How many votes for democracy?

By JubileeCentre 28 Mar 2005

Photo Credit: Resizia Photo Credit: Resizia

Martyn Eden, March 2005

At the last general election, in 2001, only 59.4 per cent of the electorate turned out to vote, fewer than at any election since universal, adult franchise was introduced. The labour party won 63 per cent of the seats but only 41 per cent of the votes.

That meant that only 24 per cent of the electorate backed the Government, which was hardly a popular mandate. This result was no aberration. Seldom do more than 35 per cent vote in local elections and the UK has the lowest turnout in elections for the European Parliament.

Does this matter? Certainly those who campaigned in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries for all adults to have the right to vote would have been dumbfounded if they had known how careless their heirs would be about the democratic health of the nation. People living in totalitarian states, who have no real voice in their nation's government, must also find it perplexing. It matters, too, from a Christian perspective. Politics is an unavoidable feature of life. We are all involved whether we like it or not. To abstain or affect neutrality is to express satisfaction with the status quo. Can anyone committed to biblical values look at Britain today and do that with integrity?

Why get involved?

Politics is the community – be that local, national or even supra-national – ordering its life together. It is about choosing the values on the basis of which society shall operate and also the values which we do not accept, so as to determine the common good. Surely Christians should be in the thick of this debate, speaking up for godly values.

Political involvement lies at the heart of our humanness. Adam and Eve were created different but for each other. Together they bore the image of God. The pattern they reflect is one of diversity within a framework of unity. Their subsequent disobedience spoiled their relationship with God and each other. The diversity becomes the cause of conflict and the unity is marred.

Differences are basic to creation but if they give rise to conflicts of value or interest, how do we resolve these so as to preserve our creation unity? The biblical answer, St Paul tells us, is government (Romans 13:1–7). God gave us government as part of his providential care for us, to keep us from experiencing the full human potential of our sinfulness.

Of course governments can go wrong, which is why power should not be concentrated in a few hands. Democracy per se is not a biblical concept but it matches a biblical view of human nature: made in the image of God but corrupted by sin. To neglect our duty as citizens of the UK is also to neglect our duties as citizens of the kingdom of God. This is why Jesus told us we have a duty to Caesar. It is also part of what he meant by his disciples being salt and light.

The Bible recognises the limits to what can be achieved through politics. We can tackle particular sins but only Jesus can deal with the root cause of sin. There is no room in Christian witness for utopianism. Nor is there any expectation that we should all be involved in politics to the same extent, but the least we can all do is to be good citizens, pray for the nation and vote.

Political scientists tell us that British voters are mostly concerned with which party will do most for them. Surely this is not the basis on which Christians should cast their votes. Loving my neighbour means putting his or her interest before my own, as the Good Samaritan did.

Making your decision

As the general election approaches, the parties will publish their manifestos. Their policies will be based on a number of assumptions. For example, what sort of society do they want Britain to be? What are people like and what makes us tick? We can compare their assumptions with the answers to these questions in the Bible. Votewise by Nick Spencer is an excellent tool to help us do that.

We can also ask ourselves which of the parties' priorities most closely correspond to biblical ones and to what extent is each of them willing to tackle features of British society which most distress us? It is also worth checking the views of the candidates in your constituency. Sometimes, on moral issues, one finds that individual candidates take the same view as oneself even though their party does not.

The possible agenda is long and Christians will not always agree about what matters most. That is not a problem so long as we handle our differences graciously. We live in a fallen world and politics reflects this but we do not have to. We have dual citizenship: of the kingdom of God and the UK. The election is an opportunity for the one to influence the other.

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