How and why should Christians vote?
I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your notice that this year is a General Election year. As Christian citizens, we should think carefully and biblically about our responsibilities in this area.
First of all, we should rejoice that we live in a relatively stable and free society. The Bible tells us to give thanks for all those in authority (1Tim. 2). We should be grateful that we live in a democracy. We should recognise that our Government, our local councils, our police force – whatever criticisms we may have of them on occasions – are God’s servants to do us good (Rom. 13 and 1 Pet. 2). A nation cannot break God’s law without there being consequences – to a degree in this life, and fully in the life to come. God cannot be mocked (Gal. 6:7). A nation will never be blessed by breaking God’s laws. As Christian voters it is our role to encourage our governing authorities to exercise their God-given responsibilities wisely and to voice our concern when we believe they are acting unwisely.
An answer to our problem?
However, it is important for us to recognise that Government is not responsible for everything. Indeed if there is to be democracy, it must not be. Many Christians are gravely concerned about legislative proposals which intrude into ordinary family life, evangelism and the running of the local church. It is also important to say that society is more than the state. Society is made up of families and many institutions and organisations between the state and the citizen. Government by itself cannot solve all our problems or even come remotely close.
Of course, the only lasting and real solution to the problem of man’s sin is uniquely provided in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel denies that there can ever be political salvation in this life. Nevertheless, we are to pray that our authorities would provide freedom for the gospel and freedom for Christians to live ‘peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness’. We are to pray that the governing authorities will fulfil their God-given mandate and govern according to God’s moral law. If it is right to pray for those things, it is surely right to vote for those things. The General Election provides an opportunity for Christians to speak out and play their part.
The Bible gives a clear basis for knowing right from wrong. It also gives us a basis for identifying ‘the more important matters of the law’. Jesus criticised the Pharisees and told them ‘you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness’ (Matt. 23:23). This included ‘setting aside the commands of God’ by neglecting their parents (when they needed financial support) in order to observe a man-made tradition (Mark 7:9-12). For Jesus, and for us, it is God’s commands which tell us what constitutes justice, mercy and faithfulness. That is why God has been pleased to give us the ten commandments.
When it comes to votes in Parliament, there are cases where MPs vote for or against what is taught in the commandments. For example, a vote for abortion is a vote to break the sixth commandment (Ex. 20:13). Similarly it is a breach of the seventh commandment (Ex. 20:14) to equate homosexual unions to marriage. These are not matters of political opinion, but straight forward issues of right or wrong.
Debates about the introduction of local income tax, free entry into museums, or the scrapping of tuition fees can all involve a moral component. But from a biblical perspective these issues can never be as important as a debate on whether euthanasia should be legalised.
Who gets your vote?
When considering who to vote for, we must consider the candidates and we must consider the parties they represent. You may feel it is better to vote for an exceptional candidate who shares your Christian views across a range of moral issues even if he is standing for a party which you would not naturally support. You may feel that the most important consideration is to vote for the candidate who is standing for a party which in your view represents the least-worst option. You may feel that it is better to vote for one of the Christian political parties which may happen to stand in your area.
These are decisions which ultimately only you can decide. In some constituencies Christian believers may be in an impossible position. Christians should exercise their Christian conscience in these matters. Just because your parents or your work colleagues vote in a certain way does not mean that you need to do the same. It is your choice.
However, you can’t make an informed decision without knowing what the parties and the candidates stand for. In the run-up to the election The Christian Institute will be producing an election guide*, listing the policies of the major political parties on a range of moral issues.
Further information may come from candidates or their representatives who knock at your door, or call by telephone, or stop you in the street to ask how you intend to vote. This presents an ideal opportunity to raise Christian concerns and to find out where the candidates stand on key issues. The candidate’s opinions on certain moral issues can be quite different from the position of the party.
More than at any other time the candidates and the sitting MP will be open to listen to your views. Should they be elected they will be representing you in Parliament. Think through two or three issues and have questions ready in case canvassers call or stop you whilst out shopping. Limit yourself to two or three issues with which you are most concerned. Be prepared to give a reason for your view. The very act of asking questions is a Christian witness.
If you don’t want to wait for candidates to contact you, then you could contact them either by letter or by email in order to raise your concerns. This way you can be sure that all the candidates are aware of your concerns. You can get local addresses for candidates from the election literature which is put through your letterbox, or your local library may be able to help you. If you write to a candidate, keep your letter short but do raise specific points. Make sure you tell him that you are a constituent.
For the sitting MP you may want to see how he or she has voted in the past since this is a matter of public record (visit www.christian.org.uk which lists MPs’ voting records on a specific range of moral issues).
It is highly unlikely that you will find a party or a candidate whom you feel has all the right views. In some constituencies there will be the option to vote for a candidate who takes a firm stand on moral issues, but this is not going to be the norm. Instead it is likely to be a decision about what is the least-worst option amongst the political parties and candidates.
There are many ways of being a Christian citizen, but a General Election provides a good opportunity for Christians to be salt and light in our society. We must pray for wisdom and speak out for the truth.
Mike Judge is head of communications at The Christian Institute.
*If you are on The Christian Institute’s mailing list, you will automatically be sent a copy. If you are not on the mailing list, but would like to receive a copy, telephone The Christian Institute on 0191 281 5664.