I originally shared this guest blog post back in 2015 – which feels an age ago! Written by a good friend who has worked in politics at different levels for a number of years, I think this is a really helpful reflection as we head into what is already feeling like a very divisive election in the UK, and with the US Presidential process kicking off again….
It’s a fair question. If Christians agree on the Gospel, if they agree on what God cares about, and if they are on the same mission together – then why do we vote for different parties??
I think there are two reasons: how we apply the truths of the Bible to non-Christians around us, and what we think about the role of Government in society.
– The role of the Bible –
As Christians, we try to follow what the Bible says, but can we apply its truths and instructions to others around us? Is that an imposition, or is it a way of loving our neighbour? Well, Christians from different parties (and different parts of different parties) would have different answers.
I find that a useful shorthand for this is to think about four different types of truths or instructions we get from the Bible. These aren’t categories that the Bible itself labels, so feel free to disagree with me – but I find them helpful:
- Principles– These aren’t rules or instructions, but they are key truths which underpin a whole range of actions and imperatives. For example: human dignity, the fact that each of us is of immense and incalculable value, not because of the things we have done or could do, but because we are made by God and in his image. This means we retain our value regardless of what we do. Another principle could be that God is trinity, and how that informs our understanding of human nature, and the importance of relationships in any policy area; or that we were created as stewards of God’s creation, and what priority that responsibility should have as we tackle the world’s problems. Most Christians would agree that the things in the ‘principles’ category should influence our politics – but how they do will depend on our understanding of Government, and how we think the Fall has affected humanity.
- Priorities– This is perhaps the most obvious in the Bible. The Old Testament has something of a ‘chorus’ throughout the law and the prophets on our responsibility towards the poor, the widow, the orphan and the outsider – those who are materially or relationally poor. Or, to put it more simply: the vulnerable. Again, even for the many Christians who agree that these priorities remain, there are still disagreements. Obviously, there is disagreement on how we meet these obligations. But there are also questions of proximity – am I as responsible towards the poor orphan in Qito as the poor orphan round the corner?
- Patterns– Now we’re starting to get into areas where Christians disagree. Marriage is a good gift from God, and the right place for raising a family, in relationship with God. It is a wonderful thing. But can we impose a Biblical definition of marriage on others? Some Christians argue that God is an essential part of the Biblical picture of marriage, so encouraging a Biblical pattern of marriage to non-Christians is a waste of energy. Should we really legislate against other ‘types’ of marriage (as is currently the case)? Alternatively, if we believe the marriage is the context God gives for the raising of kids, should that affect our adoption policies, eg for the single person who wants to adopt?
- Precepts– By precepts I basically mean ‘laws’. But laws doesn’t start with a ‘p’. This is a bit of a junk-draw category for all of the Bible’s other instructions, and many of them are closely connected with the patterns, principles and priorities above. This is also the area where Christians will probably disagree most. Some precepts are imbedded in our laws and society: don’t give false testimony, the punishment meeting the crime (rather than making an ‘example’ of people). Many, though, are trickier. Lots of laws borrowing in order to prevent debt, especially long-term debt. Can we apply these, or the spirit of these rules? Or do they not apply to our sort of society?
And what about the sabbath? The sabbath is meant to be a day of rest taken ‘to the Lord’, but does a sabbath rest benefit non-Christians, or event point them to God?
– The role of Government –
The role of Government is the other big area where Christians can take the same aims and principles and come up with different answers. The issue is pretty straight-forward: is the Government the right way to achieve certain aims, or are those things better achieved through local community institutions like churches and other civic institutions, through family, and through local partnerships, or perhaps through the market? Sometimes, ‘Government intervention’ can weaken the support structures already there for people. And sometimes Government may not have the right to take the power it would need to achieve certain things. A good example of some of these disagreements was a recent debate in Parliament on whether the Government should permanently fix its budget so that 0.7% of UK GDP is given each year in international aid (obviously, using taxpayer’s money). Many Christian MPs spoke in the debate on either side – some argued for the Government’s mandate to do this, based on our collective responsibility and the efficiency of Government aid; some argued against it, pointing out that, while a nice idea for MPs to suggest it, ‘you can’t be generous with other people’s money.’
Or take the important issue that we have freedom to preach the Gospel to those around us. It is a priority for all Christians – but, again, there is disagreement on the best and right way for Government to protect this freedom.
– Conclusion – Keep Reading, Inform your Vote –
The seven contributors in this series have all come to different answers to these questions. In fact, people within the same party will often have slightly different answers to these questions. So, as Christians trying to link up our faith with where we put an ‘X’ on the ballot paper, there isn’t a quick and easy answer. As Justin Welby says, Christianity is ‘political but not party political’.
Thinking about how we can answer these questions to nurture the best society for everyone is hard work. But, as people who have received salvation, the Gospel and the truths of the Bible, perhaps its a good way of seeking to love God and love our neighbour?
A great resource from CARE is their ENGAGE19 website, which will go much further into what we need to be thinking about than I ever could!