THE CHRISITAN INSTITUTE’S
and a comment by David Holloway
[Can I commend to you the Election Briefing of the Christian Institute. Having been available on-line at www.christian.org.uk it is now available in printed form. Below is the general “Introduction” to the briefing’s detailed analysis.
We are living at a critical time both in Western and British history. In the West there is creeping totalitarianism on the part of Governments. In Britain Fundamental liberties are being denied on the one hand, while on the other hand an enforced decadent libertarianism is causing social and moral chaos. It is vital, therefore, at this election time that Christians both pray and then vote appropriately. I personally thank God for the staff of the Institute for the production of this essential resource for the churches at this time together with the provision of candidates’ voting records on Institute’s website. DRJH]
The General Election 6 May 2010.
As Christian citizens, we should think carefully about how we should vote. The Christian Institute as a registered charity does not endorse any political party or candidate in the Election. It cannot tell you who to vote for. That is a matter for you. What it does is provide you with factual information about the policies of the political parties and key background information on legislation and public policy. This is set out in the Christian Institute’s Election Briefing. In addition (also on its website) you can find the voting records of all MPs on a specific range of moral issues. You may wish to use this information to help form an opinion about your MP. There may be other issues that you wish to consider. Since the website’s votes-database only applies to MPs from the Parliament just dissolved, it will not help inform you about the other candidates for your constituency. Neither will it help if your MP is standing down. To help Christians find out the views of the candidates standing in their own constituencies we have provided Questions for Candidates in the centre of the full Election Briefing (available at the above web address).
Since its inception the Christian Institute has promoted the Christian faith in the public square in six main areas – marriage and the family, medical ethics, education, religious liberty in the UK, matters of public morality, and the constitution. Within these broad areas, this Election Briefing highlights some of the policies of the three main political parties at Westminster – Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. We also include some of the known policies of those parties which have significant representation at national or European level – the SNP, Plaid Cymru, UKIP and the Greens. Many Christians ask us about the policies of the Christian Peoples Alliance and the Christian Party. These have also been included. Space and time constraints have not permitted us to cover other parties fielding candidates at the General Election.
In a collapsing culture, public policy is increasingly affected by secular values. The main political parties are by no means immune to this. All three main parties have policy positions with which biblical Christians strongly disagree, such as the endorsement of civil partnerships. In casting a vote Christians are not necessarily endorsing every item of policy of the party they vote for. They are exercising judgment which can often boil down to deciding what is the least worst option.
Certain parties have an overriding central principle. For example, UKIP believes that the UK should leave the European Union and the SNP holds that Scotland should be independent from the rest of the UK. Of course, Christians who agree with the central principle can vote for these parties in good conscience. But when it comes to the BNP the situation could not be more different. It seems to us that the central principles of that party enshrine beliefs which completely contradict the Christian faith. For example, their ‘whites only’ membership policy. What could be more central than that? The membership policy has only been changed following recent court action. The deputy leader of the BNP recently attacked the democratic rights of Christians. Simon Darby said: “Well, there’s an issue here that the church consistently, every time there is an election, interferes in the electoral process. Perhaps if the church took the attitude that they’ve got a problem with falling congregations and the fact that churches are being rapidly turned into mosques all over this
country, people would listen to them.” Our Election Briefing does not consider the policies of the BNP.
This Election Briefing covers many issues where important Christian principles are at stake. There are many other issues about which Christians show a particular concern and where much material is available (like the Developing World); but we know that many are concerned with issues such as those covered by this briefing.
We have to have laws to restrain evil and policies to commend what is good
(1 Peter 2:13-14), but the Government is not responsible for everything. Indeed if there is to be freedom, it must not be. Many Christians are gravely concerned about legislative proposals which intrude into ordinary family life, evangelism and the running of the local church. As we pointed out in our 2005 Election Briefing, it is important to say that society is more than the state. Society is made up of families and many institutions and organisations between the state and the citizen. Government by itself cannot solve all our problems or even come remotely close.
The issues we have highlighted are those where we believe the Bible is clear. They tend to be issues where biblical principles, and in particular the Ten Commandments, directly apply. We cannot break God’s law without there being consequences – to a degree in this life, and fully in the life to come. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows (Galatians 6:7). A nation will never be blessed by breaking God’s laws.
The state is a means of God’s ‘common grace’. The Bible is very clear that the governing authorities act on God’s behalf to restrain evil (see Romans 13 and
1 Peter 2). This is for the good of all people in this world – not just Christians. The Christian has dual citizenship: of heaven (Philippians 3:20) and of an earthly nation (usually that in which he was born). The Christian’s duty is to obey the governing authorities, except where they forbid what God requires, or require what God forbids (Acts 5:29). It is the Christian’s heavenly citizenship which commands the ultimate loyalty. As well as duties, being a citizen gives us certain rights. The Apostle Paul was prepared both to use and not to use his rights as a Roman Citizen depending on which option most benefited the gospel cause (Acts 16:37-39; 21:39; 22:25-29; 25:10-12).
In 21st Century Britain, we live in what is historically a relatively unusual situation – we live in a democracy. Unique responsibilities and privileges flow from living in a democracy. One is that we have the right to vote. Surely Christians should use this privilege. Christians in Britain today live in a collapsing culture in which God’s moral law is openly flouted. Things will not get better unless this is addressed. The only lasting and real solution to the problem of man’s sin is uniquely provided in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel denies that there can ever be political salvation in this life. Nevertheless, we are to pray that our authorities would provide freedom for the Gospel and freedom for Christians to live “peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). We are to pray that the governing authorities will fulfil their God given mandate and govern according to God’s moral law (Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-14). The General Election provides an opportunity for Christians to speak out and play their part.
The Bible gives a clear basis for knowing right from wrong. God’s moral law is laid down for everyone – not just for Christians. Jesus criticised the Pharisees and told them “you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23). This included “setting aside the commands of God” by neglecting their parents (when they needed financial support) in order to observe a man-made tradition (Mark 7:9-12). For Jesus, and for us, it is God’s commands which set out what constitutes justice, mercy and faithfulness. Whilst we are obligated to obey God in everything, certain parts of the moral law are absolutely foundational and fundamental. That is why God has been pleased to give us the Ten Commandments. When it comes to votes in Parliament, there are cases where MPs vote for or against what is taught in the Commandments. For example, a vote for abortion is a vote to break the 6th Commandment (Exodus 20:13). Similarly it is a breach of the 7th commandment (Exodus 20:14) to promote homosexuality to young people in schools or to equate homosexual unions with marriage. These are not matters of political opinion, but straightforward issues of right or wrong.
At this General Election, MPs’ expenses and the economy will both loom large. Biblical principles apply directly to both issues, e.g. honesty, integrity and the proper use of money. The Archbishop of Canterbury has attacked the policy of spending our way out of recession, saying “it seems a little bit like the addict returning to the drug”. When it comes to the economy, Christians can legitimately disagree about the best way to tackle the UK’s deficit. This is because in order to make a judgment many other facts need to be assessed. For example, there can be no doubt that the state has a right to levy taxes (Romans 13:7), but we can never be absolutely certain about what should be the correct level of income tax. There are many economic and moral factors involved and Christians who hold to biblical truth can legitimately disagree on the interpretation of the facts.
The Christian Institute, however, believes that there are three touchstone issues for Christians in 2010: religious liberty, the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of human life.
Recession is not the only cause of economic hardship for Christians in Britain. Hotel owners, Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang from Liverpool, have seen their business brought to the brink of collapse after false allegations led to their prosecution in court. Even though the judge found they were innocent of wrongdoing in their discussion with a Muslim guest, the NHS hospital which previously provided 80% of their income will no longer give them business. Likewise Lillian Ladele has had to leave her post as a marriage registrar after the courts ruled that she must carry out civil partnerships. Other cases have shown that Christians are increasingly being marginalised in Britain; those working in the public sector come under particular pressure to suppress their beliefs.
The marginalisation of Christians must be a vital issue for Christians at the General Election; and not only because we should have a special care for Christians who are suffering for their faith (Matthew 25:31-46; Galatians 6:10; Hebrews 13:3). Christ clearly taught that his followers are the salt which preserves society and the light which guides it (Matthew 5:13-16). If the salt remains in the salt cellar and the light is increasingly hidden under a secular bushel, then it will become very much harder for Christians to do those good works which transform society. Suppressing moral values will accelerate the moral decline of our society.
Two of the Ten Commandments specifically protect marriage, so it is obviously very important (the fifth, ‘Honour your father and mother’, and the seventh, ‘Do not commit adultery’). Marriage is not an arbitrary construct; it is an ‘honourable estate’ based on the different, complementary natures of men and women – and how they refine, support, encourage, and complete one another. Stable married families are a primary carrier of values. It is in married families that values are most effectively passed down through the generations. In the family children learn right from wrong, learn to get along with others and learn to control their own selfish impulses. Marriage creates new relationships uniting the families of husband and wife. A nation is made up of families and individuals; the wider family networks created by marriage form the basis of civil society. Marriage has always had a privileged position in law precisely because it is the cornerstone of society. All around the world, across all religions and cultures, the successful societies have been those based upon marriage.
Our leaders must therefore commend marriage, as it is right and for the good of everyone, and all attempts to relativise or sideline marriage should be strongly resisted. Introducing ‘gay marriage’ would destroy the uniqueness of true marriage in law and downgrade its status in society. Cohabitation is a transient state and should not be treated as equivalent to marriage. Easy divorce laws have led to a lax attitude to marriage and a society in which many children grow up without their father. Such sad circumstances negatively affect those who will be the adults of future generations. The downgrading of marriage is not just one issue among many, but foundational to our country’s deepest social problems.
The sanctity of life
The sixth commandment simply says, “You shall not murder”. A vote for abortion or euthanasia is contrary to this commandment. The Christian Church has always protested against abortion. Something is clearly very wrong with our society when babies are being aborted up to birth because they are disabled (the disability has been as minor as a cleft palate). The Bible commands us to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8). The unborn are the most vulnerable members of society. With one in five pregnancies ending in abortion, the womb is the most dangerous place to be. Overall in 2008 in England and Wales, 99% of the 202,158 legal abortions were carried out for social reasons.
We must also continue to oppose vigorously all attempts to legalise euthanasia. People who contemplate ending their own lives and ask others for assistance are at their most vulnerable and emotional. They need a clear, firm law to protect them in their darkest moments. The law should not affirm the belief that some lives are not worth living. Just like the unborn, the old and frail, the disabled and those diagnosed with a degenerative illness are made in God’s image and worthy of dignity and respect. If we are really concerned about their suffering we should support the development of palliative care services. Experts say that almost no patient is beyond the help of pain relieving medicine, yet allowing any form of assisted suicide would undermine the motivation to invest in such services. Some will argue: “Why bother with years of expensive care when you can just end a person’s life? It’s much cheaper.” Christians need to take courage and speak out on the three touchstone issues of religious liberty, the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of human life: not just on issues which are unlikely to attract opposition.
Candidates and parties
There are perhaps two factors which we all must consider when deciding who to vote for. We must consider the candidates and we must consider the parties they represent. You may feel it is better to vote for an exceptional candidate who shares your Christian views across a range of moral issues, even if they are standing for a party which you would not naturally support. You may feel that the most important consideration is to vote for the candidate who is standing for a party which in your view represents the least worst option. You may feel that it is better to vote for one of the Christian political parties which may happen to stand in your area. These are decisions which ultimately only you can decide. In some constituencies Christian believers may be in an impossible position. Christians should exercise their Christian conscience in these matters. Just because your parents or your work colleagues vote in a certain way does not mean that you need to do the same. It is your choice.
However, you can’t make an informed decision without knowing what the parties and the candidates stand for. Christians should make it their business to find out the policies of each candidate and party. They should seek to find out their positions on key moral issues. The key to finding your candidates is to be sure what parliamentary area (constituency) you live in. Some constituency boundaries have changed for the 2010 General Election. Type in your postcode at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/election_2010/default.stm to find out.
Speaking to candidates
Candidates or their representatives may come to your door or call by telephone or stop you in the street to ask how you intend to vote. This presents an ideal opportunity to raise Christian concerns and to find out where the candidates stand on key issues. A candidate’s opinions on certain moral issues can be quite different from the position of their party. More than at any other time the candidates will be open to listen to your views. Should they be elected they will be representing you in Parliament. Think through two or three issues and have questions ready in case canvassers call or stop you whilst out in the street. Limit yourself to two or three issues with which you are most concerned. Be prepared to give a reason for your view. The full Election Briefing will help you get to grips with the issues you are interested in. If you speak to the candidate himself, ask if he is willing to raise your concerns in Parliament if elected. If he says that he will, you can hold him to this promise should he be elected. If you speak to a representative canvassing on behalf of the candidate, ask for your concerns to be forwarded. The very act of asking questions is a Christian witness.
Writing to your candidates
If you don’t want to wait for candidates to knock at your door, then you could write to them either by letter or by email in order to raise your concerns. This way you can be sure that all the candidates are aware of your concerns. Election literature which is put through your letterbox will give the local addresses for your candidates. If your MP is standing again you may want to see how he or she has voted in the past since this is a matter of public record (see the Christian Institute’s website – www.christian.org.uk/election). If you write to a candidate, keep your letter short but do raise specific points. Make sure you tell them that you are a constituent. You could swap notes with other Christian friends who have had contact with a candidate. It is highly unlikely that you will find a party or a candidate you feel has all the right views. In some constituencies there will be the option to vote for a candidate who takes a firm stand on moral issues. This is unlikely to be the norm. Instead it is likely to be a decision about what is the least worst option amongst the political parties and candidates. For many Christians there is a genuine dilemma over choosing a party or a particular candidate. Whatever your decision it is relevant to consider how the parties fared in the last election in your constituency. There are many ways of being a Christian citizen, but a General Election provides a good opportunity for Christians to be salt and light in our society. We must pray for wisdom and speak out for the truth.
The parties set out their policies in their manifestos, official policy documents, or resolutions determined by their party conference. The Christian Institute’s website links to the 2010 General Election manifestos covered in this Election Briefing. Obviously the Government’s actions are there for all to see. Since the opposition parties are not in a position to implement their ideas, we can only note what they have said about the Government’s legislation and the way they have voted. Christians must then weigh the evidence and exercise their Christian conscience.
THE CHRISITAN INSTITUTE’S