Christians have more reason than most not to vote: we know that politicians are not all-powerful, but that Jesus is – there is a higher throne before which we bow; that politics as part of a fallen world is not perfect, and no party however good can create paradise on earth – only Christ will do that in his new creation.
Yet we are called to be citizens of earth as well as heaven, to give to “Caesar” what is his (Mark 12:17), to be subject to those whom God has placed in authority over us and pray for them (Romans 13:1; 1 Timothy 2:2; 1 Peter 2:13).
And we are called to bring the resurrection of Christ into our present lives, including our politics. The gospel and kingdom of God inevitably impact (and sometimes contradict) the fallen order and kingdoms of the world.
As British theologian Oliver O’Donovan boldly claims in his Desire of the Nations: “God has no spies. He has prophets, and he commissions them to speak about society in words which rebuke the inauthentic speech of false prophets.”
So how should we decide which party or person to support? The excellent little book “Votewise 2015“, from our friends at The Jubilee Centre, is the best place for further guidance on this, and on engaging with politics at any time.
Briefly, I’d suggest that we ask those who seek our vote if they will do the following five things:
Create a compelling vision of the future
A compelling picture of the kind of society we should create is lacking from any of the party leaders at present. We are hearing a lot about taxes, employment and healthcare – important issues, to be sure – but little about the common good, a world where people are united across dividing lines and brought together in cooperation for all. There is no sense of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream”, and we ought to ask our leaders what (if any) their dream is.
Build an “others first” culture
Back in February the House of Bishops wrote an open letter “Who is my neighbour?” which encourages politicians to put the common good, the building of a healthy “community of communities”, at the top of the agenda. “The different parties have failed to offer attractive visions of the kind of society and culture they wish to see, or distinctive goals they might pursue. Instead, we are subjected to sterile arguments about who might manage the existing system best.”
The sales pitch from politicians seems aimed only at persuading us what is in it for us if we vote for them. There is little talk of imagining or building a more caring society in which we serve others first. Yet as Christians we should vote for those who will nurture community cooperation, and support relational, local work by charities, churches and credit unions, which have the capacity to create a culture of love and compassion.
Welcome faith in public life
You have probably noticed the way that many in the media think we can and should separate “private” belief from “public” policy. Of course this is impossible, because the nature of true faith is that it is not private: it involves action, it implies that we take a position on what it best for all in society. Faith is so much more than kneeling by my bed in private prayer. Can we pray for leaders to be elected who will recognise and welcome the place of religion in forming the values and policies of society, and not be apologetic or silent about it? We are not asking for the Christian and religious voice to have its way on every issue, but we are asking for it to be heard and welcomed.
Protect religious freedom
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Pope Francis, have both spoken out over Easter, urging the world not to maintain an awkward silence over the killing of Christians. The religious water is muddy because of extremism, and none of us want to see more being duped into leaving the UK for ISIS. But the response to a minority of terrorists should be to promote more public religious debate, not silence it. Truth and love will overcome falsehood and evil.
Furthermore, unless the right of ordinary individuals to practice and share their faith is protected, atheistic secularism will end up silencing and criminalising all those with sincere religious beliefs, not just terrorists – in the name of “equality”. The hasty redefinition of “marriage” in recent years was mistaken in my view, and placed churches in a difficult position. Without protection for sincere religious believers, aggressive and unexamined secularism will make “rights” the enemy of religious freedom. Tolerance will trump conscience.
Encourage personal virtue
“Who is My Neighbour?” identified a strength of Margaret Thatcher’s “Victorian values” government (whatever one thought of it in other ways): its focus on personal virtues. She underpinned the value of self-help and hard work. Too often today politicians try to dazzle us with economic figures for which they take credit: the effect is to make us feel like pawns in the government machine, as if we have no contribution to building the future ourselves. Let’s pray for leaders who will help us see ourselves as personally involved through “good living” in improving not only our lives, but those of others. Society is built one godly life at a time.
We may not want politicians to preach at us. But we do want people who will inspire us with the difference we can make if we live by compassion, self-sacrifice, faith, humility, goodness and love.