Saturday, 29 April 2017

Unmasking the myths - Key Christian values when choosing who to vote for

What are the key Christian values we should look for when choosing who we vote for?

In one sense, there is just one key Christian value that should determine how we vote. It's the Christian value in how we treat our fellow humans- “love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:40). As Jesus says, from that all else flows. Perhaps the clearest exposition of what this should mean practically is given by Jesus in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25). The lives of those counted worthy of his eternal kingdom should be characterized by the following sort of actions:               

                          ·         Feeding the hungry
                          ·         Taking in the stranger
                          ·         Housing/clothing the destitute
                          ·         Looking after the sick
                          ·         Visiting prisoners

 If such actions should characterize our personal actions they should also characterize how we how we exercise our vote. There is not one set of values we should follow in our personal lives, another in our work life and another in our politics. God has the same set of values in everything and we should seek to mimic him and adopt his values in every aspect of our lives; “in all your ways acknowledge him.” (Proverbs 3:6).

At the last election Ekklesia, a politically independent Christian organisation, published a really helpful guide “Vote For What You Believe In”. It highlighted what they considered to be the values that the bible most emphasizes that should guide how we vote. It was an excellent document widely supported by Christians of different political parties, even if they had different views on how those values were best realized. The link to it is:
Frankly, Ekklesia’s guide is better than anything I can come up with. But this hasn't stopped me have a stab at it! (Mine's a bit shorter anyway)

 Some key Christian values that should guide our voting

1.  Looking after the poor and marginalized  

Biblically this includes the hungry, the homeless, those marginalized by society and yes immigrants- "The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt." (Leviticus 19:34). Caring for the poor comes so high on God’s list of priorities that it is mentioned 128 times across the bible and is repeatedly emphasized in both Old and New Testaments. It is at the core of Jesus’s challenge in Matthew 25 and in his Sermon on the Mount. It is illustrated by Jesus’s own life, with his mission being directed particularly (but not exclusively) towards the poor and marginalized in his society. On two occasions he miraculously provided food for large groups of his hungry audience. God has a real heart for the poor and so should we. Just one among the many dozens of verses that could be cited: “Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen?… to share your bread with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-when you see the naked, to clothe them...” (Isaiah 58:6/7)

             2.  Caring for the sick
God’s injunction to care for the sick and desire to see them healed is emphasized throughout the bible, being mentioned at least 27 times in scripture. It is also highlighted in Matthew 25 and very much seen in Jesus’s own actions. Wherever he went he did not just teach and offer spiritual healing but he physically healed the sick.

             3.  Ensuring true justice for all

Ensuring true justice for all comes extremely high on God’s list of priorities, especially giving a voice to the poor and dispossessed. It is often spoken of in the same breath as looking after the poor. Indeed, between them God’s concern for the poor and for social justice are mentioned over 300 times across the Old and New Testaments. Just one among the many dozens of verses that could be cited: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 29:7)
And the sort of justice we are talking about is filled with compassion and mercy and humility; “And what does the Lord require of O mortal? To act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with your God…” (Micah 6:8). This is exemplified in Jesus, who with a single sentence disarmed the stoners about to carry out capital punishment on the adulteress: “he who is without sin cast the first stone.” (John 8;7)

           4.  Ensuring everyone has a fair share.

When God set up his original (imperfect) earthly kingdom of Israel social justice was at the heart of it. He ensured everyone, from the least to the greatest, had a stake and fair share in the good things of the promised land : “…there need be no poor among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance he will richly bless you…” (Deuteronomy 15:4)
This is also part of his ultimate plan for his perfect heavenly kingdom on earth. (Micah 4:4) It’s not about arithmetical equality and the bible extols the principle of rewards for what we have done. But it’s about ensuring everyone has a fair share. We won’t achieve a perfectly fair society here and now. However if we are seeking to follow God’s plan and pattern in his word we should be aiming to get as close as we can to this.

           5.  Looking after the planet. 

The bible declares the earth is God’s and not ours (Psalm 24:1),but he has entrusted us with the care of his planet. In fact, from the beginning the essential mission he gave us was to care for his planet:   "The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." (Genesis 2:15 ). Caring for our planet also flows into God's other priorities of caring for the poor and giving everyone a stake in the land. This is because in the end the resources upon which we all depend come from that planet.

  1.  Keeping peace and order
Seeking peace is a key value extolled throughout the bible. It is mentioned at least 48 times. It is a key characteristic of God which we are encouraged to imitate in all aspects of our lives. Indeed, one of the names Isaiah gives to Jesus when he foresees his return as the world's ruler is “Prince of Peace”. It is therefore not surprisingly that in his preaching Jesus acclaims peace-making. He laments how the Jewish nation fails to understand what makes for peace and weeps over Jerusalem as he foresees the Roman destruction of Jerusalem that will result from the Jews’ rebellion. (Luke 19:42-44) In his Sermon on the Mount he says, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God" (Matthew 5:9).

Ultimately the vision of Micah 5 is that wars between all nations will cease and we will turn “our swords into ploughshares”. That vision cannot be fully realized until Jesus returns. However, in the meantime the bible makes clear that we should "Strive for peace with everyone..." (Hebrews 12:14). And that applies to what we do as a nation as well as individuals. This is implicit in Jesus’s lament in Luke 19. In fact, peace-making and keeping the order that comes with it is specifically identified as an area in which secular government has an important role to play: "I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth."(1 Timothy 2:1-4)

        7.  Allowing freedom of speech and belief

God’s injunction to preach the gospel to all nations in Matthew 28 should make all Christians very mindful of the importance of free speech. Freedom of speech gives room for the gospel to be preached. But Christians cannot expect freedom of speech over our beliefs and speech without offering that same privilege to others; even those who take very different views and may even be directly hostile to Christianity. The bible teaches that we should be gracious to and tolerate opposing views and voices:
"And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth".
(2 Timothy 2:24-25)

I think the large majority with Christians would agree that these are all key values that we would want the government we elect to strive for.  We may then end up coming to different political stand points over how these values can be best realized. However, I think part of the reason for such divergent political views between Christians is that we do not always keep such key values front and centre stage. Sometimes I think we allow worldly political values to eclipse these biblical Christian values. I will look at that in my next blog.

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