One publication I read this week included these words,
‘In a collapsing culture, public policy is increasingly affected by secular values. The main political parties are by no means immune to this. All three main parties have policy positions with which biblical Christians strongly disagree, such as the endorsement of civil partnerships. In casting a vote Christians are not endorsing every item of policy of the party they vote for. They are exercising judgement which can often boil down to choosing what is the least worst option’.
I agree with that. But ‘choosing what is the least worst option’ is hardly a slogan to ignite our passion for political involvement, is it?
In 1997 75% of the British electorate cast their vote. In 2001 this dropped to 51%. It rose slightly to 61% last time round. Among 18-24 year olds it was estimated that only 37% voted. There is clearly widespread disengagement from the political process. One of the notable features arising from the televised debates is that greater numbers of people have been motivated to get involved in politics. I’m not sure that’s necessarily a good thing. It’s one thing to have large numbers of new voters. It’s quite another to have a large number of well informed voters.
There are perhaps three dominant reasons for disengagement
1. We’ve not got the motivation to investigate. We might think we’re better off just ignoring political involvement and concentrating on gospel ministry in our church or in our family. But that’s naive and unbiblical. And if we’re going to live in a successful democracy then this requires a literate and knowledgeable electorate. Therein lies a significant problem. Most of the electorate isn’t informed. It’s opinionated. But that’s different. As Christians, we can take that responsibility seriously. We can play our part by investigating the policies of the candidates, forming an opinion and having something to say. It’s not as hard as all that.
2. We’ve got no one to represent our views. There’s no one party that represents my views on all things. Which is why we have to choose what’s least bad. In voting for a particular party we’re not saying that we endorse all of their views on all of the issues that they address. Because of the biblical teaching on same sex unions and abortion, Christians would have no one to vote for in most constituencies. Obviously we may decide that there is one issue that makes voting for any of them impossible. I would encourage you not to abstain from the democratic process but to make your displeasure known by being involved and, as one Christian friend recommends, spoiling your paper. We may be fortunate enough to have a Christian candidate who is prepared to argue a Christian view. But we should only vote for him if he’s good at governing not simply because he’s a Christian. Many of us reading this are Christians. But I probably wouldn’t vote for you. Just because you;re a Christian doesn’t make you good at running the country! If we decide that we’re going to look at alternatives, we ought to vote for parties whose policies approximate to God’s will expressed in scripture. God’s ways are right and therefore they ought to be obeyed. God’s ways are also wise and therefore pragmatically they’re the best way to govern.
3. We’ve lost confidence in the integrity of public officials. It’s worth remembering that not everyone used public money to pay for the upkeep of their duck house or order pornographic films for their husband. There are almost 650 Members of Parliament and we mustn’t cast them all in the same light. I know a few and I’d happily have them as elders in our church. But, of course, voting is the means by which we can pass judgment on the way that they’ve performed. If we’re unhappy with our sitting MP then don’t vote for him or her. It is worth considering their personal character when we vote for them. Can they be trusted to represent you in Parliament or will they just tow the party line and weakly respond to the whip.
In some cultures there’s not much that Christians can do to influence political structures and policies. They can pray, but that’s it. That’s a good thing. But for them it’s the only thing. We could perhaps learn from them. But in modern democracies we can influence what happens through the ballot box. The Bible records a number of instances where God’s people have been involved in influencing Government. Consider these three
- In Daniel 4 King Darius sought the wisdom of Daniel
- In Luke 3 John the Baptist locked horns with King Herod
- In Acts 24 Paul engaged with the Roman Governor Felix
Christians should act upon opportunities given to them to influence Government to make laws consistent with God’s moral standards. Voting is just such an opportunity. But we should take other opportunities as well. The letter writing that CCFON and the Christian Institute encourage us to undertake.
Here are three reasons that Jesus gives us to be involved in the political process.
1. Because Jesus tells us to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s (Luke 20:20-26)
20Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be honest. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. 21So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. 22Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” 23He saw through their duplicity and said to them, 24“Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?” 25“Caesar’s,” they replied. He said to them, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” 26They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.
Jesus found himself on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand if he said that they should pay taxes he’s going to be written off by the crowd who welcomed him as the Messiah. And on the other hand if he says that they shouldn’t pay taxes then he sets himself up as a rebellious insurrectionist. He saw through their duplicitous motives and responded with two points. First, give to Caesar what is Caesars. And secondly, give to God what is God’s.
In showing them the coin, Jesus’ point seems to be that if you choose use Roman services, in particular their system of monetary exchange, then you have accepted Roman authority. And therefore you ought to submit to the authority that is above you. And so Jesus expected them to pay their taxes, support the Government and be good citizens. If we’re unhappy with the Government of this country then we could always emigrate.
But Jesus also said, give to God what is God’s. Caesar has some rights but not he has no rights beyond what God allows. Government has some authority but not absolute authority. And so politics is important but it’s not all important. It helps us to put politics into perspective and it may be that some of us here need that reminder. As someone has said, ‘We support Government, not because it’s our Saviour, but because our God, our Saviour, has ordained it for our good’.
Our hope is in God alone, not in any Government and not in any political movement. Jesus says to us don’t idolise politics but don’t dismiss it either. Treasure it as a gift from God to be used
2. Because Jesus tells us to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16)
13“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. 14“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
Jesus taught his disciples that the church is the agent by which God preserves societies from moral decay and by which he enlightens societies in their immoral darkness. If the salt remains in the salt cellar and if the light is increasingly hidden under a secular bowl, it will become much harder for Christians to do those good works which transform society. Christians should be expressing a biblically based agenda for the common good. We should so that on our soap boxes in the public square, through the mail box as we write sensible letters and through the ballot box as we cast our vote.
3. Because Jesus tells us to love our neighbour as ourselves (Matthew 22:39)
Influencing a Government to make good laws is one way of obeying Jesus’ command to love our neighbour as yourself. Good laws bring benefit to many people. And so there are three principles that ought to inform how we vote.
1. Vote for the benefit of others
In Galatians 6:10 Paul says that we should do good to all people, especially those who belong to the family of believers. But notice that he says especially not exclusively the church. He expects us to do good to those who don’t go to church.
Jesus said the same thing in the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. He told us to extend mercy to our neighbours. And the whole parable is about expanding the category of ‘neighbour’ so that no one is excluded.
Philippians 2 says, ‘each of you should look not only to your own interests, but to the interests of others.’ It’s fundamental to the Christian world view that as followers of Jesus Christ we’re devoted to the good of others. He gave himself up for us and therefore his followers will endeavour to put their private interests aside and seek instead to serve the wider community. That’s a hugely different approach to many who will be voting with their own concerns in mind. It’s not good enought to vote only with the interests of ourselves, our family or even our church in mind. Like Christ, we must think of others.
2. Vote for the moral health of the country
Proverbs 14 says, ‘Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people’. Most political manifestos try to appeal to aspirational motivations. But we’re Christians and so we ought to be relatively disinterested in aspiring to a better material life in this world. What we ought to be concerned for is moral righteousness. We’ll need to think through how policies will impact family life and marriage, homosexuality, poverty, corruption and so on. I’d love to belong to a country that was a credit to the gospel and not a disgrace in God’s eyes. Let’s not simply vote because we’ll be better of financially with the Tories plans for inheritance tax.
3. Vote for the good of the gospel
1 Timothy 2 says, ‘I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone, for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God our saviour, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth’.
Good government enables the church to get on with being godly and enables God’s missionary ambitions to be fulfilled. Therefore, there’ll be some policies that hinder gospel proclamation in this country and others that promote it. We need to vote for a party that will permit the freedom of religious expression.
As Christians who’ve understood the gospel promise of the future Kingdom of God we know that whoever ends up as the Government in the Houses of Parliament is not the answer to our deepest problems. Jesus is. The Bible helps us put politics into perspective. We mustn’t idolize it, but neither must we dishonour it. We mustn’t be fanatical about politics and think that life and death depends on whether David Cameron, Nick Clegg or Gordon Brown gets in. But neither must we be disengaged, frustrated and scorn the political system and simply opt out. Therefore we should get out and vote but not get our hopes up!