In less than three week many of my compatriots will be going to the polls to vote in the local council elections. While this is not to elect a national government, it will have a bearing on governance since whoever gets in will have a say in how local government is run. I have no doubt given the diverse views among my friends that there will be a full range of preferences on display. Given local issues are not necessary the same as national ones, for some (including me) the person who is voted for will be every bit as important as their party, with the big challenge being deciding who to vote for.
My writing now is NOT to evaluate the relative merits of parties and candidates (there will be other blogs that serve this function) but rather to present a theological rationale into my thought process in making my decision. Unlike one well know Christian politician, I do “do God” and that has a considerable bearing on my political preferences even though I well recognize that better Christians than I, who think along these lines, may come to quite different conclusions as to what matters most and who gets their vote.
As some will know, my early formative years as a Christian was among the Plymouth Brethren (PB). PBs had a tendency not to encourage their members to be politically involved although in those early years I ruefully noted that more PB members would have voted Conservative rather than Labour. I think they were attracted to the idea of free enterprise, fiscal restraint and small government along with attention being paid to law and order matters. This was at odds with my previous socialist leanings and the influence of my working class parents who saw a bigger role for government in terms of redressing social evils and ensuring the poor were looked after. I later met Christians who also thought along those lines. As I reflect on these matters, being older, wiser and a lot more experienced, I can see arguments for leaning toward Conservatives as well as to Labour for the reasons mentioned above. As I point out to both to my Conservative and Labour friends: Conservatism falls down because too many who do well out of less government interference are deficient in their social responsibilities; Labour falls down because history invariably shows that when government has too much power and money to re-distribute to the poor, they get it wrong. I will, however, be making a choice of whether to vote Conservative or Labour or other on May 5th, but that will be revealed AFTER the hustings, I am helping to organize for my ward to take place this coming Friday, has taken place.
There is a certain irony that one J.N.Darby (1800-1882), who many credit as being the leading influencer as far as PB thinking goes, did not get involved politically yet often showed profound insights over issues that would have divided politicians. His thinking was no doubt coloured by the notion that as Christians our citizenship is not of this world but rather in heaven and that is where we should focus our efforts. One example of his wisdom was over a hotly debated question in his day we would not give a second thought to today: “should the gates to London’s parks be open on a Sunday?” Some thought they should and some thought they shouldn’t. Darby argued that the main gates should be closed but not the pedestrian gates. He reasoned that rich people with their horses and carriages could well afford to visit the park on days other than Sunday but Sunday was the only day poor people could enjoy the beauty of God’s nature. Petty example this may be, but I often wonder what might have happened if people who thought along these lines were to have been politically involved rather than leave it to others to do so.
When it comes to the question of who we vote for, the Bible says very little. After all, democracy was not practiced in Bible times and the two main types of government that we typically come across are either those of despotic autocrats or those who ruled based on theocratic grounds. But there are principles that are laid out to guide us. The one that will spring to mind to many are Jesus words: “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars and to God the things that are God’s” and one obvious application is our need to pay taxes. Other New Testament writers, such as St. Paul, urge us to do our civic duties, and always there is the great command “to love our neighbor”. One verse though that does particularly influence my thinking on these matters is: “I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” – 2 Timothy 2:1-2. The emphasis is on the importance of prayer and, dare I say it, accepting our lot in life, but there is another aspect: “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence”. I wonder how many Christians consider this when voting?