In our last federal election, only 59% of eligible voters actually bothered to vote. It’s a frightening statistic for me, and causes great concern for the future of democracy. Apparently, it’s part of a worldwide trend for voters to be more and more apathetic about politics.
As I ponder this trend, I begin to think about the Great Commandment. Jesus said that the law can be summed up in this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.” People of faith are called to tend to two sets of relationships. Both are important.
I’ve always thought that voting was an important thing to do. It is both a civic right and a civic responsibility. It’s also a privilege which we seemingly take for granted. But beyond this, I’m beginning to think about voting in terms of loving our neighbours.
First of all, when we vote, we join in common cause with other voters in our country. We take our rightful place in the national dialogue. We educate ourselves and then cast our votes to support those who share the same values as we hold. Voting allows us to make our voices heard about the values we wish our servant leaders to pursue.
Secondly, when we vote, we express our gratitude for living in a country where we are free and responsible. To live in such freedom has come with a cost. Voting responsibly honours those who have gone before us, paying the cost of freedom. It’s one way in which we love generations who have passed.
Thirdly, voting requires us to become knowledgeable about the issues. When we educate ourselves, we say that we care. A young woman interviewed by a television reporter after the last election justified not voting this way: “I didn’t bother to learn who the candidates were. You wouldn’t want someone uneducated to vote, would you? I figure I did the rest of you a favour by not voting.”
In fact, she has done Canada an immense disservice. She can try to justify it any way she wishes, but the fact remains that she simply couldn’t be bothered. She didn’t vote because it required too much effort from her.
Fourthly, when we vote, we act on behalf of all those who cannot vote. Not everyone in Canada is allowed to vote. Some are disqualified — people under the age of 18; those who are not Canadian citizens; anyone who doesn’t have picture ID can’t vote, which effectively disenfranchises the homeless and others who live in the midst of appalling and shameful poverty. The lack of picture ID also continues to be a huge issue in northern, aboriginal communities. We cast our votes not just for ourselves, but also on behalf of those who share this country with us.
When people of faith vote, it is another way in which we obey the half of the Great Commandment which calls us to love our neighbours. As we do so, we also obey the other half, because in loving our neighbours, we are loving the God who is revealed in our neighbours.
I’m reminded again of renowned Harvard theologian Wilfred Cantwell Smith. Whenever people would ask him if he was a Christian, he had a ready answer: “Ask my neighbour”.
Smith, a Canadian and an Officer of the Order of Canada, understood in a profound way that our faith is seen in the way we treat our neighbours. Faith is profoundly communal in that respect. Our faith is seen as we live it out in relationship with those around us. It is seen as we take care of what has been entrusted to us. Our faith becomes real not so much in what we do in a church on Sunday mornings, and not so much in which dogmas and doctrines we believe. Our faith is made real in our day–to–day interactions with our neighbours.
Fewer than 60% of the eligible voters in Canada cared enough about their neighbours to be bothered to vote last time. In our riding last time, only about 62% or so of eligible voters went out to the polls — just slightly better than the dismal national average.
There may be many different reasons for this — voter fatigue, lackluster candidates, a deep–seated mistrust of politicians, a feeling that the outcome was a foregone conclusion. Whatever the reason, my opinion is that people of faith are called to love their neighbours in this way as in many others. Christian faith is not inward–looking. God is at work in us precisely so that we might move outward in love towards our neighbour.
We have another opportunity on Monday. Here is a concrete opportunity not just to exercise our civic responsibility. Here is also an opportunity to love our neighbours, to join with them in an act which is a privilege for which people in other lands would be willing to die. It’s an opportunity for us all to make a wise and faithful choice as we cast our ballots.
Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook