The election – Praying for the parties and the people
As Christians we want to be responsible citizens. We know we are citizens of heaven first (Phil 3:20) and so our first loyalty is to God and His Kingdom. Yet we also know we are salt and light, called to influence and bless the communities where we live (Matt 5:13-16). So that means we who have a democratic say in choosing our representatives in Parliament should use our votes. But how do we decide how to vote?
Most of us grow up with certain assumptions about the world – our ‘worldview’ – that are so fundamental we cannot conceive of a world on a different basis. Whether inherited from our family background or adopted in reaction against it, our worldview affects how we think about politics. If our worldview means that some issues (such as dislike of abortion or wanting to encourage entrepreneurs) are more important than others (such as requiring a more just distribution of wealth or forcing acceptance of people we disagree with) it will tend towards a more conservative or right wing political stand. But let’s not assume that our own worldview must be “the” Christian one – it is a worldview that Christians can hold but no one of us has a monopoly on truth. The fact is that there are committed, Bible-believing, Spirit-filled Christians in all three of the historic major parties.
And for many of us in church it is easy to criticise political leaders for being proud and arrogant instead of serving like servants, Jesus-style, or for being ambitious instead of putting others first. So we might be tempted to say with Shakespeare “A plague on both your houses!” and opt out of the political process. After all if there are Christians on all sides of the political debate then does it really matter?
Yes I believe it does matter, because we cannot complain that our representatives do not represent us if we do not vote or speak with them or write to them to let them know what we care about and what we want to encourage them towards. We may have different issues that we feel strongly about and we need to recognise the diversity in our unity as a church. But there are two main reactions to this diversity. The first reaction is that we opt out – “It is all too difficult!” or “We can’t all be right!” or “Let’s just keep the peace by talking about what we agree on and ignoring the rest!” The other common reaction is to try to persuade others of the “Christian” view or at least of our own view.
I suggest both these reactions are wrong. So what should we do? First, think through what we feel strongly about and why. Second, repent of trying to use political means to try to bring about the kingdom of God. Third, welcome one another. Let me unpack these a little:
Think through what we feel strongly about and why – this may take some honest reflection on our worldview and how it came to be adopted – and then we are free to be passionate and clear as we share it. It probably also means praying and talking with our fellow believers and researching what the candidates and parties stand for. There is helpful material on the Evangelical Alliance or Joint Public Issues Team websites http://www.eauk.org or http://www.jointpublicissues.org.uk/issues/politics-and-elections/elections/ . But let’s remember, being Christians means that above all we “put on love” (Colossians 3:12-17 n.b. verse 14) so when we are the most passionate about politics we also need to be the most passionate about unity and love – that in itself is really persuasive!
Repent of trying to use political means to try to bring about the kingdom of God. Church history shows that we Christians do very badly when we try to link worldly power with the church. The end never justifies the means though many Christians have wrongly tried to use force or power to try to achieve the right result. Christian Roman emperors compelled conversions in the Fifth century and banned paganism, for example, with the result that the church quickly became corrupt. And our charismatic, free church heritage has some horrific examples too (the misled Sixteenth Century Anabaptists of Munster, for example, or Oliver Cromwell murdering Catholics and bringing in the death penalty for adultery in the Seventeenth Century).
Welcome one another (Rom 15:1-7). Act humbly. That means being able and willing to welcome those who think differently, to honour them and to love them while being clear on our own preferences. We have to recognise that we all know in part (1 Cor 13:12) and that unity does not mean uniformity but means acting on the basis of the love and unity that God has achieved by the Spirit (Eph 4:1-16).
So let’s do the most important thing anyone can do – let’s pray for ourselves and our fellow believers, for wisdom and understanding and for grace to preserve the unity of the Spirit so we can show the rest of the community around us how to disagree and persuade really well. And let’s pray for the politicians and the parties – they all need the transformation that comes only from encountering the living God!