The General Election two years ago produced a result which surprised everybody. When the pollsters were predicting a very tight election and quite possibly a minority or coalition government, the clear victory for the Conservative Party was unexpected. Then last year the outcome of the vote on Britain’s membership of the European Union came as a great surprise, particularly to the people who had argued in favour of Brexit. For many months the new Prime Minister Theresa May promised that there would be no General Election until 2020. But now, here we are. In ten days the country will once again be choosing our next government. Here in Chelmsford things are particularly exciting because we are certain to have our first new Member of Parliament for 30 years as Sir Simon Burns will not be contesting the seat.
This time the pollsters and most commentators agree on what they predict the national outcome is likely to be. Most people are expecting the Conservative Party to increase its majority. But then over the last few years in Britain, and in America and across Europe, the polls and the pundits have been more wrong than right. So who knows?
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 of Jesus. I believe there are at least 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.
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, at personality and at character. 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? More than in any election I can remember, this time lots of attention is being given to the Leaders of the main parties. As we consider those individuals we need to think about 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 advocated by the different political parties and the individual candidates. How will the stated policies of the different parties influence who we vote for? All the major parties have some candidates who are openly Christian believers. So we should recognise that it is possible for Christians to vote with integrity for any of the major parties. There are some very helpful online articles posted by Christians who are supporting each of the main parties. I’ve put the web address of the blog on our Notice Sheet and I’ve printed a few copies of those articles in case you don’t use the internet. None of the parties or 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 quote from an article on the BBC News website sums up how many people actually feel about politics and elections. A voter in Australia said she feels “powerless” and frustrated at having to choose “usually between a number of highly incompetent morons. You’re forced to weigh up who is the lesser evil in the grand scheme of things,” she says. “Bearing in mind that election promises are often broken and you can totally be wrong with what you thought was that lesser evil.” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-39784404)
Some good points there. It was the possibly the most popular politician ever, 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. But we should still pay close attention to these policies and manifesto promises.
I believe the Bible gives us important Christian principles which we can apply to discover God’s will about any specific 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 two principles which the Bible makes clear that God very much cares about.
The principle of 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.
(The LORD) 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. (Psalm 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?
The principle of COMPASSION – CARE FOR THE POOR AND NEEDY –
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. (Luke 1:52-53)
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 chapter 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. In recent years it is true that the rich have been getting richer and the poor have been getting poorer. 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.
Two general principles – justice and compassion. Then there are specific issues to think about. Here is my list of ten areas of policy which Christians ought to be concerned about, although of course there are others as well. Which of these are the most important when we are considering who to vote for in June? 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 and particularly the Personal Independence Payments.
2. Education – the squeeze on school budgets, the false god of choice and the issue of selective schools. And this time, the issue of Student Grants.
3. Europe – how we structure trade and border arrangements with the European Union and the rest of the world in the light of Brexit.
4. Also in the light of Brexit, issues of Migration, Immigration and asylum,
5. Ethical issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion and euthanasia.
6. Health issues, The future of the National Health Service with its continuing underfunding.
7. Housing and affordable housing, development in South-East, Transport, The Environment.
8. International development, International security and threat of terrorism,
9. Criminal justice. Racial justice, equality.
10. Secularisation and the marginalisation of Christians and other Faith Communities.
So many issues. So many questions – so many different answers from the different political parties and candidates. Which matter most to us and to our families? Which matter most to God?
I want to finish on one more issue of voting which is particularly relevant to our situation in Chelmsford where one party has historically had a massive majority and last time gained more votes than all the other parties put together. In order to keep out a party they don’t want, some people choose to vote for the party which polls tell them stands the best chance of defeating that party which they really, really don’t want. This is called “tactical voting.” Is it morally right to cast your precious vote for a candidate or party you don’t actually support, in the hope that by electing them you will keep out a party you like even less? Tactical voting is also called strategic voting, or, interestingly, “insincere voting”, because the voter is “supporting another candidate more strongly than his or her sincere preference, in order to prevent an undesirable outcome.”
What’s wrong with that, you may ask, as long as the party I really don’t want doesn’t get elected? Well, firstly, obviously, to cast a tactical vote you may end up needing to support a party which has policies you don’t actually believe in, or even think are wrong. Two consequences of that are that afterwards that party you voted for may claim that they have significantly more support nationally than they actually do. And they may equally claim that the policies they promoted are more popular than actually they are. Tactical voting may well not succeed in keeping out the party you don’t want out anyway. But looking beyond the election, tactical voting may also give the analysts wrong impressions about support for parties or policies. That may not be such a good thing. So, should Christians consider voting tactically? I don’t know the answer to that – but I think it’s a good question which not many people are asking.
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. We all need to find out for ourselves what the candidates and the different parties think and believe from what they have written or said about themselves. When we vote let us bear in mind – God looks at the heart!