I haven’t been bombarded with electoral fervour (yet) so I was rather surprised that various religious groups are releasing – I’m not sure what to call them – statements, manifestos, letters, calls – to their members about the forthcoming British election. The Bishops of the House of Lords have issued a booklet about the forthcoming election – outlining issues – and urging people to be involved and vote. Last week a document entitled ‘Black Church Political Mobilisation – a manifesto for action’ was released taking issue with various government policies and encouraging political involvement (especially since polling pundits are suggesting that the votes of black and minority ethnic [BME] communities could be critical in many marginal seats). Churches Together in Britain and Ireland has launched a dedicated election website. The Sikh Federation has launched ‘The Sikh Manifesto 2015-2020’ presenting a range of policies and issues to the political parties. There is currently a nationwide consultation process among the Muslim communities to produce ‘The Muslim Manifesto’ and while not finalised, the process to date has highlighted thirty three areas of concern pertinent for elected leaders to know. The Joint Public Issues Team – a venture of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and the Church of Scotland – has published a 4 part ‘Love your Neighbour’ resource to consider the forthcoming election and life in society using four lenses – truth, justice, peace and well-being. Roman Catholics can read ‘The General Election 2015: A letter to Catholics in England and Wales from their Bishops’.
There’s a lot of activity. One of the themes that seems consistent is the encouragement to be politically active – especially among young people. Now this is still a surprise to me – though I am used to it now. The reason for my surprise is that I have grown up in a country where voting in an election is compulsory. Australians have a system that gets voters into a polling booth. What they do there is their business (and, as someone who has been a polling official, reading the messages on what are then informal / spoilt ballots is part of the fun of the counting afterwards!) but into the polling booth thou shalt go! A democracy where less than half the voters vote doesn’t seem much of a democracy to me.
Of course no system of government – no election process – is perfect or necessarily ordained by God. That there are to be ‘governing authorities’ (Romans 13) however is not an option for our society to have some level of justice and peace needs the earthly rule of law. Our understanding of the 4 th Commandment and its message for both those under and those who have authority means that we are not to abrogate our responsibilities whether as citizen or ruler – irrespective of the actual political system involved. It is interesting to note that one key thing the disciples of Jesus are to do regularly – so that’s more than voting once every five years – is to pray for all those in authority (1 Tim 2:1,2) so that we may have peace and quietness in our society. Having an electoral franchise means that one is ‘part Caesar’. I think that behoves us to be involved politically as we seek what all rulers should seek – peace and justice. This is the world of compromise, negotiations, and choices with limited resources – using our sanctified commonsense (or political sense) – of rules and regulations and paperwork – and whatever society we produce it will never be heaven on earth! But if we can have peace and justice then we have space to live – and to realise how important Jesus is too. Of course he is important no matter what our society is but if I have a choice I do prefer to live in peace and justice than war and corruption – and so being involved politically is a responsibility we should not ignore. GS