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How should Christians vote?


It is election season in the United Kingdom. Indeed, 2024 has been described as a “year of elections”, since more than 40% of the world’s population will have the opportunity to vote.(i) In the run up to the UK General Election on 4th July, charities like the Centre for Christianity in Society (CCS) are not permitted to support a specific political party or candidate.(ii) We support that principle and are strictly non-party-political. Nevertheless, we recognise that Christians may be trying to decide who to vote for and we want to provide some thoughts on how we can make that decision.


Three principles shaping our decision


In CCS we are committed to promoting a consistently Christian worldview, so that Christians can live consistently with it and can commend it to non-Christians. We understand a Christian worldview to be Bible-based, gospel-shaped and Christ-centred. The Bible does not provide direct guidance on how to vote in democratic elections, since it was written in contexts which did not have democracy. Nevertheless, some biblical principles can help us to approach this issue. Three principles can frame our approach:


· Honouring the authorities (see Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17) – Christians have a responsibility to submit to properly established authorities insofar as their laws do not compel Christians to disobey God. We understand that God has established the principle that society should be governed by human authorities and that the rule of law can serve a good purpose in restraining evil and promoting what is good. As such, Christians are not anarchists and will seldom, if ever, be revolutionaries.(iii) We should be thankful for and seek to uphold an orderly society.

· Praying for those in authority (see 1 Timothy 2:1-7) – Christians are called to pray for people who hold positions of authority. Our prayer is that they will use this authority for good purposes and, especially, that they will maintain freedom of conscience and speech so that we can live in a manner that pleases God and will have the freedom to preach the gospel.

· Seeking good for all (see 1 Peter 2:16; Romans 13:8-14) – Christians should use their freedom to do what is good. First, this means we must grow in love for others and act accordingly towards them. At a wider societal level, this must surely mean seeking to use whatever influence we have for the good of people. We do not believe that the problems of humanity are primarily social – with Jesus (Matthew 15:18-19; John 8:34-36), we recognise that the human heart is corrupt and that people need saved from sin by Jesus – but we do care about all aspects of people’s suffering and recognise that laws can either bring good or bad consequences for people.


Taking these three principles together, the majority of Christians see a role for us to play in the political sphere. Indeed, at its broadest, politics refers to the shared life of the polis (city in Greek) and its politēs (citizens in Greek). Unless we withdraw entirely from the world we are involved in small ‘p’ politics. Jesus did not tell his followers to separate completely from the world. He said we should give to Caesar what is Caesar’s (Mark 12:17) and prayed not that we would be removed from the world but that we would be kept in the world from the evil one, sanctified in God’s truth (John 17:15-17). Christians are called to be “in the world, but not of the world”.


Most Christians living in democracies, thus, conclude that they should vote in elections. They seek to use their democratic mandate, as the authorities ask them to, prayerfully, with the aim of promoting what is good. Some Christians also believe that God has called them into the world of Politics with a big ‘P’, to run as election candidates and serve as elected officials. Political parties and movements have even been formed by Christian groups or under Christian influence. A smaller number of Christians reject these forms of involvement in Politics, but it is my personal conviction that it is good to use our votes responsibly and that it is not wrong for a Christian to enter Politics.


Of course, the Christian who serves in Politics will face many challenges, especially if he or she is a member of a political party some of whose policies may be in tension with the individual’s Christian convictions. In one sense this is no different from the challenges that face all Christians in the small ‘p’ politics of the workplace and neighbourhood, but Political systems do fuel particular temptations associated with popularity and power. We should pray for Christians who believe God has called them into Politics and all forms of public service to know how to walk the line of faithfulness to God.



Five Ps for Christians to consider


How, then, should Christians go about deciding who to vote for? I suggest that there are five possible ways to decide how to cast your vote. They are not mutually exclusive, and they may lead us in different directions, so that, for many Christians, the decision will

be made on a balance of judgements rather than wholeheartedly. In the complexity of modern political systems, there will seldom be a clearcut ‘right’ candidate or party. We need to consider all the factors, pray and then cast our votes in good faith with a commitment to accept the outcome and pray for the winners.


The five approaches, with some thoughts for Christians about how to navigate each, are as follows:


1. Premier – who will be Prime Minister or President?


In some elections in some countries, this is a key question. In the USA and France, for example, the president is directly elected. In UK General Elections, this is not the case. The Prime Minister will be the person who can command a majority in the House of Commons. No one directly votes for an individual to lead the country. We might be forgiven for thinking this was not the case, given the prominence of the leaders of the main parties in the materials published by their parties and in televised debates. And, of course, a Prime Minister does have a considerable degree of power and influence both nationally and internationally. In a democracy no individual has unrestricted power, but individuals can make a considerable difference, nonetheless.


Christians should not decide what way to vote purely on the basis of who will be in charge, but it is not irrelevant. We should consider whether that person is someone of integrity and can be trusted. We should think about how they will represent our country, or be perceived to, on the global stage. Do we think this person is someone God may be raising up for this time? Biblically, we believe that God is sovereign over human history, and he can raise up even bad rulers to accomplish his purposes (think of Nebuchadnezzar or Cyrus). Of course, that does not mean that a Christian should be blind to the character of the candidate for the premier position, but there are no perfect people either. I tend to think we should be immensely reluctant to give our vote to a person who is clearly untrustworthy or corrupt, but it is not always easy to know the truth about such matters and it will be important to listen to voices outside the echo chambers we may find ourselves in (i.e., listening to news sources and media from different sides of political divides).


2. Party – which political party will be in power?


Political parties tend to represent specific political philosophies. The old ‘left-right divide’ may not be as clearcut or important as it was in former times, but parties still

tend either to favour a larger state with higher taxes or a smaller state with lower taxes. Christian thinking has been influential in both sides of this equation, since Scripture recognises both the need to care for those who are weak and vulnerable and the goodness of people working hard and taking personal responsibility. For some Christians, their reading of Scripture and understanding of societies may lead them to land on the right or the left, but most Christians will recognise that both sides have some things right and that will tend to lead them away from the extremes of either.


In more recent decades, the language of right and left has come to be used by some people less about economic policy and more about social morality, for example concerning issues like abortion and sexual ethics. The right is seen to be socially conservative and the left to be what is termed ‘progressive’. In some cases, this may lead to a tension where a Christian favours the moral vision of one party but the economic approach of another party. In any case, it is unlikely that any party’s manifesto will be entirely aligned with an individual voter’s convictions or aspirations. Political parties tend to be coalitions of interest groups with different priorities and individuals who sit on different wings. As such, I suggest that Christians should never be unquestioning party loyalists and will seldom choose who to vote for, based on party alone.


At the very least, we should read through the major policies of a party to see whether we agree with the majority or not, and whether there are any specific policies that mean we cannot support a party or feel we must not. A few years ago, I took an online test that asked me about specific policies without saying which party espoused them. After completing it, I was told which party I most aligned with. My result was surprising to me, as were those of others I spoke to at the time. It is a good exercise to take a fair look at what parties actually stand for rather than making assumptions.


3. Policy – does one policy matter more than all others?


Single-issue politics is the approach of voting on the basis of one policy that the voter believes to be more important than anything else at that point in time. This is seldom straightforward given what I have already said about political parties. It requires some way to prioritise which policies are believed to be most important. That must mean finding out about the range of policies a party or individual holds to. In making a decision about which single issue might determine one’s vote, I suggest that we should avoid tribalism. Do not make the decision based purely on the interests of whichever group (for example social class or ethnicity) you are part of. It is a biblical principle to think of the interests of others. Be careful, too, about assuming that God is for a specific issue. In some cases, he may be, but I think it is seldom that simple. My native Ireland has, I believe, been harmed by assumptions that God was for one particular side in the great division over whether the counties that currently comprise Northern Ireland should be part of the United Kingdom or part of a united Ireland. Whatever arguments may have been made in past generations, and however, convincing we find them, we live in different times, and we must acknowledge that such judgements were only ever human judgements. Those judgements may have included consideration of which path might best preserve freedom or advance the cause of the gospel, but they were also mixed up with selfish interests and ethno-nationalistic aspirations that had nothing to with the gospel.


In my view, Christians should be most strongly exercised about policies that propose a change to the law that would either legalise and promote or criminalise and restrict what Scripture teaches to be immoral. This is especially important whenever the change would leave vulnerable people at greater risk. The prime examples in contemporary politics are abortion and assisted dying. Christians should, I believe, be resolutely opposed to both. But does that mean voting for any individual or party that opposes them? Perhaps, but we must not make that decision without considering all the factors I discuss in this list. I also suggest that we should look beyond the headline position to ask whether the party or individual actually intends to do anything about this issue. What does their track record say? Is it merely a background position or a foreground issue for them?


4. Person – who is the best local candidate?


Given the complexities of choosing between parties and party leaders, some Christians may decide simply to choose the local candidate who they think is best. Is there someone who has a strong record of service in the local community? Someone who is known as a person of integrity and good character? Someone who has challenged his or her party’s position on policies we don’t like? Perhaps even a Christian? Such questions should not be answered superficially. Do not rely just on what other people tell you or what the individual says publicly. Do some research.


For some Christians this consideration alone may be sufficient, but it is often more likely that this is one factor alongside others. Can I really vote for a candidate from that party just because I like the individual? Will he or she simply toe the party line on those issues which I agree with him or her on? Will others in that party, helped to power by my vote, act in a way I would not want to support? Another consideration here is whether the person we prefer has any real chance of being elected. Is it better to give one’s vote to the candidate one thinks is best or to vote for someone we think is less good who is more likely to be elected? In some cases, this dimension might favour independent candidates who are not bound to vote on party lines. Some electoral systems give such people a greater chance to be elected than others.


5. Protest – what message will my vote send?


The final part of the calculation is to consider whether your vote might send a message to those in power about something you think they need to remember. This might mean voting for an individual or party that has no realistic prospect of being elected or holding power. Or, in some circumstances, it might mean voting for an independent candidate who can actually be elected, especially if there is a strong public feeling about a a specific issue (for example, a corrupt former elected representative or an issue affecting a community). I have also known people who choose to spoil their ballot paper as a form of protest. They feel they cannot vote for any of the candidates on the list, so they deface the page or write a message on it, hoping to signal their belief that elections matter but that they are dissatisfied with the system or with the absence of good options they perceive.


Some may feel that protest votes are wasted votes, but that need not be the case. An independent elected politician may not have much power but can still be an effective voice on important issues or for overlooked people and can help keep those who hold power in check. In some cases, an independent may hold the balance of power or serve within a governing coalition. Even when a party or candidate has no possibility of winning, a vote for them can sometimes send a message to those who are electable. If a protest vote is loud enough, people will listen. Nonetheless, careful consideration will be necessary to decide whether a protest vote will have a useful effect.



What about after the election?


Importantly, the three biblical principles I outlined at the start of this article will come into play in how we act after the election, whoever is elected. Christians should not be cynics who engage in blanket condemnations of politicians or criticisms of leaders. We must pray for whoever is elected and, if possible, encourage them in their public service. We should engage thoughtfully with political debate, seeking to understand perspectives fairly, to be reasonable and to work peacefully through the channels available to us to influence our leaders. We should not make assumptions about the unspoken motivations of politicians and should rejoice in the good wherever we see it, whether from our preferred party or person or not. All this, I believe, flows naturally from the biblical commands to pray for the authorities and submit to them.


Importantly, Christians may reach different conclusions about who to vote for. That should not be a cause for division. It is one of those areas in which sincere believers may differ and for which we need patience and grace to seek to understand each other and to maintain fellowship even if we cannot. With our unity, and God’s glory, as our primary concerns we should not be triumphalist if our preferred parties or candidates win. Rather, we should pray for whoever is elected and seek to play our part in submission to the authorities, praying for those in power, and serving others in love as we seek to share the gospel with them.


Conclusion


In conclusion, Christians should approach the decision about how to vote, or whether to vote, prayerfully and thoughtfully. They should pray for all candidates and research on the individuals and parties on offer. If, as I suggest they should, they decide to use their votes, they should consider the five Ps – premier, party, policy, person and protest. If they do so, putting their mark on the ballot paper can be an act of love for God and others. Voting can be service and worship.




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ENDNOTES


iii The question whether Christians should ever be involved in revolutions or insurrections is too big to be addressed in this article. Opinions range from an absolute prohibition on such activities to the belief that it may be acceptable if a regime is tyrannical and evil.

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