by Alastair Sterne
October 30, 2014
6 min read
The municipal elections are around the corner in Metro Vancouver. The Mayor, the City Council, the Park Board (in Vancouver proper), and the School Board will be determined. Alas, voter turnout is notoriously dismal. In 2011, the turnout for Vancouver was only 34.57% of the population, which was a 30% increase from the previous election. The truth is, electing our municipal representatives isn’t really on our radar. It doesn’t seem all that important. What can a Mayor really do? Or what can the School Board really do? The truth is they can do a lot. They play a role in shaping our social and cultural identity. You will feel the impact of their decisions whether you realize it or not.
Here’s another truth: it is a sin not to vote.
I realize I am going to have to qualify this seemingly ridiculous claim. So without further ado, here are three reasons why you should vote:
Vote to express love to your neighbours
If you don’t vote, it’s a sin of omission. It’s a failure to act. But the sin isn’t just the failure to vote. Not voting is simply a symptom. If we don’t vote — due to laziness, or disinterest, or frustration with the political system — it’s a refusal to take the opportunity to love our neighbours well, by loving our city and seeking its common good. And in this capacity, we’re failing to keep the second greatest commandment: love your neighbour as yourself.
Vote to seek the welfare of your city
Or consider when ancient Israel lost their land, their home, and were sent into exile in the Babylonian empire. What did God say to them? Keep to yourselves? Stay disengaged from society? Hardly. God said, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).
Jeremiah speaks with precision to Christians today. Vancouver may be our home, but it is not our true home. We live in it as exiles. As the author of Hebrews puts it, we’re waiting for our “better country” (Hebrews 11:14-16). Since we live in exile, expectantly waiting for Christ to renew all things, we should hear Jeremiah speaking directly to us. Which means we are to seek the welfare of our city and we are to pray for it.
The people who sit on the City Council, the Park Board, and the School Board play a role in the overall welfare of the city. Whether it’s social housing issues, the care for our environment, or the future of our children’s education — the representatives who are voted in will influence these very things. If we don’t vote, in some capacity we’re failing to seek the welfare of our city.
Vote to submit to governing authorities
Or consider the Scriptural command for us to pay our taxes. This may not be our favourite civic responsibility. But nonetheless, St. Paul stresses the necessity of paying taxes as he contends that we are to be subjected to the governing authorities. Why? Because ultimately God has appointed them (c.f. Romans 13:1-7). One of the many, many ways we seek the welfare of our city is by participating in the civil responsibilities delegated to us. To be fair, there are times when we must follow God over and above any governmental authority, especially when their desires are at odds with God’s (The current political climate and protests in Hong Kong are a good example). But when it comes to voting, this isn’t the case. If we don’t vote, we’re not subjecting ourselves to the governing authorities who request that we vote.
It’s Up to You
I’ve now provided you with the trifecta for voting! But I can’t tell you whom you should vote for. That would be irresponsible.
You need to make that decision. You need to do the research and your own reflection on the issues. You need to discuss ideas with your friends and solicit advice if you’re confused. As we select various candidates, we should seriously consider God’s vision for spiritual, social and cultural renewal and then ask ourselves: Does this person best represent what I understand to be God’s vision for this area? Does person X express God’s care for the marginalized and the poor? Does person Y seem to express God’s passion for wise stewardship of finances? Or does person Z express God’s love for children and their upbringing?
We’re not looking for perfect candidates, but we are looking for those who come closest to God’s vision for society.
I can’t and won’t tell you who to vote for, but I can tell you to vote, because voting is an act of loving our neighbours, seeking the welfare of our city, and subjecting ourselves to the authorities God has placed over us. If none of the candidate options satisfy you, then you should still vote. Spoil the ballot. Write Bart Simpson or Guy Fawkes on it, for all I care. But take up the chance to express your dissatisfaction with the system in the means that has been given to you.
Remember to Pray for Your Leaders
Remember, any civic representative — Christian or not — will imperfectly seek the welfare of our city on our behalf. This is why Jeremiah encourages us to pray, as does St. Paul, who says “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions.” The Book of Common Prayer provides us with a great prayer for those in political leadership:
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, send forth, we ask you, upon your servants who bear office in this city the spirit of prudence, charity, and justice; that they may in all things walk before you with steadfast purpose and a single heart, and faithfully serve in their several offices; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Likewise we’re provided with this prayer for elections:
Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom: Guide and direct, we humbly ask you, the minds of all those who are called at this time to elect fit persons to serve our city. Grant that in the exercise of their choice they may promote your glory, and the welfare of this Municipality. And this we beg for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Finally, please don’t vote because you want to avoid sinning by omission. You should vote because you want to join God in the renewal of our city and because you want to love our city to life. My desire and hope is that we would pick up the great mantle that has been passed on to us from Christians throughout the ages, and remain on the forefront of social engagement and renewal.
So, please love your neighbours, please seek the welfare of Vancouver, please submit to the authorities God has placed over us, and vote.
To learn how to register, where to vote, or more about the various candidates, please visit vancouver.ca/vote