The General Election on 7th May is shaping up to be the most unpredictable in modern history. The dramatic rise on the one hand of the United Kingdom Independence Party and on the other of the Scottish National Party means that many traditionally “safe” Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat seats will be up for grabs this time round. Will any party gain an overall majority? Will the most successful party attempt to form a minority government or will some kind of coalition be formed again? Who will hold the balance of power? Which new faces might get a seat at the table?
Should Christians vote Labour, conservative, Liberal democrat, UKIP, Green, Monster Raving Loony party? It’s no surprise that the Bible gives us no specific answer to that question. Modern-style democracy had not been invented in the time of Moses or even in the time of Jesus.
I believe there are two things we should have in mind as we consider who we should vote for – the people and the policies. Let’s begin by thinking about the PEOPLE. The Bible does not talk at all about political parties but it does have a lot to say about RULERS. Specifically it tells us that there are marks of character which rulers need.
In the history of Israel their first King Saul had been a disaster and God had rejected him So God sent the prophet Samuel to anoint a new King. And we know the story of how the visit unfolded as Samuel was introduced one by one to the sons of Jesse.
Samuel Anoints David
1 Samuel 16 6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.”
7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
God looks at the heart. We may choose our politicians by all sorts of criteria. Appearance. Accent. Background. Education. Experience. But God does not look at the things man looks at. God looks at the heart. So what should we be looking for in our politicians – those elected to represent us?
A SERVANT HEART
The mother of James and John asked Jesus to promise that they would sit in the top positions at his right and left hand in glory. Jesus said to all the disciples,
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Our leaders are called “Public servants”. They are elected to serve us, the people, not their own interests. God looks at the heart! Who are these people actually serving?
God appeared to King Solomon in a dream, and Solomon asked God.
1 Kings 3: 9 … give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.
10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.
Our leaders need wisdom. Not necessarily great intelligence, although that would be an asset. But the wisdom to choose the right priorities, see the bigger pictures, and make the right decisions.
The Book of Proverbs says this,
Proverbs 8:12 “I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence; I possess knowledge and discretion. …
14 Counsel and sound judgment are mine; I have understanding and power.
15 By me kings reign and rulers make laws that are just;
16 by me princes govern, and all nobles who rule on earth.
God looks at the heart – who amongst our politicians is truly wise?
So as we think about the people we consider their character. Are they honest? Can we trust them? Are they wise? Do they have a servant heart?
We think about the PEOPLE. But then we will also want to consider the POLICIES of the different political parties and also of the individual candidates. How will the stated policies of the different parties influence who we vote for? None of the parties lor the candidates takes an explicitly Christian stand. Each party takes what we might possibly agree is “the Christian line” on some of the issues and directly opposes the Christian line on other issues. So at best we could end up trying to balance which issues are the most important for our vote.
A cautionary word. It was the possibly the most popular politician Jim Hacker M.P. in “Yes Minister” who said that manifesto promises don’t count anyway – everybody knows that nobody actually intends to keep them? When it comes to choosing our government, the general election is about much more than policies and manifesto promises. But we should still give thought to these things.
In one of our evening services before Easter we had a discussion about which issues we might be most concerned about as Christians. I put together a list of ten possible areas although of course there are others as well. Which of these are the most important when we are considering who to vote for in May? Which should be our priority? Are any of them “deal-breakers”? So important that we would not vote for a party which took a position in opposition to our understanding of that issue? Here are my ten topics, in no particular order.
1. The economy – Pensions, taxation, council tax, tackling poverty and especially child poverty, Universal Credit and the Impact on those on benefits.
2. Education – the false god of choice
3. Europe – European constitution and growing pressures from Brussels for “political correctness”
4. Family issues – “homosexual marriage”, abortion and euthanasia.
5. Health issues, The future of the National Health Service.
6. Housing and affordable housing, development in South-East, Transport, The Environment.
7. International development, International security and threat of terrorism,
8. Migration, Immigration and asylum,
9. Criminal justice. Racial justice, equality.
10. Secularisation and the marginalisation of Christians and other Faith Communities.
So many questions – so many different answers from the different political parties and candidates. What matters to us? What matters to God?
The Bible gives us Christian principles which we can apply to discover God’s will about any of these big issues, and we will want to see for ourselves how the politicians match up to God’s standards in these and other areas. Here are a two issues which the Bible makes clear that God very much cares about.
JUSTICE – FAIRNESS
God is a God of Justice. The God of the Bible, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is the holy and righteous God. He cares passionately about justice. God cares that people treat each other fairly.
I will proclaim the name of the LORD. Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. (Deuteronomy 32:3-4)
The LORD reigns for ever; he has established his throne for judgment. He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice. The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. (Psa 9:7-9)
God is a God of justice. And God expects his people to care about justice too. Christians have always been at the forefront of the battles for social justice. Abolishing slavery. Racial justice. Gender equality. Safeguarding children and vulnerable adults. God says in Amos 5:24 let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
God demands fairness. And God demands that leaders of nations work for true justice.
Proverbs 282 When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers, but a man of understanding and knowledge maintains order.
3 A ruler who oppresses the poor is like a driving rain that leaves no crops.
4 Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law resist them.
5 Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully.
God looks at the heart – do our politicians truly work for justice?
CARE FOR THE POOR AND NEEDY – COMPASSION
Let us remember just how much God cares about the poor and marginalized. I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy. (Psalm 140:12)
As well as caring for justice for all men and women and children, God has a particular interest in specific groups of people. There is a triad which we find mentioned no less than 18 times in the Old Testament, “the alien, the fatherless and the widow”
For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)
Aliens. Outsiders. People who don’t belong. People who don’t quite fit in. These are the kinds of people God really cares about. It was Bishop of Liverpool David Sheppard who in his book in 1983 drew the attention of the churches to God’s “Bias to the poor”. We find this principle throughout the Old Testament and especially also in Luke’s Gospel. God has a special care for the poor and the marginalised and the oppressed. Remember the words of the Magnificat, which may Christians use in their worship every week.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
Remember God’s blessings promised to the poor and the woes on those who are rich and well fed in the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6. God still calls his people to show the same care He does for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, the outsiders, the refugees, anybody marginalised by society.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter. (Isaiah 53:6-7)
God cares for the poor and needy and he expects the leaders of nations to show that same compassion for the weak and defenceless in the community. Too many politicians are only concerned with what they can achieve for their supporters, for their kinds of people. God looks at the heart – how much do our politicians really care about ALL sectors of society – the aliens, the fatherless, the widows? God looks for compassion!
Isaiah 10 Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees,
2 to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.
3 What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches?
God looks at the heart. He looks for a servant heart. He looks for wisdom. And when it comes to specific policies, God looks for justice and He looks for compassion.
So who do we vote for? That your responsibility to decide. I have had the privilege of meeting a number of MPs over the years and consider one from my university days to be a friend, but I have never met any of our local candidates in Chelmsford. We all need to find out for ourselves what the candidates think and believe from what they have written or said about themselves. But when we vote let us bear in mind – God looks at the heart!
The prophet Isaiah gives us a picture of God’s chosen Ruler – the Messiah. One day God will send him from heaven to bring God’s Kingly Rule on the earth. None of our politicians are the Messiah, even though some may have such delusions. But this gives us a picture of those who aspire to lead our nation should be like.
11 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD— 3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears;
4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash round his waist. ….
9 They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
That is what the world will be like when God’s chosen King brings justice and peace to the earth. Which of our politicians match up to God’s standards? Man looks at the outward appearance – but God looks at the heart.