Today, I had some lively exchanges on Facebook with thoughtful Christian folk about voting in elections, after I shared two posts. The first was a light hearted but quite thought provoking article titled “Six ways not to vote on May 7th”. This gave caricatures of some of the different types of thinking by Christian folk when it came to voting in elections: voting out of self interest, not voting because of disdain for the candidates, voting based on a single issue, not voting because God has pre-destined everything, not voting as cannot be bothered, not voting because of the state of the nation. It did strike me that there could be many other categories of voters who do vote depending on the issues they see as important. The second posting was to do with the Christian manifesto launched by UKIP, which in the main received short shrift by my friends. These postings did get me thinking though about the principles that should govern voting.
I should explain first the title, which sounds rather patronizing and, besides which, who am I to tell others how they should approach voting? It is important to state from the outset that there is no way I would dare tell others how they should vote unless one or more of the candidates was so bad, I felt it was my duty. Given I take my steer from the Bible, and the Bible says little about democratic engagement or some of the underlying philosophies, e.g. whether free enterprise or state control, I realize from the outset the whole issue of democratic engagement can be and has been a contentious one. But even so, there is a need to think biblically and ask the question what should be our guiding principles when making up our mind as to how we are to be involved. While I cannot claim infallibility on the matter, there are some guiding principles.
In the main, most governments I read about in the Bible were headed by unelected despots, some benign and many less so, and the people of God besides being called to follow the laws of God, they like everyone else had to work within that system, including being good citizens, being called upon to obey those in authority unless it conflicted with their being beholden to obey God. The best system that I could find was the theocratic one, set out in the Old Testament, where people feared God and recognized their two main duties were to love God and their neighbor, with minimal interference from the ruling powers. While there were glimpses of this working, too often it didn’t work and often less than satisfactory systems then replaced it. The New Testament knew mainly only Roman oppression, sometimes in collusion with the often dubious religious leaders of the countries they occupied, and somehow the Christians had to adjust to this situation. One glimpse of what could be was a form of Christian communism practiced by the early church, where people pooled their resources and shared with those in need, voluntarily and out of reverence for God.
So fast forwarding from then unto the present day, when we now live in a less than perfect democracy, which as Churchill recognized is a bad system that just happened to be better than any other system. We could of course choose not to engage in the system and as a young Christian I was told that was what I should do and my focus was not to be on any earthly kingdom of the here and now but rather the heavenly kingdom of what was to come. After a youth of left wing radicalism, I came to embrace this view and, while it took me a while to reject it, I did and now see this view as amounting to theological gobbly goop. The reason was that even though often the devil seems to be calling the shots, it is still God’s world and we need to reclaim if for Him. And while loving God and my neighbor may lead me down many paths and dead ends, if I truly do love in this way I cannot ignore politics altogether, although I do need to throw away my rose tinted glasses and recognize the political system as flawed and those who operate in it are flawed too. This makes siding with one or other political party, none of which, as far as I can tell, put doing the will of God as their overriding principle, a rather challenging undertaking. But that does not let us off the hook.
These days I do not hold views that align to one or other party and, depending on who you talk to, may think I am either from a party on the right or one on the left. While I respect those Christians who join a political party and are active in that party (and I would encourage folk to consider this), besides not finding one myself that I feel I can comfortably join, that is not my calling anyway. I see politicians as flawed human beings but which, before corrupting influences may take over, often want to make a difference and serve those they represent. I am privileged to be on good terms with politicians from across the whole spectrum. My calling is to make them accountable and encourage and work with them for the common good.
But I would conclude with the following suggestions to Christians seriously thinking about their approach to voting:
- Vote, but do so having thought and prayed about it.
- Recognise there is much you don’t know so, if you are honest, deciding who to vote for is not going to be easy.
- Consider what are the things that are important and especially what God might think on these matters.
- Admit there are a whole raft of widely varying issues that matter, so a balanced approach is needed.
- Think about the people that are to be represented and who might best represent them and do the most good.
- Speak to the candidates; ask questions; share your concerns.
- Read and study, listen and learn – there is no lack of material – the challenge is sifting what is relevant.
- Consider not just the party that may be best for the people but also the qualities of the person who represents the party.
- Serve your community, including working with politicians.
- Humble yourself before God and keep praying, including for the politicians, for we need God’s mercy.
And if after all this, you still can’t decide then don’t beat yourself up about it – you can always spoil your vote and thereby still make your views known. And also don’t get hung up if people you look up to vote differently to you. Democracy is flawed, as are we all!
God bless you!