What influences who you vote for? How much does your faith play a part? Does God want you to vote for a candidate who vows to restore traditional marriage values by offering tax breaks? Or one who wants to lead a fight against climate change? Or one who will restore the “Christian character” of our nation by expelling Muslims? What we surely all want to know is – How Would Jesus Vote?
Increasingly Christians are being targeted by those wanting to tell us what the important issues are. We are used to political parties, newspapers, pressure groups and others laying out “three questions to ask your candidates” or “ten things a new government must address”, but now the “Christian vote” is being sought and churches are responding by trying to get their members to think and act.
Churches find themselves in the slightly difficult position of supporting agencies and campaigns that have clear political implications, while also trying to provide general guides to all the issues in a way that doesn’t support particular parties.
We’ll come back to the general guide later, but on the campaigning front, Christian Aid, the official development agency of the British churches, has two main campaigns going this election time, one being its own Poverty Over campaign (to eradicate poverty) and the other being the Ask the Climate Question campaign, in association with Oxfam, Tearfund, RSPB and others, to get government to lead the campaign to combat climate change, which it believes is already causing large scale death and destruction. It has also published its own election manifesto which includes policies such as making multinational companies more accountable by ending the secrecy of tax havens.
We haven’t got the manifestos of the political parties yet but they have made it clear they want your vote. Whether talking about faith schools, marriage values, debt relief or our Christian heritage, they are hoping you will see that they are your kind of people. Particularly after your vote are the British National Party and the Christian Party. The extreme right-wing BNP, which has been heavily criticised by churches for its racist and hate-filled policies, nevertheless believes it can sell itself to Christians and traditionalists as the true representative of “Christian” British culture. Its leader Nick Griffin made this clear recently in a debate on “Christian” TV channel Revelation TV. Actually all he succeeds in doing is showing a total ignorance of what Christianity really is (by implying that you can inherit it or be brought up to it). But you can be sure it will impress some sections of the electorate.
Also taking part in that debate was George Hargreaves, the leader of the Christian Party. This party believes that it can represent the views of Christians. That’s an attractive proposition for many Christians, but is it possible for one party to represent the views of such a diverse group of people? Do you believe the same things as the person in the next pew? And (think carefully here) does your experience of church committees suggest that a bunch of Christians would be especially good at running the country?
There are a lot of different ideas of what a Christian should be voting for, so the churches have kindly drawn it together for you. The election pages of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland offers excellent guides to all the issues, either as separate issue related pages or as one downloadable document. It’s a bit much to take in all at once but well worth looking at. For each policy area they end by suggesting questions to ask of your candidate.
Questions to ask candidates
Here is a selection from across the document:
- What can be done to help promote a positive vision for children and young people as full and active citizens in society?
- How can the government work to redress the widening inequality of wealth?
- What are the alternatives to the detention of children and families of people seeking sanctuary?
- How best can we ensure that the alleviation of poverty, rather than foreign policy interests, is at the heart of UK aid and development policy?
- Taxing big greenhouse gas emitters (such as ‘gas-guzzling’ cars) is one way to deter people from polluting, but what more can be done to change hearts and minds?
- How can religious freedoms be protected and religious differences respected, whilst still addressing concerns about extremism and terrorism?
- How can the government work to longer-term goals (for peace and security), such as state-building, peace-building, non-proliferation and climate change, and relate these to defence expenditure?
- How can teachers and others be relieved of both bureaucracy and over-regulation?
- What do you see as the key elements of effective rehabilitation to restore offenders to the community and reduce the likelihood of reoffending?
So back to the original questions – how should we vote? The Churches Together pages have some very wise words (by Rt Revd Dr Laurie Green, Bishop of Bradwell) on what our motivation should be when making up our minds.
“And when it comes to determining how to vote we should not simply apply the usual criterion of ‘what policies are in my own best interest?’ but ask rather, ‘what policies offer most opportunity for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven?’… make sure that the way you vote is determined by a prayerful and Christian perspective. Play your part in God’s mission to ‘transform the unjust structures of society’”.
How Jesus Would Vote
Don’t vote for a candidate or party because they will give you tax breaks or better interest rates or keep you employed or pander to your prejudices, and certainly don’t vote for people just because they say that they will make Christianity more important again. Instead vote for the good of others, for fairness and justice and peace and respect for wellbeing and for a future for our world. Jesus’ first commandment is “love God”. His second is “love your neighbour” (the rest of the world). Surely that is how Jesus would vote.
Premier Christian Media’s Promise to vote
Why Bother? Election 2010 Aimed at engaging young people, especially Catholics.