There's a popular view, usually espoused by those who aren't Christians, that the church should keep well out of politics.
It's a view that is understandable if you understand faith and practice as a bolt-on extra, a refuge from the problems of life, but if you see your faith as something that shapes your whole world view, seven days a week,then clearly it's another matter.
I would never presume to tell anyone how to vote, and I'm thankful for the secret ballot that means we all have the space to vote according to our conscience without any fear, favour or peer pressure. It is a genuine blessing – and not something to be taken lightly.
But I do think that there are some underlying principles that might well guide our thoughts as we enter the polling station on Thursday....Though some of the Christian press might suggest otherwise, trying to guess how Jesus would vote is really a bit silly. We could find verses from all over the gospels to support eachl of the main parties, and a heap of others besides, but that wouldn't really help us much. Now, though, might be a good time to reread some of Christ's teachings for ourselves, if we want clear though challenging ethical guidelines. If we seriously want to see the world become a better place we could do worse than start with the sermon on the Mount, though we might not enjoy its conclusions....
The problem is that our electoral system is based fairly and squarly on adversarial politics. Through the past weeks we have heard as much about why X is wrong as we have about why Y is right. We have been encouraged to draw up battle lines, to define ourselves in partisan terms...
It's a natual human instinct, but not one that the gospel encourages.
Think of our reading from Acts...with its great message of inclusion.
Jesus was born into a culture that drew clear lines between those who were in and those who were out. His followers, not unreasonably, assumed that they were called to continue in the same way. Their risen Lord was a Saviour for the Jews...Why should they have to mix with Gentiles?
But then God showed Peter, and through him the whole church, the breadth of his love......
If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?"When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, "Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life."
That's not something that is easy for us to grasp – any more than it was easy for the disciples. We cannot help but define the world in terms of them and us – and there's nothing wrong with that in itself. It's simply an expression of truth. However great our gifts of empathy, each of us always and only sees through her own eyes
BUT there is a danger when we use that perspective as a way of claiming our rights over and against those of other people, of asserting our superiority at the expense of others...Too much of the election campaign, across the parties, has played directly into our innate human greed...
We are encouraged to vote for the party most likely to benefit ourselves and people like us...I suspect, though, that this course of action isn't really open to us if we take our faith seriously.
Listen to Jesus – that's surely what we, who try to follow, must always seek to do.
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
That's it, really.
It goes against the grain, - of course it does. “Just as I have loved you” means unconditional, selfless love that holds nothing in reserve. We know where loving like that got Jesus – and it's hard to think of voting for that for ourselves...but then again, he never said it would be easy!
Love one another Just as I have loved you
That might mean that we find ourselves voting in ways we had never expected.
Think of the manifesto that Jesus delivered in the synagogue in Nazareth
“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
It's the same agenda that Mary celebrated in the Magnificat...Challenging the powerful, lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things, sending the rich away
Not so much election as revolution.
I'm not sure I've heard any of our candidates trying to sell themselves that way...though I hope if I had I would have the courage to vote for them.
On the whole, though,that's not the sort of policy that wins votes.
Nonetheless, as we ask God's blessing on our country and pray for wisdom at the ballot box, perhaps it's the yardstick against which we should measure all those who seek to lead and govern in the years ahead.