Five years ago we spent an evening at church pondering the forthcoming election. We’ve not done that this year (I didn’t have anything new to say!) but I wanted to write some thoughts ahead of Thursday. They are not particularly profound- more detailed and helpful reflections can be found from the pens of John Stevens, Andrew Wilson and Guy Davies.
Those who have visited my living room and seen the shelf of biographies know that politics fascinates me- I guess it is the historian within me. But I’ve always struggled to have strong political convictions in any one direction- rather like the authors of the articles mentioned above. The problem is that Christians should have a range of issues in their minds and no one political party espouses what you may call a Christian perspective on all of them. So here are three reflections- but with the warning that they won’t tell you how to cast your vote!
1. Love Your Neighbour
One of the key passages on the role of the state is Romans 13:1-7. It is worth noting that it is followed by a call for the Christian to love their neighbour in v.9. So when it comes to voting, our concern is to play our part in appointing representatives who will seek the common good- not simply voting for our personal concerns. Let me mention a couple of ways in which this works out.
We will vote for those who have a concern for the vulnerable for instance. That would include a concern for the disabled, those in need in other countries supported by overseas aid, the unborn child and the dying. If one of the big issues for Christians in the past Parliament was same sex marriage I wonder whether assisted dying will be the equivalent in the next. I think the Christian should have serious concerns about this- it is worth noting the comments of the sitting MPs in the two Oxford constituencies who both seem to share my concerns. As it happens Nick Clegg seems opposed to changing the law as well though the majority of his party disagrees. It is on issues like this that voting for a member of parliament rather than a party matters for Parliamentary votes on these matters tend to be an issue of conscience rather than people having to follow the party whip.
Love for neighbour will also lead to a concern that Gospel freedom remains in this country for we believe that the Gospel is what our neighbours most need. I don’t believe that Christianity should be given special privileges- but we should be concerned that freedom of religion continues for all, including those of us who are evangelicals. At times in the past few years this Government (particularly the “blue” part of it) has made some decidedly illiberal suggestions about restricting free speech on university campuses and so on. Whether a Labour Government would be different I will leave you to work out.
2. Neither right not left
It has been interesting observing friends commenting on Facebook during the campaign. I suppose I sort of admire those who come to strong convictions leaning either left or right. However, I am just not convinced I can join them. That’s largely because it seems to me that the Bible is both left and right wing. So, for instance, Proverbs 30 includes a command to speak up for those with no voice. The Old Testament Law reflects elements of social justice, providing for the poor, the widow and the orphan. So you could argue that it would be impossible for a Christian to vote for a party pledging £12 billion of welfare cuts. On the other hand, the Bible argues for the state to call people to act responsibly- to reward the good and punish evil. So I think you could argue that a desire to get people off welfare and into work has a moral basis. For what it is worth I think some members of the Government have made the moral case whilst others have simply sounded sneering to those in need. For the problem of course is this- how do you encourage those who can work to work whilst protecting the genuinely vulnerable and needy? That’s difficult. As we vote we have the tricky call to make- will a party’s proposals end up punishing the vulnerable or are they genuinely trying to encourage people to take responsibility?
The fact that this question is vexed and nuanced should tell us a couple of things. Firstly, governing is difficult. At one level it is easy to criticise politicians- and, truth be told, this campaign has been utterly demoralising. However, we should remember that balancing a variety of concerns in Government is very hard- we do well to avoid making too shrill noises.
Secondly, I am not convinced that it is obvious that a Christian should or should not vote for any political party. A few people have been excited by UKIP’s Christian manifesto but is slashing foreign aid really protecting the vulnerable? Others have supported the more left wing parties such as the Green Party but is spending lots of money really responsible and loving to the next generation? And some of my concerns about the main parties are indicated above. We should expect Christians to come to differing conclusions, perhaps based on their local candidates.
3. God is Sovereign
It is God who puts rulers in place according to Romans 13. We can trust Him as we tics, approach Thursday. It should be said that it may be that the Lord will use this election to humble us as a nation. My suspicion- though I may be wrong- is that the result could cause some measure of chaos. Perhaps that would be a call to us to stop trusting in human leaders, to stop being proud of our apparent place in the world and to seek a kingdom that is not of this world. And whether we like the outcome we are called to submit to and pray for our leaders. We will be doing that on Sunday evening whoever they might be.