Why voting is the last thing you should do
Monday 12 January 2015 by Ad Taylor-Weekes
How do you feel about the prospect of voting at the next General Election? Several factors might make you think, "what's the point?" Firstly, have you ever found yourself thinking, "Is my one vote really going to have much impact?" Or maybe, "all the options look and sound the same anyway!" Or maybe even, "they're all as bad as each other, just in different ways." Secondly, the recent steam-rolling of the same-sex marriage bill through Parliament by the current Government has left many Christians thinking, "what's the point?" But, evidently, it's not just Christians who think that. Some people are predicting that this coming General Election will be the lowest turn-out ever. Their problem might be some other political beef but the upshot is an all-time low interest in politics across the country. Which, according to Guy Brandon, is exactly why this is the prime time for Christians to get involved in politics rather than withdrawing from it.
...by disengaging we necessarily cease to have any influence. Despite the frustrations of ostensibly being ignored by our government, we cannot change things by opting out. In fact, by getting involved now, when levels of political engagement are at an all-time low, we have a greater opportunity than ever to make a differenceGuy Brandon, Votewise 2015, p.19
If, like me, you find engaging with politics, and the issues around it, a struggle rather than a joy, then this is probably a book to help you. Also if you're a first-time voter (e.g. a student who's just turned 18) this could be a real help. It's not going to tell you how to vote, but then that's not it's aim:
The aim of Votewise 2015 is to give readers a strong and coherent biblical framework for assessing the principles, policies and promises that each party makes in its bid to govern the country. It does not tell readers how they should vote. Instead, it offers insights into how they might go about voting in the light of their Christian faithGuy Brandon, Votewise 2015, p.8
This book is about a lot more than just trying to help you to know how to vote. In fact voting is just one way it encourages us to engage, and the vote we cast is not even necessarily the most important way we should or can be engaged:
For Christians, engaging with politics has to go beyond the ballot box. Voting is not the be-all and end-all. In fact, it should be the last thing we do in the course of a parliament: the final act of our engagement up to the election and the expression of our ongoing participation rather than the extent of itGuy Brandon, Votewise 2015, p.13
Before I describe some of the benefits of the book I just wanted to point out one of it's weaknesses, in my view. Brandon addresses the question of why we should get involved in politics at all. In order to persuade us towards greater responsibility and, therefore, engagement he asks the following question:
Do we see this world as a temporary, throwaway realm - one in need of palliative care but that will ultimately be replaced - or one that cries out for redemption in its current form? To put it another way, when we think of God's kingdom, is it a disembodied realm in the sky or heaven on earth? The latter is surely more faithful to the Bible's message: Jesus taught us to pray, 'Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven', not 'Your kingdom come in heaven instead of on earth'.Guy Brandon, Votewise 2015, p.13
In answer to the question of whether God's kingdom is a disembodied realm in the sky or heaven on earth, I think the answer "more faithful to the Bible's message" is, "Neither." In fact God's kingdom in the Bible is, in my understanding, first and foremost not a realm at all, except in a derivative sense. Firstly it is God's authority to rule and then, secondly, the realm in which that rule is expressed. That might sound pedantic but I think it's more faithful. Our engagement in politics, whatever it is for, is in no way going to bring God's kingdom to earth, as it is in heaven, or to help redeem the earth (probably he's not saying it does but that seems to me to be the outflow of his argument) The role of the Church is not to bring in, grow or extend God's kingdom through political engagement or in any other way. Rather as the custodians of the kingdom the Church holds, in the gospel, the keys to entry. It is our job, therefore, to proclaim the kingdom and to demonstrate the life of the kingdom.
It seems to me that whether you think that the earth is temporary and throwaway or one that will continue in its current form, and whether you think it will be renewed or replaced, shouldn't be the main argument for political engagement.
I would have thought the best argument for being political involved is that we can be. In our country, as individual citizens, we have a God-given role to play in being able to contribute to the discussion, in bringing pressure to bear, in holding governments to account, in safe-guarding, upholding and representing God's ways which are still the best ways to live in His world. The role of the Christian Institute has proved vital on these points, in my view, and are well worthy of our prayerful support.
Let me now tell about the helpful things in this book, whether or not you agree with his theology of God's kingdom.
Firstly he takes many of the hot topics that dominate the discussion (marriage and family, debt and deficit, welfare, pensions, benefits, europe, immigration, the environment, crime, education, the NHS) and for each one he asks the question that hardly any politicians are asking: "What is it for?" So, what is the family for? What is the economy for? What is education for? etc. And he gives the answers in the categories that politicians generally use.
Secondly he goes to the Bible and asks another question: "What does God think it is for?"
Thirdly he uses God's thoughts to challenge the perspective of politicians and politics generally.
Finally at the end of each section there are a list of points for action. These, very helpfully, range widely in their scope. Some action points are very challenging personally ("Do you have any unnecessary personal debt and, if so, how might you reduce it?) whilst others would require you to do some more active research ("To what extent do [the different parties'] policies promote irresponsible lending and the continuation of a debt-driven economy, or long-term sustainability")
The benefits of this book can be particularly seen in the following ways:
it provides a clear introduction and explanation to many terms and issues in the current debate (particularly helpful for me was the section on the economy)
it gives you the confidence to begin to engage with the discussion and to ask pertinent and searching questions of the various parties and local prospective parliamentary candidates
it helps you to think through the issues biblically
it shows you how great it is to live under the rule of God
it brings a personal challenge to how we view the issues and allows us to make a difference even in our own attitudes
it provides lots of practical suggestions about how to engage with politics without everyone having to run for Prime Minister
In conclusion I'd say that this book is for anyone who feels that politics is something they can't quite get their heads around, or can't quite bring themselves to try to get their heads around! It's for anyone who needs a helping hand to get started. It's for anyone who feels like they can't be bothered to vote on 7th May, or who isn't sure how to work out what they would vote even if they can. You can buy it here.