Friday, May 07, 2010

Voting and the Bible

Bigger turnouts. Tactical voting. Evidence-based voting.
By now you will have voted, spoilt your ballot paper or not voted.

The Christian Institute produced a video encouraging Christians to vote with the question "How should Christians think biblically when considering ‘how’ or even ‘whether’ to vote?" The video was entitled "Voting and the Bible in 210 seconds". Their election briefing is invaluable but I'm not sure about the video. It refers to lots of bible passages but almost none directly relevant to voting. They are about praying for governments instead. The link above also links to a Southern Baptist document "Why Should Christians Vote?". This document does not do much better. One can be salt and light in society without casting a secret vote. It seems as if they are saying that these are the best passages it is possible to find in the bible with the closest fit with the issue.

The Bible does not use the words vote or voting. There is, however, a lot about government and national duty. Romans 13:1-14 doesn't really prescribe voting as a duty or active citizenship, more a subjection to the just authority of governments. One can render these duties unto Caesar without voting. It's hard to think that if Christians had the vote at this time they would have voted for the persecuting regime of Nero.

It would be an entire mistake to think that the Bible has nothing to say about choosing rulers simply because it does not refer to ballot by universal suffrage. It speaks frequently about the choice of rulers by a people and nation. Part of the difficulty is that people don't want to go to the Old Testament and find it. Deut 1:13 says "Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you". Exodus 18:21 "thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens". We also read "he that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God"(2 Sam. 23:3). Psalm 82 further describes the duties of rulers. The qualifications for a ruler could not be clearer and even if we allow for the fact of a changed situation from the nation-state of Israel as constituted by the Mosaic covenant, there are definite principles of general equity to apply here. Why do we have covetous and unjust rulers? Because they are neither men of truth nor men that fear God. In other words we cannot separate the Bible's mandate for voting from the Bible's requirements as to whom we can give a mandate for government.

Democracy means that power is invested in the people and that they loan out that power or delegate it to rulers. They give them the authority to implement their manifesto. That includes everything that they disagree with as well as everything they can support. It includes everything that they have said that they will leave untouched as well as all their explicit commitments.

If a party reneges on their manifesto commitments I can justly complain. If, however, they do what they have committed to and leave untouched that which they have left unaddressed, how can I complain? It goes further than this, however, because if I have given them the power to do that which is evil or to ignore existing evils they are doing that in my name and authority. I have become partaker in other men's sins. I have become involved in national sins. I can no longer point the finger at those who commit such things as Scripture condemns or at the government which fails to restrain them because I have a critical role in ensuring that this state of affairs is maintained (Exodus 23:2).

The default position of many Christians appears to be that of the tactical vote. Tactical voting has been described recently as voting with your head and not your heart. Choosing the best of the worst because you want to prevent those who would be worse from getting into power. Laying aside one's principles to vote for someone that you would not usually vote for and do not agree with entirely. This may work well in the expediency that discounts truth but the Christian is under an absolute duty not to do evil that good may come.

The duty of nations as nations and the duty of their governments is abundantly clear in Psalm 2. Are we giving power to those who are fighting against Christ as well as his law? In voting I am entering into a moral contract with the party voted for. It is entirely disallowed and condemned in Scripture that we should make a covenant of unity (as opposed to a peace treaty) with the enemies of God and his laws in this way (2 Chron. 16.1-10; 2 Kings 16.7,10; 2 Chron. 28.16-23; 2 Chron. 18.3; 2 Chron. 19.2; 2 Chron. 20.35). 2 Chron. 19:2, "Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord?" What happens in voting is that we help politicians to do evil, but not to do good: while they help us do evil, and hinder us from doing good. Isaiah 8:12, 13: 'Say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself, and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread'. Will we not be joined to them in the temporal judgement that they receive if we are joined with them in this moral contract (Is. 13:15)? We cannot have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness in this but rather reprove them.

To give a position of honour to a rejecter of God's law is not only not seemly (Prov. 26:1), it is like putting a dangerous weapon into their hand (Prov. 26:6&8) with which they can only injure or kill. Such rulers may be set up by "not by me" says the Lord (Hosea 8:4 and Ps. 94:20). They may be valid rulers but not lawful. We are not promoting Christian political parties as such but we are promoting a careful examination of conscience as well as policies and manifestos. Let us hope that some Christians across the country have been able to vote for candidates that are fit as well as willing to promote God's law. We fear that this will not have been universally the case, however. It is not just hung parliaments that create unholy alliances.