Engaging with Elections
This article was originally published prior to the 12th December General Election 2019.
After months of rumours that there will be an election and several attempts to get the House of Commons to support one, an election is finally in sight. On the 12th December voters will head to the polls and decide the future of the United Kingdom.
There are plenty of big questions and problems vying for the spotlight. Most obvious is Brexit, but the future of the union, the NHS, social care, crime, the economy, and the personal reputations of the leaders of both major parties also require serious thought. Moreover, the election will take place at a time of deep division and hurt within our country.
Elections matter, and this one will seemingly have a big impact on the future of the UK. It is therefore important to think deeply about how to engage and what that engagement might look like.
((1)) DO ENGAGE
As we frequently talk about at the UCCF Politics Network, Christians are to engage in political life. Government is a good gift from God and he calls us to submit and pray for those in authority (see Romans 13:1-7, 1 Timothy 2:1-2, and 1 Peter 2:11-17).
Furthermore, the Bible is clear that we can honour God in all aspects of our life (see 1 Corinthians 10:31 and Colossians 3:17). This applies to voting, canvassing, and standing as we all have the opportunity to do in the UK.
There is also something to be said for the blessing it is that in the UK, the people have a say on the future direction of the country. This should not be taken for granted but used for good.
((2)) BE DISTINCTIVE
Engaging is not a revolutionary concept however, with millions across the country doing just this. What is revolutionary though, is the manner in which Christians are to engage. Elections are a time where it is difficult to be honourable and act with integrity. Instead it is easy to bait our opponents and slander those we dislike. It is a tricky time to pursue truth and justice with many happy to lie, mislead, and make unfair accusations to get ahead.
The Bible is really helpful here and outlines how Christians are to conduct themselves. This applies to all situations including elections…
‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.’
‘Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.’
It is therefore important to uphold truth, to be gentle and peaceable, to forgive, to speak with integrity and honour. We are not to slander others, we are not to run negative, spite-filled campaigns, we are not to lie or mislead others.
Rather, we should act in a manner which pursues good. We are to assume the best, not the worst. We are to be generous and open in debate, acknowledging we don’t hold a monopoly on truth. We are to look to find common ground and address the issues as opposed to self-exaltation or self-interest.
A good question to ask as you look through the manifestos, canvas, discuss, and eventually vote is ‘what can we, as Christians, affirm and what must we disagree with?’ No one party or individual holds the equivalent of the gospel. With this in mind there will always be flaws in their thinking, but we can also find elements of God’s truth.
((3)) SEEK GUIDANCE
In our pursuit of God’s truth, we must consult scripture to understand what the Bible has to say about government and what it exists for. First and foremost, the Bible is clear that our true hope does not rest in earthly governments. Psalm 146:3-5 makes this very clear:
‘Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.’
When we recognise that no election will solve the deeply-rooted problems, it frees us to be generous towards others and to recognise the flaws of our own position. More importantly, it reminds us that God is the one in control and that salvation is found in Jesus and Jesus alone. No party, leader, or manifesto can change that fact.
This is why God limits the power of governments for they naturally assume the place of God when we put our hope in them. John 19:8-11 makes clear that governments have no power except that which God gives them. Deuteronomy 17:14-20 shows God limiting the power of governments to prevent them from exploiting the people they are meant to serve. We should pursue limited government therefore - not in a libertarian, free-market sense, but in terms of recognising the limits of what government can achieve with respect to the role God gives them.
Scripture also highlights the importance of personal character in those we elect. 1 Samuel 16:7 reveals that God looks at the heart first and foremost. We therefore ought to pursue pure hearts in ourselves and in our leaders.
The role of governments is overwhelmingly for positive purposes throughout scripture. Psalm 72 provides an outline of what to pray for our governments and reveals God’s desire for governments to promote human flourishing, protect the vulnerable, and uphold justice. This is something to guide our engagement and to shape our prayers for the future.
Elections are not easy and it can be difficult to know what to do. But give thanks that we can know what is good and we can trust in one who rules perfectly and has authority over all earthly rulers.