"Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy." -Proverbs 31:9
"Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber." (Plato)
My polling card dropped through the letterbox this week, but that's been far from the only indicator that we're in the midst of an election campaign. In the constituency of East Belfast where I work, it seems like political parties have been working through the gears of their respective campaigns since not long after the 2010 results were announced. Northern Ireland as a whole is in the middle of a three year "tri-cycle" of elections: local councils, Westminster and Assembly - and there's nowhere to hide!
Although many of us do hide, and even run away from the responsibility of voting. Even in a dysfunctional political system like ours, the apathy of not voting only further deepens our problems. Christians have a moral and civic responsibility to participate in the political life of society by prayerfully measuring the proposed policies of all candidates against Christian ethics and values. Our broad set of Christian values should inform our political decisions.
Dr Krish Kandiah outlines ten reasons why Christians should vote:
- Voting publicly recognises that we submit to the authority of the political system in our nation as established by God. (Romans 13:1-7)
- Voting recognises the equality of all people and their right to speak and be heard. (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)
- It is one way that we can obey God's command to seek the good of those around us and our nation as a whole. (Jeremiah 29:5-6)
- It shows that we care deeply about who our leaders are as we are urged to offer prayer and intercession on their behalf. (1 Timothy 2:1,2)
- It is a simple yet significant way we can do something about politics in our nation. 'All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing', Edmund Burke. (Psalms 34:14)
- It makes a difference the way a grain of salt makes a difference, and that is how we are to influence our society for good. (Matthew 5:13)
- It is a privilege not to be taken for granted. Those of us who reap the benefits of living in a democracy should play a part in upholding democracy.
- Not voting is a form of voting, as it will influence the outcome. We need to take responsibility for our actions, as well as our lack of actions. (Luke 10:25-37)
- Voting has biblical precedence for example Acts 14:23 describes that the early Christians elected elders by voting.
- Voting is part of our stewardship to use all the resources we have been given in ways that honor God; to waste a vote is to squander a gift.
The Evangelical Alliance's recent research report Faith in Politics provides an interesting overview of Evangelical political engagement. When choosing which party to vote for in a general election, the highest proportion (39%) select the party most helping others in need. Although this is encouraging, when compared to recent electoral turnouts for Northern Ireland (58% in 2010, 54.5% in 2011), it seems a lot of us who profess to be Christians are failing to (i) participate in the political process; and therefore failing to (ii) participate for the benefit of helping others in need.
Of course, how we vote is likely to have less impact than what we do for others in our lives outside the voting booth, with all of our day-to-day choices and decisions. But as many churches are increasingly meeting the needs of vulnerable people through food bank provision and other programmes underpinned by a strong sense of social justice, should it be beyond us as Christians to extend this to the ballot box as well?.
Christians in Politics' 'Show Up' campaign states that "new victims are being created every day, but as the Church we will be stuck treating victims for the next 100 years unless we employ any of the intelligence and leadership that we have been endowed with to help bring some change to the system."
Just as Christians are motivated to give sacrificially of their time and money, perhaps we should consider voting sacrificially. As a starting point, let's engage positively in the run-up to this and subsequent elections.
Jonny Currie works for a community development charity in Belfast and is on the board of Contemporary Christianity.
Note: The Evangelical Alliance in association with CARE are organising hustings events as follows:Lagan Valley -7:30pm Wednesday 22 April at Legacurry Presbyterian Church, Upper Ballynahinch Road, Lisburn North Down -7:30pm Thursday 23 April at 1st Holywood PresbyterianChurch, Holywood, County Down East Londonderry- 7:30pm Friday 24 April at Causeway Coast Vineyard Church, Hillman's Way, Coleraine North Antrim -7:30pm Tuesday 28th April at High Kirk Presbyterian Church, Ballymena, County Antrim South Belfast -7:30pm Thursday 30th April at Windsor Baptist Church, Malone Avenue, Belfast.