How should Christians vote?
In March the Bishops of the Church of England took the unusual step of publishing a ‘pastoral letter’ to all members of the Church of England, about the coming General Election. It’s called ‘pastoral’ because it’s written by the Bishops in their role as chief pastors and guides to the church. It’s called a ‘letter’ despite the fact that it’s a booklet with 56 pages…
What are the Bishops doing getting involved in politics?
Years ago, Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote ‘When people say to me that politics and religion don’t mix, I have to ask which Bible they’re reading’. Politics deals with the whole stuff of living – with health, poverty, justice, wealth, security, education… ‘Religion’, at least as understood, deals with the whole stuff of living – with health, poverty, justice, wealth, security, education… not just with praying at church on Sunday. So it’s no wonder that the Bible and the Christian tradition have a lot to say to the world of politics.
The Church of England has always tried to steer clear of party politics. Thankfully we don’t have a major political party in this country with the word ‘Christian’ in its title, unlike many other European countries. There are faithful Christians across the political spectrum, including many who are active in politics and government.
There are no straightforwardly ‘Christian’ answers to many of the questions of politics. But there are ‘Christian’ questions which come out of the Bible and the teaching of the church. And they’re not mostly to do with traditional ‘moral’ questions. The Old Testament deals with the ancient nation of Israel, and while some of its laws apply only to that particular nation (there’s another big debate about which are which, of course), there are principles for ordering society which carry across into any Christian view of a modern state and government.
What does the letter say?
‘The privileges of living in a democracy mean that we should use our votes thoughtfully, prayerfully, and with the good of others in mind, not just our own interests. Pursuing the common good is a Christian obligation and is expressed in how we approach our role as voters as much as in our personal priorities. At this election, we can sow the seeds of a new politics.’ (paragraph 5)
‘We encourage voters to support candidates and policies which demonstrate the following key values:
- Halting and reversing the accumulation of power and wealth in fewer and fewer hands, whether those of the state, corporations or individuals.
- Involving people at a deeper level in the decisions that affect them most.
- Recognising the distinctive communities, whether defined by geography, religion or culture, which make up the nation and enabling all to thrive and participate together.
- Treating the electorate as people with roots, commitments and traditions and addressing us all in terms of the common good and not just as self-interested consumers.
- Demonstrating that the weak, the dependent, the sick, the aged and the vulnerable are persons of equal value to everybody else.
- Offering the electorate a grown up debate about Britain’s place in the world order and the possibilities and obligations that entails.’ (paragraph 120)
So how should Christians vote?
Prayerfully, carefully and definitely.
Find out all you can about the candidates and the policies of their parties. If you missed the hustings in Church, you can read how the Wolverhampton North East candidates spoke and answered questions at WV11.co.uk, or see the whole thing on YouTube – start here with the candidate’s opening statements.
The Rev’d Nick Watson