How do we make our political choices? I think that for a lot of Christians there are three primary factors
- Our tribal traditions. How did our parents and grandparents vote? Which political party is seen as on the side of our community/class group. To some extent we may be influenced by our peers and this may at times lead to a change of view so that we align in reaction to rather than in accordance with our families.
- Managerial competency. Which party appears to have the best policies and the best people to run the economy, education service, NHS etc?
- Specific ethical issues especially when highlighted by our church or by parachurch organisations we respect. This may include issues relating to poverty and the environment but will often focus on issues such as right to life (abortion, euthanasia etc), freedom of speech (when it touches on Gospel proclamation) and sexual politics (particularly relating to the legal status of homosexuality).
- Personalities. Does a particular political leader come across as a likeable, charismatic, caring, competent and strong?
In this article, I want to try and help us think a bit more deeply about how and why we will vote. Note as always, the disclaimer, I’m not going to tell you how you should vote. That’s because political decisions are complex and messy. People with the same motives and priorities can reach different conclusions about how to achieve them whilst sometimes we can reach the same conclusion from very different motives. However, what you believe about God, Creation, Humanity and New Creation will affect how you behave and that will include how you vote.
So, let’s just identify some areas where our world-view will affect our politics. Or perhaps just as importantly where we will maybe even want to start examining and challenging the world-views of the politicians we may or may not vote for.
- Your worldview and God
Christians believe that they are accountable to the one true and living God. A political worldview where God is both transcendent and immanent means that voters and politicians alike will be concerned to act in a way that honours God and seeks his will.
Politicians who believe in God will recognise that they and their political creeds are finite and because we live in a fallen world subject to error and failure. Belief in God should lead to humility although it can lead to hubris when a politician believes that they are uniquely able to read God’s will and accountable to Him directly rather than through the discernment of the democratic process.
Politicians who do not believe in the one true God may look for other sources of accountability and power. That is when human ideologies are likely to become extreme. Whilst we may normally see the State as having responsibility for some things whilst others are subject to the workings of the market, when we no longer see ourselves as accountable to God, then we are more likely to attribute power either to the State, the Individual or the Market at the expense of the others. In a later post, I will talk about different views on the role, responsibilities and power of The State.
- Your worldview and Creation
Christians believe that God made this world good but that it is fallen due to sin. Genesis 2 presents humans as responsible for the care and stewardship of Creation.
Some worldviews over-emphasise the inherent goodness and importance of Creation. When this happens, the earth becomes an idol and our stewardship turns to worship. However, some worldviews seem to reflect an almost gnostic approach to matter. It’s as though our attitude to Green politics is shaped by an “It’s all going to burn.” All that matters is human thriving even if that means we run the risk of pollution and climate change causing damage. Yet we cannot survive independent of this world in which God has placed us.
- Your worldview and Humanity
We’ve already hinted at this. Some politicians have a high view of human potential and particularly in their own potential. You may want to check and challenge the extent to which political agendas are shaped by Humanism.
Of course, it is in a politician’s interest to play up to human potential and promise people that their best days are ahead, that they can overcome any challenge and achieve their dreams.
At its worst, this form of ideology focuses in on one particular people group be it a particularly class within society or an ethnic group. This is most overtly seen in nationalistic politics which talk up the potential of one ethnicity whilst demonising another. Mainstream parties will rarely hit that extreme but do watch out for how politicians single out particular classes and groups for praise whilst questioning others.
It is of course possible to go to the other extreme. Indeed, the logical conclusion of atheistic evolution is that we are mere animals who and that it is a matter of survival of the fittest. Look out for how this type of worldview reveals itself in politics that show no regard for the vulnerable in society whether that’s the unborn, the immigrant, the disabled or the elderly. Be on the guard too for ideologies that promote selfish ambition and greed.
- Your worldview and New Creation
The concept of a New Heavens and a New Earth are of course uniquely Christian however the imagery has often been appropriated by politicians. Consider how the idea of reaching the Promised Land was so potent for Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. Note as well the use of the hymn “Jerusalem” as a political symbol.
Now to some extent, we see these concepts functioning as metaphors. Indeed, I believe that an earlier generation of political campaigners would have recognised the power of the metaphor whilst still looking to the bigger, Biblical fulfilment. But what happens when we lose that hope. Well, the same problem happens in politics as happens in religion when the concrete hope of New Creation is lost. We end up with an over-realised eschatology in this world. We expect heaven on earth now. We look to our politicians to provide unending economic growth, protection against disease and safety from all danger. Then when they fail in any one of those areas we become disillusioned and turn on them. When all of our politicians have been promising heaven on earth and when all of them have failed over many years to deliver, then the result is cynicism and apathy.
No doubt as you’ve read through those examples you will have at different points been thinking “But that’s just like such and such party or politician.” When you recognise the weakness in one you may see strength in another and think “I should vote for them.” The problem is that you get to the next example and realise that the other politician fails by that standard.
So, what do we do then? It’s tempting to retreat into cynicism and apathy. We will join in with the cry of our age “They are all just the same.” That is to miss the point. Yes, in one sense all politicians are the same – they are fallen and finite but also all politicians are different, they fail in different areas and by common-grace succeed in others.
This means that it is possible to make a wise and informed choice. How do we do this? Well, simply put we are going to have to prioritise. Intuitively we will each have our own list of priorities but also objectively we will recognise that at different times our country will need different priorities too. That’s the fun of the debate and the election campaign, listening carefully, thinking hard, voting prayerfully.