Brenda from Bristol's reaction to the news that the UK was facing a snap election was, 'You're joking – not another one!' It seems voting opportunities are like London buses – after waiting ages with nothing, three turn up at once. It's no wonder many of us, like Brenda, are feeling a bit overwhelmed.
I can't tell you whom to vote for in the general election, but here are five checks I use when filling in my polling card.
1. Vote to the glory of God
In more than 20 countries around the world voting is a compulsory requirement for citizens. In some countries, like Belgium, consistent non-voters not only lose the right to vote but may find it almost impossible to get a job in the public sector. There is some advantage to this. Democracy as a system is predicated on the idea that all citizens hold all leaders to account; it is one of the best antidotes to tyranny where an individual or a minority exercise uncontrolled and unaccountable power over the majority.
The UK does not force voting, so we have to make a choice – not only whom to vote for, but whether to vote at all. Some argue that we get the leaders that God decides (Romans 13:1-2) so there is no need to vote. Taken to its logical extreme, that argument could be used to say we needn't work, take out insurance, educate our children or care for our elderly, as ultimately God is in control of everything. But the Bible mandates us to play our part in society nonetheless. God is in control, yet he also holds us accountable for our actions and choices.
The paradox of divine sovereignty and human accountability is not simple to resolve: the Bible teaches both, and so we must trust God's sovereignty while still acting in good faith. Slaves are instructed in the New Testament to have as their primary concern honouring and pleasing God, and as a secondary motivation, working to obey their masters. Similarly in our task to determine the leadership of our nation, while trusting the power of God, we also should exercise our right and power to vote by seeking first the glory of God.
2. Vote for the common good
We have all seen those political leaflets that are trying to buy your vote. They pitch certain manifesto promises in order to bribe voters to choose them. Perhaps they may offer free tuition fees to gain the student and parent vote. Or perhaps they offer a tax break for the high earners, to gain the vote of the leaders in society and business. The implication is simple: politicians assume that citizens vote for selfish reasons. But Christians are called not to think of our own needs first of all; instead we are to put other people's needs ahead of our own. If the primary motivation in all Christian activity is the honour and glory of God, the second greatest commandment is that we love our neighbours. Jesus' most famous parable, about the Good Samaritan, helps us to understand that a neighbour is anyone who is in need and within our capability of helping. When Christians vote it must include obedience to this principle. Through taking part in the political process we have the opportunity to influence how the most vulnerable people in our society are treated. How will the orphan, the widow, the stranger, the sick, the outsider be treated according to each party's manifesto? What difference will their policies make to vulnerable children, the elderly and the refugee? These are protected categories that the Bible takes particularly seriously, and so must we.
3. Vote strategically and intentionally
I want to vote for someone I believe in and a party that affirms my Christian and personal values. The problem is no political party that exactly matches my views.
In this complex world, we have to choose which battles to fight and which issues to prioritise. Typically Christians have campaigned for a small number of hot button issues that revolve around human sexuality and the right to life. In some countries if a party will take a conservative line on those issues they can be all but guaranteed to receive the backing of large groups of Christian voters irrespective of what else is on their agenda. This kind of voting strategy means that it is relatively easy for Christians to become a political tool for government and sadly it often means Christians are easily manipulated, making them often less effective and influential in politics. As in all things in life Christians are called to be as innocent as doves but as cunning as snakes (Matthew 10:16). This means we need to vote with pure motives but also with great insight, thinking about a whole range of Christian values whether the issues are moral, financial, social, legal, global or practical.
4. Voting is the least we can do
Imagine that the only time you attended a church meeting was when the budget was being discussed. Or imagine if the only time you showed any interest in your family is when wills are being read out. It would be fair to challenge your commitment to politics if your only involvement with the political process is during elections. Christians are called to be a transformative influence in the world not only on polling day, but every other day too. The parable of the talents explains that we will be held to account for the gifts we have received from God and the parable of the sheep and goats demonstrates our accountability to God for the opportunity we have had to serve him. Both of those parables have important implications for our engagement with the public life of our communities and nations. Not everyone is called to be a politician, but all of us must consider carefully our responsibilities and opportunities to use our voice, our influence, our experience and our gifts to serve the wider public. Voting is the least we can do.
5. Vote with your head and your heart
I was on a radio debate not long ago about whether the UK should receive refugee children, and one of the participants argued that we should use our heads not our hearts when it came to decision making of this nature. This was both a naïve and an arrogant statement. It was naïve as it assumed that human beings have the ability to think perfectly objectively, that we can separate out our heads from our hearts, our rationality from our subjectivity. But it was arrogant because it asserted that cold rationalism is superior to warm compassion, and that therefore his views had more weight because he had excluded any empathy towards those being adversely affected by his decisions.
Christians are told in scripture to love God with all that we are, our rationality, our emotions, our wills, our bodies and everything else that makes us who we are. Voting and our wider participation in politics is a field of service to our God and so we should bring our whole selves into it. When we care about who we vote for and why and the people around us who will be affected by our vote, then we can know, head and heart, that we voted well.
I have met Christians MPs from all of the mainline political parties. I respect them as sisters and brothers in Christ even when we disagree on political ideology and policy. I think our political parties are stronger, wiser and kinder because of the diligence and presence of Christians in politics across the spectrum. Vote well this election and whatever happens, let us continue to work together to seek God's glory and to care for our neighbours.
Make sure you are registered to vote.
Dr Krish Kandiah's latest book God is Stranger is published by Hodder (2017) and tackles issues such as our response to refugees and the most vulnerable in society.