Citizenship, Democracy and Discipleship
The Salvation Army is politically non-partisan. This means that as a movement we do not promote or endorse specific candidates or political parties. However, The Salvation Army is politically engaged seeking God’s kingdom values for our communities.
Here we go again—another silly season—election time! Expansive promises and dire warnings about the policies coming from other parties; questions about the intelligence, ethics or competence of the various leaders, followed by statements about the absolute integrity and competence of one’s own party. Never mind a mass of confusing and conflicting interpretations of various statistics and the search for simplistic populist solutions to complex problems. Especially in what are troubled and contentious times—it is enough to make you want to go into hibernation!
Some view politics as so dirty that Christians shouldn’t besmirch themselves by becoming involved in it at all. Yet it is in this context where Christians need to participate. We need to explore the issues beyond the sensationalism and noise of the media and really pray that God would reveal what issues matter. This is especially important considering the people who seek our help, who come through our corps (churches) and social service ministries. The same people we see highlighted as ‘in poverty’ or ‘disadvantaged’ within reports such as the Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit’s (SPPU) State of the Nation.
The right and necessity of voting
The ability to vote and participate in the election process is a huge privilege and a tremendous responsibility. Women in Switzerland only got the right to vote in 1971—that is, all except one canton where women were not allowed to vote until 1990, almost 100 years after New Zealand women’s voting rights being granted in 1893. The ability to vote and hold leaders accountable hasn’t been around that long for most people around the world. In a sense, we all now own ‘leadership’ responsibility for our nation in our own small way.
The importance of this isn’t lost on those who have sponsored a series of hui encouraging Mongrel Mob members to register to vote. Here is a group so marginalised that they don’t feel connected at all to mainstream New Zealand. The consequent disengagement, alienation, crime and anti-social behaviours are there for all to see. No panacea, the very act of engaging in the democratic process is one small step towards active and constructive citizenship—that is if they can look past the political posturing that seeks to discount their participation in this process.
We can’t hope to know all the answers to complex issues facing our nation, but we can seek to be informed to the best of our abilities. Yes, it is part of being an active citizen, but is also what is involved in active discipleship—seeking God’s kingdom values and shalom (peace) here on earth—an act of following Jesus.
In the election process it is important that The Salvation Army seeks to consider our people: the 150,000 people on the margins that we support each year. SPPU is carrying out a series of activities to promote discussion related to the election with the hope that people will find these helpful in determining how they will vote and what kind of issues people will consider and put before, or ask of, the politicians from the various parties.
SPPU has prepared election resources for you as you prayerfully consider how you will cast your vote. These can be found at salvationarmy.org.nz/PressingIssues. Here you will find a more in-depth dive to the pressing issues facing our communities. This includes a series ‘Pathways and Politics’ where eight Christian politicians are interviewed about their faith, background, politics and the key issues they see for the 2023 election. We also have a Radio Rhema interview series every Thursday at 11.15am until the election on various issues related to the SPPU’s five work areas. We hope that these resources can be helpful as we all seek to be active citizens and disciples as we engage in the privilege of involvement in the democratic process.
‘He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed…’ (Luke 4:14-22).
Here is a summary of our five Pressing Issues briefing papers:
Children and Youth
What will politicians do to help children and youth to thrive? What actions will they take to reduce child poverty? What extra help will they give low-income households with children? What steps will they take to reduce food hardship?
Youth mental distress has been increasing. We want to hear about actions to increase low- or no-cost youth mental health services, focused on places where they are needed the most.
Youth unemployment is still too high. We think every young person should leave school with a plan for their future. Politicians need to explain how they will help young people in the regions and communities most affected.
Abuse and violence towards children are rising, with more than 2000 violent offences resulting in injury last year. We want politicians to explain how they will support prevention approaches that work at community and family/whānau level in communities most affected.
Work and Incomes
What will political parties do to ensure jobs? How will they ensure adequate incomes for people on the margins struggling with rising living costs? How will they ensure employers will invest in their people with fair wages? Will they provide active employment support such as job navigators and support employment in areas where the need is highest?
Hardship is deepest for people relying on welfare support: will they commit to ensuring welfare support is set at a minimum liveable income?
Taxation is the way we work together as a country to help those who are most in need. We want to know how politicians plan to make the system fairer—those who can, contribute more, so that those in need receive the help required. Better taxes are needed for revenue to provide healthcare, education and welfare support so people can live with dignity.
How do politicians plan to help the more than 100,000 people affected by homelessness or the threat of homelessness? Will politicians support more intensive housing case managers and fund innovative homelessness services? What is their plan to increase the number of community and public housing units?
Homelessness and very high housing insecurity has huge impacts on the 150,000 people using our Salvation Army services each year. It has generational ramifications that go on for years.
We also need ‘exit plans’ for people in transitional housing so they can find long-term affordable housing.
Boarding houses are the headline example of housing distress. Will politicians commit to establishing a national register of boarding houses with clear regulations and licensing?
Will politicians commit to action from government to reform alcohol laws, especially in areas around community participation, local alcohol policies, restricting advertising and excise tax on alcohol prices? Will there be better funding of all community addiction prevention and treatment services? Will online gambling receive effective regulation?
Government action is needed to have a stronger harm prevention and minimisation focus on the regulation of gambling, including online gambling. Examples of this are credit card spending limits and strong restrictions of gambling advertising.
We call for action to protect welfare payments from debt collectors by stopping deductions from welfare benefits. Attachment Orders take money from people who already do not have enough to live. Some people are experiencing major deductions from essential welfare support by private debt collectors. This is just one example of the financial pressures and manipulation people on the margins face in dealing with debt collectors and fringe lenders.
Crime and Punishment
As the spotlight on crime intensifies, familiar narratives of being ‘tough on crime’ echo across party lines. Does this tough stance translate to safer communities? Will politicians invest in specialised support for those impacted by family violence and particularly regarding immediate needs such as housing?
A safer Aotearoa requires policies that delve into tackling drivers of crime, systemic issues and boosting rehabilitative and reintegration solutions.
Family violence continues to be an endemic issue, with police attending a family harm incident every three minutes.
Our justice system is not working for victims and often continues to perpetuate harm. Will the government invest in victim support advocates to assist victims in the system?
The remand population continues to grow in our prisons: will the government invest in alternatives to custodial remand such as bail support services that aid individuals on bail?
WORDS Lt-Colonel Ian Hutson and Paul Barber