..ABOUT THE GENERAL ELECTION?
My wife and I moved to Scotland three weeks before the independence referendum last year. We couldn’t fail to notice something was happening! There was an incredible level of political engagement, and on referendum day itself almost 85 per cent of the electorate voted – the highest turnout in any British election since every adult was given the right to vote in 1928. By contrast, only 65 per cent of the electorate voted in the 2010 UK general election.
The high level of voting in Scotland was due to one straightforward reason: there was a huge issue at stake, which had the potential to change people’s lives dramatically. Perhaps there’s the clue to why the voter turnout in the last general election was so low. Many people believed there was nothing of importance at stake – that there was little to choose between the parties, so why bother making a choice? It may not be true that the choice was so narrow – but even if was, it is disappointing to think that a significant proportion of the population did not take their civic responsibility seriously.
It would be even more disappointing if Christians were among that number, because, as well as being a civic responsibility, it is a spiritual responsibility. Why so? First of all because we serve a God who is concerned about every aspect of our lives. Archbishop Desmond Tutu asks if the Bible says ‘that what happens in the market place, in the courtroom, or in Parliament is of no particular religious significance, and that all that matters to God is what is confined to the sacred sphere of the ecclesiastical?’ His answer, of course, is no! The Bible reveals a God who is passionately concerned about every aspect of people’s lives. He seeks the welfare of people in body, mind and soul – and so should we.
The common good
Political engagement, even at the most basic level of casting a vote, is also important because God made us to live in communities. The question we need to ask ourselves is: ‘what can I do to make my community better?’ Even if we are keen to vote, it is all too easy to focus on our own needs and interests. But Christians who take their responsibility seriously will look to the common good. We will think about the moral and social issues, and consider what kind of society God desires. This might also involve looking beyond our national interest to see what our country can be and do in the world.
Lessons from history
There are many inspiring historical examples of Christian political engagement. One of the best known is that of William Wilberforce, who, as a member of parliament led the campaign to abolish the slave trade in the early nineteenth century. Another example is from our own Army history. When the Army’s leaders became aware of the extent of human trafficking and child prostitution, they took a leading role in highlighting the issue and raised a storm in Victorian Britain. A petition with 393,000 signatures was carried to Westminster by eight Salvation Army cadets and placed on the floor of the House of Commons. Parliament responded. The age of consent was raised from 13 to 16 and various measures were put in place to tackle the issue.
What to do
Compared with such dramatic examples we might think our votes don’t really matter. But as we’ve seen, it is a responsibility we must not take lightly. So, how should we go about it?
· Make sure you are registered to vote! The process has changed this year. Whereas before one person could register for the whole household, now each individual needs to do it. The deadline is TODAY!!! Go to www.gov.uk/yourvotematters for more information.
· Find out about your candidates, their parties and their positions. You’re bound to get a leaflet though your door!
· Inform yourself about the issues. Get to know the facts, not just the headlines. You can do this by yourself, or there may be a study group you can join. Not all Christians will agree on every issue. We are influenced by our background, our experiences, our understanding of the Bible, and even our personalities. But all of us need to apply our hearts and minds to the matter of voting, and make a sincere response.
· You could write to your candidates expressing your views.
· You might want to attend hustings to listen to what the candidates have to say, and perhaps ask them a question.
· Vote on the 7th of May!
· Continue to pray for politicians and for our country in the days beyond the election – and don’t forget the European and some local elections on 22nd May.
· If you want to be more involved in politics then www.christiansinpolitics.org.uk gives some helpful advice.
Lieut-Colonel Jonathan Roberts
Assistant to the Secretary for Scotland