can’t vote for the Christian party

The reasons being:

1. Practical

* Christian political parties send out all the wrong messages.

Setting up a party under the title “Christian” has the unfortunate effect of implying that there are no, or no ‘real’, Christians already in the mainstream parties, and/or that there are no opportunities for a Christian voice to be heard in the mainstream. Also it implies that Christians are a bloc of voters whose political views can all be represented by one single party. It implies then that this “Christian party” is the one which will be able to represent the views of all these Christians in the political system, in a way that other parties can’t. And it also implies that Christians who vote for other parties are somehow acting in a less Christian manner than if they vote for the party which claims to be Christian. Not one of these things is accurate, or helpful.

* Christian political parties are weakest where they need to be strongest

All Christians can agree on some moral and issues, which means it makes perfect sense to have Christian campaign groups and ongoing, informed Christian comment on social and political issues. But Christians are legitimately (even, rightly) divided on all the areas where a political party, in order to be successful as a political party, needs to have clear policies. Clear as in clearly articulated, and clear as in obviously following from a coherent and comprehensive political ideology. There is no such thing as a Christian policy on how often your bins should be collected, or speed limits, or rates of national insurance contributions, or when the troops should come home from Afghanistan. Of course you can and should bring Christian principles to bear on all these issues, but none of them constitutes an issue which it is the main business of the Church, or Christians, as such, to take to do with.

2. Principled

This is, maybe, only possibly principled, because here again, the opinions of Christians vary. But, o Scots and Scottish presbyterians, if you believe in the Establishment Principle, is it actually consistent to vote for a Christian political party? If you believe that the Church and the State have their own separate spheres, and that while they should co-operate in areas of mutual concern, they should not interfere in each other’s jurisdiction, does it make sense to vote for an organisation which intends, in effect, to give the Church an official role doing the State’s business within the State’s sphere? When the Church steps outside its role of (1st) preaching the gospel and administering the sacraments and (2nd) giving information to the State about its responsibilities before God, and starts in addition dabbling in matters civil, how is this any less of an encroachment than when the State presumes to tell the Church who is and isn’t fit to be ordained to ecclesiastical office? Maybe there isn’t really a conflict here, but somehow, the thought niggles.

3. Prosaic

After all, there isn’t actually a candidate standing in my constituency.

The concern of Christians is, of course, entirely understandable. In public life, expressions of Christian belief and manifestations of Christian practice are being more and more marginalised, more and more scandalous (to the secularist), more and more of an oddity. In this climate, the slim chance that power might be gained in the political system by a group which loudly proclaims its Christianity becomes fearfully attractive. But it’s not the Christian way. Christians need not feel in the least bit morally obliged to vote for a party simply because it has “Christian” in its title and casually flings around the name of the Saviour at every opportunity. Even a party which proclaims Christian moral values has to compete, among Christian voters, to win that X on the ballot paper which indicates the least worst option, and in the choice between workable policies derived from sub-optimal ideologies, versus a hodge-podge of populist pledges bolted on to lowest common denominator statements of moral values, Christians still need to exercise a bit of critical judgment.

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26 thoughts on “can’t vote for the Christian party

  1. “there are no opportunities for a Christian voice to be heard in the mainstream.”
    Speaking practically, in my experience the only Christians in main stream parties who don’t seem to be silenced are the Roman Catholic ones, when they’re protesting on abortion. There’s no attention to the rest, hence there is no voice. Even with the backing of people like the Christian Institute which can help grant them a voice, few heads are going above the parapet. Indeed, with the CI they possibly think they have an excuse to keep their heads down!

    I’m counting a lot of “it implies”? The actual statements of the Christian Party directly oppose the first implication you made that there aren’t Christians in other parties:
    http://highlandsandislandschristianparty.co.uk/questions.html#Others
    The very reason they believe their existence is necessary is that Christians in other parties have no voice.

    By your own admission, biblical principles can be brought to bear on other issues. That does negate your claim that there can’t be a Christian policy. To quote the WCF:
    “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture”.
    Does this mean God’s counsel concerning all things necessary for life is set down or can be deduced from Scripture, or doesn’t it?
    Isn’t this refreshing, that there is a party that has a standard by which it can be held accountable to, and it’s not simply chasing the latest popular fad?

    Can you vote for a Christian in another party and expect him to act as a Christian, totally contrary to the party line on which basis he was primarily elected? What if you were that Christian and your opponents are protesting that you were not voted in for your faith, and that your faith shouldn’t influence your politics?

    And I don’t know when the hard deadline is for candidates, but couldn’t you stand in your constituency ;)?

    Every Blessing!

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  2. Ad quactem [?-am -um?]: As Cath says, I’m not sure there’s anything that says whether it is more Christian for local councils to raise taxes to pay for rubbish disposal, or whether it is better for rubbish disposal to be considered the duty of the tenant or homeowner. And so on and so forth. More generally speaking, what would you say there is that makes being inclined to a somewhat larger role for the State in providing various things more or less Christian than thinking it should be rather smaller?

    Both, I would think, are conducive to man’s health, happiness etc (see your quote).

    There are arguments for and against various kinds of polity, in the abstract, but no society exists in the abstract, and so what in one place might be the best kind of rule could be disasterous in another. And Scripture cannot tell you the concrete answer to a concrete situation of this kind: you may be able to draw some conclusions about the ideal polity, but you will still have to exercise prudential judgement in considering whether or not it is the best, or even good, in your concrete situation. And here people may disagree.

    Same as in a family – you can agree what a Christian upbringing should look like, while having quite different ideas about whether or not children may speak at the table, or what bedtime looks like.

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  3. Thanks Berenike,
    There would still be disagreements, and if Scriptural principles couldn’t be brought to bear, then wouldn’t you opt for Proverbs 24 v 6, “in multitude of counsellors there is safety”?

    I’ve not been up to date with the Christian Party, but when they prepared their first manifesto in Scotland for the SCP, they invited representatives from every church in the country to a few day conferences where they collated policy ideas.

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  4. No, Q, old chap, I couldn’t stand in my constituency, and the Christian Party’s determined amateurism re acquiring personnel who actually have the qualifications/qualities for standing for parliament is just another depressing thing about the whole outfit. Fine if all their candidates are good upstanding Christians: but not all good Christians make good politicians, which is where the big disconnect appears between their pious aspirations and the realities of what it takes to be equipped to govern, far less credible in the eyes of the electorate.

    Re lots of implies – that’s only as far as I wanted to push the point: it’s the sending of messages that bothers, rather than whatever explicit statements might be made.

    Berenike has replied while I’m writing this, so won’t repeat what she’s said.

    But did want to add that imo in the rhetoric of the CP, too much is made of the party line, its rigidity & inflexibility – and too much is made of “voice”, as though a platform for tub-thumping on red rag moral issues was the only type worth having – too little recognition of the ongoing ‘salt and light’ type below-the-radar, unobtrusive, consistent witness (in all sections of the political spectrum).

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  5. But what policy ideas are worth having, when generated by ordinary churchgoing layfolk? It just exposes another weakness of the CP, that they have no political thinkers, no serious policy-makers, nobody to articulate a coherent ideology for what a ‘godly commonwealth’ would look like in today’s circumstances (if it’s even a godly commonwealth they’re aiming for).

    When church representatives are forced to develop policy on the hoof, you end up with things that are just silly, or just populist.

    Local swimming pool closures – NICE guidelines on grommet fitting – stamp duty or the lack thereof – how many runways at Heathrow – virtually any of the decisions you might take on each of these issues could be demonstrably (and genuinely) consistent with scriptural principles, but that doesn’t mean to say there is a Christian view on any of them.

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  6. It’s okay for there to be disagreements, and it’s why one could perfectly well, in theory, have entirely Christian Conservative and Labour parties, for either of which one could vote without being less or more Christian than someone who voted the other way.

    Of course at the moment they’re all so terrible that you can probably vote for any of them without being more or less Christian either :D

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  7. Perhaps the right thing to do on such issues is to push them downwards, so there isn’t expensive bureaucracy regulating everything? The top of Richard Branson’s Virgin is only a staff of 30 people iirc, they push power downwards! Though that is a side issue ;)

    Layman, on the hoof? It was a series of conferences, and specifically representatives were requested from each church (who gets sent, was hopefully considered). They also didn’t simply take a poll and accept the majority view on each issue.
    They do have political thinkers too, the conservatives wanted George Hargreaves for a safe seat a few decades ago when they wanted to get a black politician in London. The CP candidate for the Western Isles was a Labour councillor who got disenchanted with the backstabbing by others who promised to support him privately when he had to act matters of faith, but then refused to when it really mattered.

    You speak of being salt and light. What good is a light if you hide it? Matthew 10:27 instructs proclaimation from the rooftops – not for everyone, grantedly, but for those public servants in the public’s eye, shouldn’t they be speaking out a bit louder?

    The big parties are quite happy to silence the Christians within the party, because they don’t feel they need to win the “Christian vote”. When the Greens arrived, the other parties turned Green. The hope of the CP is that the other parties will allow their Christians the freedom to act as Christians on these issues.

    Out of interest, have you seen the manifesto?

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  8. But Christians can legitimately/healthily disagree about the amount of bureaucracy that’s tolerable. Sure, you could sidestep lots of pernickety questions simply by reducing the role of the state, but what is the Christian-as-Christian view on how much reduction would be necessary, and in what areas, and over what timescale, and so on — it’s just not a Christian issue.

    Political thought – what is their view on the establishment principle? are they interested in what James Bannerman and Henry Moncrieff said about the respective roles of Church and State? what about Kuiper? do they distance themselves from reconstructionism/theonomy, and if so, why? what is their view on the Two Kingdom theory and how closely do they engage with what American Christian commentators have to say on this theory? Or if that’s all too local to a little corner of Reformed geeks to matter in the grand scheme of UK Christianity, what do they make of the “relational” concept and restorative justice and the things that people like the Jubilee Centre are talking about? It’s not like there isn’t plenty precedent for a social and political vision from the Church (in Scotland), although historically the Church was careful about what hand she had in implementing it, but somehow the public face of the CP isn’t doing much more than using buzzwords on abortion/euthanasia/’family values’ to demonstrate its Christianity, and then making up its policies more or less to match the mood of the moment.

    Erm, the manifesto – I skimmed it at the last election (whatever it was, Holyrood??) and haven’t found it for this one – am willing to be pleasantly surprised if my worst fears are unfounded!

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  9. Well well.

    A little digging shows this – http://westminsterdeclaration.blogspot.com/2010/04/candidates-are-not-being-allowed-to.html

    “A spokeswoman for the Conservative Party has confirmed that candidates had been advised not to sign Westminster 2010 and a Labour Party spokesman claimed that the ban was part of a wider policy for candidates.

    Over 100 candidates of all parties have however had the courage to defy the ban so far and have taken the pledge to ‘Respect, Uphold and Protect the right of Christians to hold and express Christian beliefs and act according to Christian Conscience’.”

    “We have seen a gradual evolution in the cut-and-paste letters that we are receiving from Conservative candidates in particular who are apparently being instructed how to reply word for word by Conservative Central Office.”

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  10. Had feedback in real life from Someone Who Should Know, who says they’re not convinced that a Christian party is inconsistent with the Est Princ.

    Which is fine since I’m not wholly convinced either, although others who might also know say otherwise, but if anyone has views specifically on this point, it would be a great relief to be able to discuss it in more detail. (Either here or drop me an email.)

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  11. Dunno mate. Plenty of times input from Christian groups has been taken into consideration in drafting legislation and deciding policy. But even if that was true, how would a Christian political party help?

    especially if the obligations of the Church in relation to the State really are, in point of principle, to go only as far as, and no further than, making its view known?

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  12. Additionally on the implications of the Establishment Principle, post real life discussion :-

    It would be different, I think, if a group of people came together with a set of policies for the nation to offer to the electorate – policies which can compete in terms of ideology and practicality with the existing policies on offer in the party system, but policies which were in fact based squarely on Christian principles. That kind of “christian party” would, I think, be less objectionable than one which, as Rev GH’s does, comes along with a set of moral values which are (at least lowest-common-denominator) fundamentally Christian, wanting to gain power on the ticket of specifically having Christian values (or ‘proclaiming Christ’s Lordship,’ if that’s what they want to call it), with practical, concrete, specific, realistic policies simply a nuisance and an afterthought. The GH-style Christian Party is, in effect, intending to give the Church-as-such a voice/visibility/power right inside the sphere of the State — ie, rather than standing inside the Church’s own sphere and offering guidance which will help the State to do its own business better.

    The State has a responsibility to listen to the Church, when the Church speaks faithfully, and in fact all the business of the State should, morally ought, to be conducted in a way that is consistent with Christian values (not because they’re the values of any particular demographic or historical institution but because they are divinely prescribed and hence universally binding) — but that’s different from the Church wanting to take over the reins of State-ly powers when the State fails to live up to its responsibilities.

    It’s about as ridiculous as if the was State to decide that only good guys like John Sentamu are eligible to be archbishops — even if that’s the correct decision, it’s only the Church that has the right to ordain people to ecclesiastical office, and even when she exercises it badly, it’s none of the State’s business to fix things.

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  13. In a democracy, all people are to have a voice, and some proportion of influence. If Christians constitute a proportion, they are to have some influence. By Christians taking what the system of government holds out to them as their right, is not the Church attempting to take power over government, but rather the representatives of the people listening to the people. Until a majority is held in government, any party is simply making its voice known, and don’t make the mistake of thinking the Christian Party’s aim is to be the next or a coming government.

    Their motto, is not about having the lowest common denominator, but rather one of having a shared voice, in proclaimation of Christ’s Lordship.

    This influence extends to every adult individual of the nation, who may vote for their representative. Why should the voice of Christians be limited to this level or sphere? This is influence, which is in turn power. Christians exercise this power, and the system holds out more, so why may they not take further influence?

    If I am to vote, and guided principally by my faith, why does that mean in this system that this should suddenly change if I were to stand as the one being voted for? Especially when the system is one of granting all participants their own voice.

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  14. Cath,

    Why should Christians bother voting at all ?

    Surely the Redeemer has entered the Heavenly Sanctuary as the supreme representative of His people.

    What need then do we have to put an X on a ballot paper to put some ‘potsherd’ into Westminster ?

    Our Man is in !

    ‘Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth.’ Isaiah 45.9, whether they be Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat or whatever.

    It is good if the Church can influence the State. How then should it do it.

    Lot sat in the gate in Sodom and was part of its administration. Did his political position influence it for good? No.

    Abraham stayed outwith of it all. What to we find him doing? Interceding for the city in prayer, which to some extent proved effectual.

    I think Abraham chose the better path.

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  15. Well, Abraham quite rightly didn’t get involved in Sodom – it wasn’t his township! On the other hand, there was Joseph, Moses, David, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah – all serious politicians in their own times.

    Christians need to be active members of whatever community they belong to – in a democracy, that includes voting. The Redeemer is certainly in heaven, but heaven isn’t a representative democracy. And a potsherd our man in Westminster may well be, but according to WCF 23, the civil magistrate is ordained by God to be, under him, over the people, for his own glory and the public good – it is a duty to pray for magistrates, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience’s sake, and infidelity, or difference in religion, does not make void the magistrates’ just and legal authority. Etc. Have you read “Lex, Rex” by Samuel Rutherford?

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  16. @ quact – if you’re saying the CP has no aim other than to be the “voice” of that proportion of the electorate who are Christians, then my question is, why don’t they just stick to lobbying? If they have no ambition to govern, what are they doing running for parliament?

    If you stood for election, I hope you would do that in a way that is maximally consistent with your Christian profession: impeccable in personal character, treating oponents with integrity, and walking humbly with the Lord. Christian candidates in the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, SNP, etc, have done and are doing just that.
    But if you were standing, I would expect you (i) to have some basic qualifications for doing so – political acumen, wisdom/prudence, a capacity to grasp complex issues and negotiate towards solutions, the ability to get things done, a network of politically astute supporters in addition to fond relatives/co-religionists, (ii) to have policies that are more than afterthoughts to your loudly proclaimed moral values, and (iii) to care about the way that historically roles/responsibilities have been apportioned to Church and State, at least so as to be able to give the anxious inquirer a solid response on how exactly your actions are compliant with the principle of ‘co-ordinate jurisdiction with mutual subordination’.
    The CP as it stands does not inspire confidence that it so much as pays attention to (i) and (ii), the key practical issues, far less grappling with the point of principle in (iii). For an outfit which has no qualms about labelling itself both “Scottish” and “Christian”, to pay no attention to centuries of serious Scottish thought on Church/State relations (everyone from Melville and Rutherford onwards) is, surely, a massive oversight.

    And as for power – of course it’s nice for the Christian perspective to be influential in general society, but it’s a privilege (divinely granted) rather than a right, and civil power is not necessary for the success of the gospel. There is something deeply discomfiting about Christians-as-Christians seeking power in the political sphere (purely on the basis that they are Christians), when they ought to know, surely, better than anyone else, that what society needs most is the gospel, and that the preaching of the gospel really is entrusted to the Church to carry out, unlike social/political enterprises.

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  17. It was more than an issue of township geography with Abraham. He knew how far he could go with Sodom. Intercession and that was it full stop.

    To sit in the gate where Lot sat (albeit he was righteous) given the religious, moral, political, social conditions that prevailed under administration was a case of serious compromise for him which issued in disaster for both him and his family.

    I take your point on the other OT worthies and am in full agreement with WCF 23. However a Christian magistrate can only function with integrity and without compromise ‘according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth.’

    What if the laws are not so, like as in our UK where the laws are to say the least rotten and anti – Christian?

    We can render to Caesar up to point and no further !

    Rutherford knew that, (I have stood by his grave in St. Andrews, but have yet to read Lex Rex) so to did Cameron, Cargill and Renwick. The situation of their day put them in the outside place.

    There is not a single party in the UK that in all honesty, given their policies (and I should not have to expand) that a Christian could vote for with integrity.

    In today’s not so Great Britain, it is one thing for a Christian to pray for a magistrate but an entirely different one being one.

    What do you think ?

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  18. I agree that none of the parties have policies which are thoroughly consistent with what Christians believe, but I don’t think that by voting for a particular party you’re necessarily endorsing everything they stand for. Christians have to use their judgement in order to decide how best to use their vote, with the aim of getting, not an ideal society, but one where good is least suppressed and evil most restrained.

    If there were more Christian magistrates, wouldn’t things be better? Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom didn’t have the most wholesome laws, but Daniel seemed to act with integrity throughout.

    Cargill and co – good men, although perhaps slightly more extreme in some of their views than i could comfortably go along with :)

    Lex Rex is definitely worth a read, although it’s not particularly easy going (and not always the easiest to get hold of either).

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  19. Pingback: Don’t forget to vote this Thursday! « This humanist

  20. There is quite a balanced argument for voting by Rev. Neil Ross in May’s FP Magazine entitled ‘The Election and our Duty.’

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  21. Pingback: four weeks to go « ninetysix and ten

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