Thursday 24 November 2011

So, who should I vote for?

Following my survey of the Biblical prophets, I scanned the websites of 12 of the 16 political parties currently registered in New Zealand.  For various reasons I decided to not even seriously consider Aotearoa Legalise Canabis, New Citizen Party, New Zealand First and The Kiwi Party.  I was looking to see what kind of policies the parties listed first on their websites.  All parties that seemed to be pitching themselves as a party that was trying to do things to improve the lot of vulnerable people went on my party shortlist for further consideration.  These are:
  • Mana
  • Labour
  • Alliance
  • Greens
  • United Future

The next question is: how to whittle that list down to a single party, using the leadership priorities I have found in the Biblical prophets?

My answer has been to try to list out actions I think a New Zealand government could take that would best improve the lot of poor and vulnerable people both here and overseas.  I will then compare those with both the parties on my shortlist (and also with the National Party, because I think I may not have been fair to them on my first pass through the websites).  Here's what I've come up with:

In order to help vulnerable people overseas, we would need to:

most importantly:
  • fight climate change - i.e. have a strong ETS.  I see the changing climate as the single biggest threat to vulnerable people the world over - if we don't get this one right, millions of people will die.
also helpful:
  • do aid and development based on greatest need (rather than based on where our benefit and a need happen to meet).  We should probably focus mostly on our own region as there aren't many rich countries here.
  • expand/strengthen the seasonal worker programme.  This seems to be making a noticeable difference to many Pacific Island countries
  • let more people in based on their need.  We should at least fill our refugee quota (we haven't for a few years) and hopefully exceed it.  I'd also like to let in some of the asylum seekers that make it Australia - the ones they want to send to Malaysia.

To help vulnerable groups here in NZ, I think we need to:

most importantly:
  • provide a good safety net - especially for those who can't get off welfare, e.g. the old and some of the disabled - but also for anyone who happens to currently be needing it.  Try to make it as 'needs based' as possible (i.e. keep means testing etc.)
  • help the poor to get ahead (e.g. try to preferentially deliver better health, better education etc. to poor/vulnerable people, plus try to ensure that working full time always results in getting a living wage)
also helpful:
  • maybe repeal the foreshore and seabed law (I can't even remember where this one is at)

I've also decided that I'm not really interested in things that help people who are at the middle or above unless doing so is actually a way to help poor people.  For example, encouraging good doctors and teachers to stay in NZ helps vulnerable Kiwis, not just the doctors or teachers themselves, as it makes us more likely to be able to meet the educational and healthcare needs of vulnerable people.

I also think I want things to be done that prevent the rich from being able to avoid paying for stuff that they can afford - for example, I'd like to means test Super and prevent people from being able to avoid paying for rest home care through family trusts etc.

So now I need to go back through my shortlist and see how the parties match up!

Results of survey of the Biblical prophets: How should leaders lead?

As I said earlier, in the light of the upcoming election I've been trying to work out how God might want our leaders to lead.  I've been somewhat surprised by what I've found.

As I see it, Christians in the anglophone West tend to adopt one of two political positions: 'family values' or 'social justice'.  I have always been part of the 'social justice' camp.  In doing this Biblical survey, my aim was to allow scripture to challenge that.  To my considerable surprise, I didn't find a single statement in the prophets that categorically seemed to support the 'family values' viewpoint.  Instead, what I found was material on the importance of leading the population in following God and material on the importance on caring for the weak.

I decided to ignore the stuff about leading people towards God: I don't live in a theocracy and it feels deeply inappropriate to me for our politicians to require Kiwis to follow a particular religion.  That then left a bunch of statements about caring for members of vulnerable groups and two statements that may have been about sexual ethics or may have been about worshipping other Gods.  The first was a statement on God hating divorce.  It came in the context of men leaving 'the wife of their youth' and marrying foreign women and worshipping their gods.  I was unclear if it was more the divorce or the foreign wives that was the problem, so I decided to leave it out of my consideration.  There was also at least one negative mention of men having sex with prostitutes, too, but at least some of the prostitute seemed to be temple prostitutes.  I was unsure whether the use of prostitutes or the participation in pagan worship was the real problem, so again I decided to leave it out.

So, this is what I found from the Bible passages listed in my previous post that seemed to be relevant to our secular context.

Firstly, character seems to be at least as important as actual actions.  These are the character traits that good leaders were described as having (or the character traits that I think are the natural opposites of those that bad leaders were described as having):

  • humble (8)
  • truthful (7)
  • there to serve (7)
  • honour God (2)
  • caring (2)
  • not ruthless/aggressive (2)
  • wise (1)
  • love what is right (1)
  • good (1)

(the numbers in brackets are how often that particular trait came up.)

In terms of actual 'policies', this is what came up:

  • will make sure the poor have access to justice (12)
  • will care for vulnerable groups in society (12)
  • will bring just laws (4)
  • will rescue people trapped in bad situations (2)
  • will offer mercy to those who have done illegal things (2)
  • will make laws that do not oppress vulnerable people (2)
  • will look after good people (victims of crime?) (1)
  • protect employees from employers who want to take advantage of them (1)
  • consider the impact of policies on the needs of  those outside the country (1)

So, now all I have to do is compare the policies of the various parties with that list and see how they match up!

Incidentally, I'd be really interested if someone of the more 'family values' persuasion could explain to me how they have arrived at that position.  I can't begin to imagine that it isn't in the Bible - so many very Biblically literate Christians believe it, after all.  But I was surprised not to find it in this wee survey and I'd love to hear about where it is to be found so I can add it into my considerations for the next election.

Friday 11 November 2011

How to vote

We are having a general election in New Zealand in two weeks time.  As I've been wondering how to vote I've started to wonder about how God would want (does want?) me to vote.  This has led me to wonder about what the Bible has to say about governance.

There is a lot in the 'history' sections of the Old Testament about the various kings of Israel, but they are kings in what is essentially a theocracy.  In that context it is natural that the main criterion for judging them to be good or bad kings is whether or not they themselves followed God and whether they did things that helped their people follow God.  However, I do not live in a theocracy and, while whether or not a politician follows God is not unimportant, I don't think it should be the number one factor.

In the New Testament there is, again, a lot on leadership.  However, again it doesn't seem all that relevant to my question, as it's all about religious leadership: either that of the pharisees over the Jews or that of the leaders of the fledgling church.

However, there's one other set of texts that I hope will have some answers for me: the prophets!  In these books Israel is often berated for going against God's ways (including going against them by the way they treat people, not just in things that we might see as strictly religious).  The prophets also pronounce judgement against other countries for acting in ways that God can't stand.  I'm hoping that this section of the Bible will allow me to see what are God's key concerns in the way a country is run.

I've put together a list of the sections in each of the prophetic books that seem to contain actual statements of judgement or affirmation, and intend to go through these Biblical passages to look for the major themes.  In case anyone else would like to join me in this endeavour, this is my list:

Judgment against Israel (9:8—10:4)
Judgment against the Nations (chs. 13–23)
Universal Judgments for Universal Sin (ch. 24)

Condemnation of Kings, Prophets and People (chs. 21–24)
Judgment against the Nations (chs. 46–51)

Oracles of Judgment against the Nations (chs. 25–32)

The Lord’s case against Israel (4:1-6:3)
The Lord’s case against Israel enlarged (6:4-11:11)

The Eight Judgments of Amos (1:3-2:16)
The Depravity of Israel (4:1-13 )
The reprimand of the entire nation (6:1-14)

The Basis for the Judgment on Edom (10-14)

The Content of Jonah’s Preaching (3:4)

Judgment on the nation’s leaders (chap. 3)
Characteristics of the kingdom (4:1-8)
The Ruler of the kingdom (5:2-15)
An indictment by the Lord (6:1-5)

The Cause for God’s Judgment on Nineveh (chap. 3)

The Judgment of the Day of Yahweh (1:2-3:8)

The Pollution of Israel (1:6-3:15)

(with thanks to several online resources giving outlines of Biblical books!)

Also, if you do decide to work through these texts, could you let me know?  I've given myself a week to go through this process, as I want to leave the other remaining week to read through the material from the political parties and see how their concerns match up with the Biblical ones.  There's no way I can really do justice to the project in that time, so if someone else is interested then maybe we could divide up the work between us and do a better job!

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Carrying your cross and counting the cost

The more I read the Bible, the more I find in it!

At the moment, Martin and I are making our way through the book of Luke: the second of the four books that tell us about Jesus' life on Earth.  Today's reading was from the end of chapter 14:

 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?
For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you,  saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish

Luke 14:25-30, NIV

This passage contains two ideas that are very familiar to me: "take up your cross" and "count the cost before you take the plunge".  However, as seems to happen depressingly often, it now seems clear that neither of them mean quite what I thought they did.

In the society that Jesus' first hearers lived in, only one group of people went around carrying crosses: condemned prisoners.  When Jesus asked them to take up their crosses, he wasn't asking them to endure hardship, he was asking them to die, or at least knowingly take on that risk.  The earlier sentence actually says it even more clearly.  To put it in my own words, Jesus is saying "if you aren't willing to risk both your own death and that of the people you're responsible for looking after, then you just can't follow me".


As a matter of fact, I found reading these words on this morning to be oddly comforting.  In the last fortnight, our household has felt called by God to do something that carries a small risk of exposing one or all of us to considerable physical harm.  I'm disproportionately likely to be the recipient of any such harm, should such harm come.  This passage affirms my conviction that accepting such risks (and Martin and I allowing each other to accept them) is a normal part of following Jesus.

Once you've grapsed that that's what following Jesus is like, the bits about counting the cost before you start make perfect sense!  However, while I was familiar with the idea of counting the cost, I don't think I'd ever noticed just when you're supposed to do this.  You count it before you start following Jesus at all and not, as I had thought, before you agree to accept each particular risk.

Have you ever been in an evangelistic situation where people have been encouraged to do that?  Encouraged to count the cost, not of rejecting Jesus, but of actually following him?  I don't think I have.  Is that one of the reasons why so many people start following Jesus but then give up - that it was never made clear to them just what following Jesus might entail?  And peversely, would more teenagers and young people be interested in following Jesus if any expression of interest on their part was greeted with an exhortation to consider the potentially life-threatening consequences before making any rash choices?!

Exciting (and disconcerting) stuff, this Bible-reading!

Apple in China, take 2

A fortnight ago one of the digital technology correspondents on Radio New Zealand National's Afternoons programme suggested that Apple's track record in China was no worse than anyone else's.  I rapidly emailed them an abbreviated version of this by way of refutation.  I was amazed and delighted to hear my points discussed, sympathetically and in detail, in that same correspondent's slot on today's programme!  Woohoo!