adults did they grow up into? What kind of parents did they become?
According to the guide, education should be in the hands of the parent, not the state. It uses Ephesians 6:4 which says, “”Fathers… bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord”. I however struggle to see how this verse which was written to the church applies on a national scale to South Africa. Firstly, the majority of parents in South Africa will not raise their children in the training and instruction of the Lord, since most conservative Christians would not say that the majority of South Africans are genuine Christians. Secondly, if we are to take this ‘principle’ to its logical conclusion, then we should allow a large mass of uneducated people (who are in that situation as a result of the previous systemic and economic racism) to be in charge of the future education of their children. Does this not sound like a recipe for disaster?
Yes parents will be held accountable to God for the education of their children, but that is not the issue at stake, the issue at stake here is whether or not that applies to a responsible government in a predominantly pagan and pseudo-Christian South Africa.
3. For Free Market
It gets more sinister on this point. The “Christian Voters Guide” is either ignorant or purposely deceitful. It states that the ANC (African National Congress) is against a Free Market society and it tries to back up this claim with a quote from the SACP (The South African Communist Party). Now it appears strange to me that they don’t quote the ANC on this, but rather another party they are aligned with. In a phone conversation I had with Spongy Moodley, who is from the policy department of the ANC, I was assured that this is not the stance of the ANC, and that it views free-enterprise and government working together to grow the economy[i]. He also referred me to the ANC Strategy and Tactics 2012 document to clarify this issue[ii].
I am not sure why the guide sees the need to lie on this issue when we have clear indications that the ANC government takes a more pro-capitalist stance, often running counter to the demands of the SACP and COSATU in the past few years[iii] [iv] [v] [vi]. I am not trying to defend the ANC, I am merely discussing apparent weaknesses of the so called “Christian Voters Guide”. If they are sloppy on this issue, how many other issues are they not representing fairly?
I think this would be a wonderful – indeed vital – thing to acknowledge God in our constitution. But remember, just because a party claims it will put that in the constitution, does not mean that they actually care about the God they are acknowledging. The very fact that the previous apartheid government had that acknowledgement in the constitution should make it clear that it can be a meaningless thing to “acknowledge God” in this way. So before you get super excited about the parties that do show a desire to acknowledge God is this manner, remember that they may just be paying lip service.
Perhaps we should think along the lines… If any man says he loves God, yet refuses to deal with restitution and deny himself, than he is a liar.
Additional Reading on Voting: Two men I deeply respect, and who have far more experience than I, have recently written articles putting forth the principled approach to voting; so for the best articulation of that approach please read them here and here.
[i] Moodley, S. (2014, May 2). Telephone interview.
[iii] “ANC ‘At Fork in the Road'”. 8 May 2007
[iv] “How the Tripartite Alliance works”. Mayibuye 2 (3). 1991.
[v] McKinley, Dale (2003). “COSATU and the Tripartite Alliance since 1994”. Rethinking the Labour Movement in the ‘New’ South Africa (T. Bramble and F. Barchiesi (eds)).
[vi] Ngonyama, Percy (16 October 2006). “The ideological differences within the Tripartite Alliance: What now for the left?”.