So the UK General Election will be on 6th May, as expected. In terms of Christian responses, Churches Together In Britain and Ireland has a dedicated site. The Evangelical Alliance and CARE have set up My Manifesto on Facebook and Twitter. Among my blogging friends, Paul Martin has written an eloquent post in which he calls for a preferential option for the poor. Peter Kirk discusses the Westminster Declaration, issued on Sunday by thirty largely well known Christian leaders, mostly (but not exclusively) from an evangelical background.
The latter stands for so many things both Peter and I believe in, yet there are concerns. It is pro-life, it favours options for the poor and unjustly treated and it upholds the sanctity of marriage. Yet the areas where it calls for Christian conscience to be protected are purely in the areas of what one might call ‘personal morality’ – the sexuality and sanctity of life areas. Peter thinks this is stilted, and I have sympathies with him in that view.
For example, if you hold a conservative view on sexuality, then none of the three major British political parties supports you any more. Labour has pioneered controversial legislation in this area. David Cameron for the Conservatives told Attitude magazine that the Archbishop of Canterbury should sort his church out on the issue. The Liberal Democrats have favoured gay rights for a long time, and in the recent controversy over the Christian owners of a B& B who would not accept a booking from a gay couple. the LD spokesperson Chris Huhne described anyone who believed gay relationships were wrong as a ‘bigot’. If political preferences are drawn on this issue, there is no safe port. We are a minority, and this is what happens. We need to campaign for our views, but have to be careful about a Christendom-flavoured stridency on the issue, and that is what worries me about the tone of the Westminster Declaration: it sounds like militant demands.
(I recognise, of course, there are several friends who read this blog who do not see sexuality this way. I do not propose to argue the rights and wrongs of different views here, I simply state that I have never been convinced by the arguments of those who wish to show a different conclusion from the biblical texts. Sometimes I wish I could – it would make life easier in today’s society – but I’m not.)
However, the Christian vote should surely never be on a single issue, but on a range. Christians of varying persuasions are often good at majoring on just one or two issues, not the big picture. Who will do the best good for the country, without us believing any messianic pretensions the parties may purport to offer? That’s a thorny question indeed.
Not only that, Christians bring the issue of character alongside technical competence and policies. Paul Martin calls us to examine the character of the local candidates – he doesn’t want simply those who will be cheerleaders for the national leaders. I sympathise with that, and especially at a time when integrity has to be a big question in our national politics. We can still do that in a General Election where there is only one candidate for each party in a constituency. It is less possible in elections where we have to vote for a number of candidates, since Tony Blair enacted legislation reducing that purely to a party contest. In those contexts he took the integrity vote away from the voters.
In short, it is getting harder and harder as each election comes and goes to know where I, as a floating voter, might place my cross. I have Christian friends who belong to each of the major parties, but I don’t find it easy to identify with one political creed, although I know it is important if you are going to get involved to do so. Furthermore, like most of the electorate I don’t have a technical understanding of economics, and so all those arguments that are presently raging are ones I feel I cannot call. I want to vote, not least because I have little right to complain about outcomes if I opt out, but that isn’t an inspiring and positive reason. I am conscious, though, of those who sacrificed that we might have this freedom. I am not taking it lightly, but I can understand those who wonder whether it will make a difference. Did The Who get it right in 1971 with ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ – meet the new boss, same as the old boss?
Truly, discernment and prayer are necessary in large quantities right now.