I just broke the habit of a lifetime, and told people, out loud, in public, on election day, which way I voted. Over the years, as a church leader, I have kept my voting intentions private. When asked, I have always said, quite truthfully, that I take each election on its merits, and that I have never been a member of, or campaigned for, any political party or candidate. And the secrecy of my vote is a right I do not take lightly. I extend to you the same right to think freely.
But this time was different. In part, because it was a one-off, non-party referendum, I felt free to do so. There are good Conservative, Lib-Dem and Labour arguments on both sides of the discussion, and on the occasion when they’ve been allowed out it has been illuminating. I don’t feel as though I’ve tipped my hand over who I’d vote for in a general election, and I think that’s how it should be.
But it’s also because we Brits are not the only ones facing a tough call. The US election is unlike any I have seen before, where both candidates are deeply unappealing, demonstrably mendacious, and each with a bent to override the constitution – a constitution for which I have a huge admiration, by the way.
That means Christians have an unrivalled opportunity – and need – to think hard about what we can and cannot expect of a democratic government, how we expect our debates to be held, and how our minority views can be best expressed. In particular, when neither our Prime Minister nor leader of the opposition has any more taste for evangelical Christianity than either of the presidential nominees, we need to think through our expectations of a secular, flawed, self-interested system which is still, somehow, the best for encapsulating the values of free government. And of limiting how much power we give any individual sinner.
This is major work, and it needs doing well.
So why did I tell people not just why, but how, I voted?
I want to encourage people to vote, and I want to lead by example
It’s a cliche to say that democracy is a hard-won prize and that we ought to treasure it, but it’s true. I think the claims that the EU have prevented any wars is overblown (I can’t think of any escalating tensions it successfully defused, off-hand), but the presence of democratic government across Europe is a marvel, when we consider what preceded it, and how close it came to catastrophic collapse.
And there is a rightful response to living in a democracy, that ultimately the government is answerable to us. In our denomination we pray for the Queen ‘and those in authority under her’ – and that, my fellow voters, is us. We get to choose
I want people to think about why they vote, and I want to lead by example
This Referendum has been a difficult period to be a voter, because the standard party political reactions do not work, the issues are complicated, and in my view, the politicians have not served us well by only portraying it in simple, primary colours. The reality is that for many people, if the vote was one one set of reasons (say, purely economic), they’d vote one way, and on another (say, the ability of European legal structure to constrain parliament) they’d vote another. Head vs heart comes into play as well. And we know that there are some pretty poisonous positions out there too, as well as some rather slimy political egos. Our indecision is because different parts of that decision point in wildly different directions.
Thinking hard is hard work, and I know many people in our church have found that a heavy responsibility, but I want to encourage them to consider, not knee-jerk.
So it’s only fair to show that I, too, find it hard. Could I vote for Brexit if I knew it would trigger a second Scottish referendum and the possible dissolution of the UK? Should I still do it, because the alternative is the abandonment of the constitutional power of the UK in any meaningful sense?
I want people to think biblically about why they vote, and I want to resource their thinking
If I claim to teach the Bible, and to bridge it across to today, then I should be confident that its relevance to our voting is demonstrable. I do believe that, although I confess to finding the economic and constitutional issues a bit like 3D chess. So we provided some position papers for people, written by Christians in parliament, who give their different arguments so that can weigh them.
And I also wanted to offer a bit of target practice myself, so that people could see why I made the decisions I did, and whether they found them persuasive.
But the final reason is the real reason.
I want people to respond Christianly those with whom they disagree, and I want to lead by example.
In a way, this is the most important – it’s how we react to each other tomorrow, when the vote is out, or if you’re in the US, when you know who is to be the new president.
Do we just refuse to deal with the people we’ve just argued against? Can we pray with our Christian political opponents? Can we admit that – if we lost – not everything bad that happens is because we lost? Can we model conviction, love, and forgiveness if we won? Can we model disappointment without pessimism, fear or despair?
Can we model that we trust the God who just oversaw that election?
The lot is cast into the lap,
but its every decision is from the Lord. (Prov. 16:33)
I voted ‘Remain’, by the way.
I encourage comments below, but I’ll block any electioneering. The Trump/Clinton debate can happen somewhere else.