I want to cut through all the social media hype – How do I approach the Voice to Parliament referendum as a Christian?

On October 14th those of us in Australia will be voting on whether to change the constitution to include an Aboriginal voice (or advisory body) to Parliament. I have some problems.

First, I am not Aboriginal. I’m about as white as it gets – born in the north of England and moved here in 2000. That means I have no idea what issues First Nations peoples are facing for which a Voice to Parliament would be a help/hindrance.

Second, I feel like I am awash with social media news and opinion on why it’s good or why it’s bad. It has reached the point where it is very difficult to know what to think.

Third, I feel ethically queasy about being asked, as a white immigrant, to vote on the right of another people group to have a voice. Given the majority of people are like me in Australia (ie non-Aboriginal), it seems odd that we would get the say over their ability to speak into parliamentary policy. Of course all Aboriginal people of voting age will be eligible – but at just under 4% of the population, that means that the other 96% of non-Aboriginal people essentially get the say.

So I need to use my vote wisely.

As a Christian, I want to avoid being sucked into the social media hype and get back to how the wisdom of God, and my faithfulness and obedience to him, should influence my approach to this referendum.

So let’s just look at what we are being asked to vote on. This is the question – A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Do you approve this proposed alteration?

The Bible doesn’t speak to specific political situations but it does provide godly wisdom that we ought to take as our principal authority.

The key wisdom for me is this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). What does loving my neighbour look like in this situation? Given that there are for and against arguments within the Aboriginal community itself, it is hard to know which position would be the most loving. But I test myself in the following ways:

If I vote No, then I am saying I do not want to alter the constitution to recognise Aboriginal people and allow the establishment of a voice to parliament. The active decision to not recognise a whole people group that is indigenous to this land does not feel loving to me.

But would it be loving to support Aboriginal No voters who believe that the voice would not achieve what it is set up to do, or that it should be truth and treaty first? As I said, as a white immigrant, I can’t speak to these issues as I don’t (and can’t) understand them. I am not facing those issues. I automatically have a set of privileges and opportunities that others don’t have. So for me, it also doesn’t feel loving to assume I understand enough of the experience of First Nations peoples to make a judgement on that basis.

What about issues affecting the rest of us? In all honesty, I am hard pressed to see how this change would really affect my life, when it could massively impact the life of an Aboriginal person or community for the better. And if it did impact my life, would it be a cost that I would be willing to bear when viewing it through the lens of loving my neighbour? For me, the answer to that is yes. Love is costly. The Bible tells us that repeatedly. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 John 3:16). In this referendum, I am being asked to change a legal document governing the country I live in, which is a lot less than being asked to lay down my life.

Here’s another test for myself – If I were part of a minority people group who were facing disadvantages that the majority population didn’t face, would I want a constitutionally recognised body that could speak on my behalf to the law makers and leaders of my country? I would. You might not and that’s OK, but I would. So by the wisdom of loving my neighbour as myself, I feel I must honour that.

The points I’m outlining above may seem simplistic, but that was what I needed to get back to. I needed to get back to the simplicity of what am I being asked to vote on, and what godly wisdom can help me understand how I should approach it. For me, that leads me to a yes vote. For you, that might lead to a no vote and that’s OK – we live in a democracy and the biblical wisdom shows us how we lovingly disagree. Paul says “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3). This is helpful to me because, when I am awash with hype, I can feel myself being sucked into emotional opinions that can end up being quite polarising, and entrenched. I feel I need to put what the world tells me is my right to ferociously protect on one side, and be guided by what is gentle, humble, and loving to my neighbour.

So, I am in the process of educating myself on the issues through different sources (I have found this one very helpful in educating me on both the issues and basic parliamentary process which I had no idea about!). I think this is an important part of the application of wisdom. I have heard among the hype the phrase “If you don’t know, just vote no.” This feels unwise (and even more unloving to my neighbour if I deprive them of a constitutional right because “I didn’t know”). I would far rather approach this with a wise mindset of “I don’t know, so I am going to find out” then whatever my vote is, at least it has been dignified by a proper thought process and reasoning.

Because the hype can be so polarising and entrenched, this raising of my own awareness and working through what is biblically wise for me to consider, means trying to put my own needs away from front of mind, and put the needs of my neighbour first.

Please note: This is the thought process I have been through and I have come to the decision that I’ll be voting Yes. You might come to a different decision and your vote is up to you. But I thought I would blog about this because I feel a lot is getting lost. As a Christian, I honor the government but I love the Lord and so his wisdom should guide my thinking.

There are some resources that you can connect with too:

Australian Electoral Commission podcasts – they are short (a few minutes) and take you through issues around the mechanics of the referendum which are really useful.

The Voice Referendum Explained – short (less than 15 mins) podcasts from the ABC to gives some views on the No and Yes side as well as providing insight into some of the misinformation out there.

Australian Electoral Commission booklet – you should have all got one in the mail. Please note – the cases for the no and yes sides in the booklets were written by politicians and provided to the AEC and were not fact checked before publication. Four constitutional lawyers have since fact checked the booklet and the notes on the No position are here and the notes on the Yes position are here. I noted with alarm that the No position contains a great many inaccuracies and misinformation and so I do recommend you read these.

The Voice to Parliament Handbook – Written by Journalist Kerry O’Brien and author Thomas Mayo. $6 on Kindle and $12 in hard copy, this 100 page book is incredibly helpful. It is an advocate of a yes vote, but it also covers how the constitution and referendums work which I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t even know.

The Uluru Statement of the Heart – Reading the actual statement is powerful. I note that some of the hype says that this statement is over 20 pages long. The statement is 1 page. There are other stories that accompanied it, but they are not part of the statement – this is covered in one of the Voice Referendum Explained podcasts.

Leviticus 19:34 on how we treat strangers in the land (although ironically, we are the strangers having arrived in the land millenia after the Aboriginal peoples were settled in the land, but this still gives clear wisdom): You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

Biblical wisdom on how we treat others, which can give us direction on how we treat both our Aboriginal brothers and sisters, and others with whom we disagree in this referendum:

  • Philippians 2:3-4: Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
  • Romans 12:10: Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
  • Colossians 3:12-13: Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

2 thoughts

    1. Good! Please note I have just updated it as it was brought to my attention that the AEC booklet with the two positions was actually written by politicians and not fact checked by the AEC. Four independent constitutional lawyers have since fact checked both positions and I have added the links in the blog. It is deeply alarming to find out that the No campaign has many points of inaccuracy which I was really shocked by.

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