The next General Election in New Zealand is coming up on Saturday 23rd September 2017. This is the opportunity that those of us who are 18 years of age or older have to participate in our democratic right to help select those who will govern New Zealand for the next term of three years.
At the last General Election there was a group of people who didn’t participate in the democratic process we’re offered; they were affectionately called the ‘missing million’ and most commentators suggested that they were predominantly (but not exclusively) young adults in the 18–30 age group. Of this group approx. 800,000 were enrolled but chose not to vote, and approx. 200,000 didn’t enrol in the first place.
What caused the missing million to go missing? Were they just busy on Election Day? Were they not interested? Did they think their one vote was wasted, particularly if they voted for a minority party or candidate? Did they not understand our political system? Were the All Blacks playing? No one is really sure except that there will be a multitude of reasons. Cumulatively even if half the missing million had voted, NZ could be a very different country today, or it could be more of the same. We’ll never know.
Since turning 18, I’ve always exercised my right to vote, firstly because it felt very adult to be able to buy alcohol and vote on the same day, but increasingly because I find politics a very interesting game and have grown in my understanding that the tone that is set by the government of the day provides the context by which Christians work their mission out in the land of the long white cloud.
Over time I’ve become more engaged in politics and more aware of the difference a cumulative voice can make. Over time I’ve become more conscious of how effective, or not, the public voice can be. At a time when the voice of the local church is increasingly sidelined, rightly so sometimes for some of the things we say, we need to find other ways of standing up for the values that are intrinsically obvious in the Gospel narrative.
The result of this is that I’ve become more engaged in the political process and more aware of what can be achieved. Becoming engaged makes a statement of commitment, and I’m committed to the engagement.
The political environment is not for the faint hearted. To try and hone my skills I’ve simply become involved in public discussions, predominantly just trying to provoke ideas on various social media platforms or on reader-invited responses on various news websites. Sometimes I go well; sometimes I’m shot down in a blaze of glory. I’m growing some thicker skin.
Just quietly I’ve joined a political party to try and get more of an inside view of how policy is established, particularly social policy as that is what interests me the most. I’ve done that quietly because as a pastor this could be controversial—and I’m not going to say which party I’ve joined. Maybe one day I’ll say it publicly to see what response I get. My thick skin still needs to grow some more.
Standing up for the values and ideals of what we believe is never easy in our culture. As the founders of the tall-poppy syndrome, Kiwis are passionate about dragging others down when their views become controversial, or religious, or religiously controversial. Let’s see what happens to the Christian voice when euthanasia is debated shortly. I know it won’t be pretty.
We live in a very different world today than the context of society in biblical times. There just simply wasn’t the opportunity for the average person to get involved in the political environment; there weren’t even democratic processes, so exegeting an appropriate political response is difficult, barring praying for wisdom and courage.
I pray that the missing million didn’t include too many young people of Christian faith, but the reality is that it probably did. I’m an optimist though, so I hope that young followers of Jesus might become more interested in politics and realise that their cumulative voice can make a difference, rightly channelled. I pray that young followers of Jesus might take some time to hear the views of different political voices, and make informed choices about who their vote is afforded to.
I don’t know where my political involvement will go. Maybe I’ll work at the polling booth, maybe I’ll put hoardings up by the roadside; maybe I’ll become Prime Minister. Whatever I become, at a minimum I’ve become engaged and am committed to seeking God’s wisdom in my commitment. Roll on 23rd September 2017.
Grant Harris is the Senior Pastor of Windsor Park Baptist Church and Chaplain to the SkyCity NZ Breakers basketball club. The tagline of Windsor Park is ‘doing life and faith, together’, these words reflect his passion for active involvement in the wider community. Just quietly Grant does want to be prime minister. Grant can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.