"The Church and the official representatives of the Church must keep themselves from the entanglements of party politics. Their business is something far more fundamental and important; it is the formation of that mind and temper in the whole community which will lead to wholesome legislation by any party and all parties."
So wrote Archbishop William Temple. But the situation today is very different. The reason is given by a distinguished academic – an Italian Professor of the Philosophy of Science and former President of the Italian Senate, Marcello Pera (and someone not a Christian):
"Today, politically speaking, liberals have won for the most part. The West has liberal constitutions, liberal institutions, liberal economies, and liberal systems of education. But we are so far from 'the end of history' that the same breach between liberalism and Christianity that shook our civilization a few generations ago is now presenting itself in a new form. Not in the violent forms of Nazism or communism, but in the form of liberal secularism. For the destinies of Europe and the West, this ideology is no less dangerous; it is rather more insidious. It does not wear the brutal face of violence, but the alluring smile of culture. With its words, liberal secularism preaches freedom, tolerance and democracy, but with its deeds it attacks precisely that Christian religion which prevents freedom from deteriorating into licence, tolerance into indifference, democracy into anarchy."
So why and how should you vote? A useful resource in answering those questions is the Christian Institute's 'Election Briefing 2015' (copies of which can be downloaded at christian.org.uk/election). This very full briefing contains advice on contacting and speaking with candidates and a detailed analysis of the Coalition's Record, together with all the Parties' policies, on issues of concern for Christian voters. The following is from the briefing's own very helpful introduction. So many thanks to the Christian Institute.
Why should you vote?
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.
As a general rule Christians follow Jesus' teaching recorded in Matthew 22:21: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's" (KJV). Christians are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20) and also of an earthly nation (usually where we are born). The Christian's duty is to obey the governing authorities. The exception is where they forbid what God requires, or require what God forbids (Acts5:29).
It is our earnest prayer that Christians will have freedom to share the Gospel and live out the Christian life (1 Timothy 2:1-4). In praying "deliver us from evil" (Matthew 6:13) we are praying against the persecution of the Churches as well as against personal temptation.
In our democracy we all have the legal right to vote. We elect Members of Parliament and so ultimately the Government. We help choose Caesar. So voting is a serious responsibility.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Allied victory in World War II. Huge numbers of our countrymen died during that war defending freedom, including the right to have an elected government. They secured for us the privilege of being able to vote, which is still effectively denied to billions of people around the world. We have the responsibility to use it well.
Multi-party democratic elections with a free press are relatively unusual both historically and globally. The Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index 2014 has found that fewer than 13 per cent of the world's population live-in a full democracy.
As we saw with same-sex marriage, Christians in Britain today live in a collapsing culture where God's laws are openly flouted. To some extent all of the schools. This is aimed at countering "extremism" but instead there have been hostile Ofsted inspections of Christian and Jewish schools, with children being asked very intrusive questions. One Christian school has-been closed. Meanwhile none of the infamous Trojan Horse schools have been closed.
Respected commentator Charles Moore warned in March 2015: "Socially conservative moral views are now teetering on the edge of criminality, and are over the edge of disapproval by those who run modern Britain."
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.
Why this particular election is perplexing for biblical Christians
Christians were deeply grieved at the passing of the same-sex marriage legislation, in a way which goes far beyond the general disillusionment with politicians in Britain today.
Marriage is intended by God to be the bedrock of our society. It is in the married family that children and adults learn to prefer the needs of others to their own. It is in the permanent relationship of marriage that children learn right from wrong and experience the stability of having parents who love each other just as much as they love them. It is in marriage that there is the union of the sexes and that children are raised with male and female role models in the image of God.
The breakdown of the family has led to manifold damaging social consequences in our society. The attack on marriage began long before same-sex marriage, yet for Parliament to legislate a lie into law is a very grave step to take. Marriage predates Parliament and even the nation state. It is the most basic institution of society.
So with same-sex marriage how wrong can you be? It uses man-made law to usurp God's good design for mankind.
There is a very large proportion of political issues where making a Christian judgment depends on the wise assessment of several biblical principles. This can result in Christians arriving at different conclusions. For example, we know for certain that the state has a right to levy taxes (Romans 13:7). But Christians who hold to biblical truth can legitimately disagree on the level of individual taxes.
In their 2015 public letter 'Who is my neighbour?' the Church of England's House of Bishops has drawn attention to a wide range of political issues, including European integration, debt, poverty, Trident and the environment. No doubt biblical teaching must be applied to all such matters, whether or not you reach their precise conclusions. It is welcome that the report gives arguments against euthanasia. But nothing is said about abortion, destructive experiments on embryos or same-sex marriage. The Roman Catholic Bishops didn't make that mistake and, unlike their Anglican counterparts, they also insisted that candidates must be questioned directly on where they stand on religious liberty.
Two key factors in voting: candidates and parties
For the European elections, candidates are ranked in order of preference by their parties. Electors then vote for the party. This is a particular form of proportional representation which makes it harder to vote for individual candidates.
For the Westminster elections it is very different. In the 'first past the post' system you vote for a particular candidate. So there are two key 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.
It is very important to know what is going on in your constituency and to find out who your candidates are. A lot may hinge for you on the individual views of your candidates. In some constituencies there will be the option to vote for a candidate who takes a firm stand on moral issues, though this is not likely to be the norm.
The key to identifying your candidates is to be sure what parliamentary area (constituency) you live in. This website is helpful: yournextmp.com
In casting a vote Christians are not necessarily endorsing every item of policy of the party they vote for. You may decide to back a particular political party which most approximates to where you stand. Or you may consider 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 decide 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 think that it is better to vote for one of the Christian political parties which may happen to stand in your area.
Sadly in some constituencies Christian believers may be in what feels like an impossible position. These are decisions which ultimately only you can make. Christians should prayerfully 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.
But 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. You should seek to find out their positions on key moral issues.
It is unlikely that you will find a party or a candidate you believe has all the right views. 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.
The crucial issue of religious liberty
Biblical Christians believe that the Gospel is paramount. Salvation is only found in Christ, not in any political programme. Yet followers of Christ are to care about their world, being salt and light in our society. And in order for that to happen, and for evangelism, there has to be freedom for the Gospel. Religious liberty is a crucial issue.
A country cannot really be free unless there is freedom of religion – liberty not only to believe certain things in your head, but to live out your faith in public. The importance attached to religious liberty has a long history in Britain. The year 2015 marks the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, which is widely viewed as paving the way for modern democracy. How many people today realise that the first clause of Magna Carta sought to protect the legal freedom of the English Church?
Christians in Britain have enjoyed remarkable freedom for centuries now. It was hard won down the years, with setbacks and advances along the way. Many Christians elsewhere in the world do not have such freedom and we must pray for them. Our political leaders must do more to combat the persecution of Christians abroad.
Yet here in the UK religious liberty is being increasingly challenged. There have been cases where churches have come into conflict with the police because of a false accusation being made. Street preachers have been arrested. Christians have lost their jobs for answering questions about their faith or for taking an ethical stand. Christians in business have come into conflict with equality laws and faced fines for holding to the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.
Many Christians are also gravely concerned about legislative proposals which intrude into ordinary family life, evangelism and the running of the local church. Christians believe that governing authorities are established by God, but at the same time the Government is not responsible for everything. Indeed if there is to be freedom, it must not be.
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. In the West, unlike Communist countries, we do not equate society to the State. Government by itself cannot solve all our problems or even come remotely close.
Biblical Christians tend to be alarmed at the Scottish Parliament's Named Person scheme, which appoints a state guardian for every child in Scotland regardless of whether they need one. The named person will be able to go over the heads of parents to directly advise children. A ban on parental smacking, debated many times by the Welsh Assembly in recent years, could end up criminalising loving parents.
Many Christians were very concerned by Labour's attempt in 2010 to drastically restrict the freedom of churches to employ Christian staff outside of the position of a pastor.
Evangelicals are also concerned that Conservative plans to introduce 'Extremism Disruption Orders' could end up severely damaging free speech. They have already seen the impact of Nicky Morgan's 'British values' programme for
main parties are part of that moral decline. That doesn't make the choice of who to vote for very easy, but it's certainly a whole lot easier than living in an authoritarian regime like Zimbabwe or Burma.
The General Election provides an opportunity for Christians to speak out and play their part in voting. Governments can make it easier or harder to be a Christian or to share the Gospel. Believers have to make a judgment about how their vote can be used to best effect.
When it comes to a matter of public policy, Christians have to assess biblical priorities. We can distinguish those political issues on which the Bible is absolutely clear from those where the Bible is not clear.
The Bible is not clear on how to improve access to GPs' surgeries or the most appropriate level of university tuition fees. To decide on these issues involves a detailed assessment of the facts and the exercise of judgment based on experience. Many situations we encounter in ordinary life are at this level and so are many political issues.
But at the other end of the spectrum the Bible is "clear, direct, and decisive" about a whole host of political issues. For example, a vote for abortion or euthanasia is a vote to break the sixth Commandment on the law of murder (Exodus 20:13). These are the kinds of issues that we focus on in this briefing –straightforward matters of right or wrong.
Archbishop William Temple famously used the analogy of an engineer who wants to build a bridge. Christians can preach 'make a safe bridge' – that's a clear moral principle, but it's up to engineers to come up with the particular design.
The economy is a major issue being discussed during the election campaign. All the main party leaders agree that the deficit has to be addressed. It is plainly wrong if a government accumulates massive public debt without any intention of repaying it. This is stealing from future generations. But Christians can legitimately disagree about how to tackle the deficit, because in order to make a judgment many facts need to be assessed.
Many people, Christians and non-Christians, believe there has been a profound breach of trust over redefining marriage. They will not forget this. Vernon Bogdanor, the respected Professor of Government, recently highlighted same-sex marriage as one of the three main reasons why people feel "unrepresented" at Westminster.
The redefinition of marriage is plainly contrary to the Bible. But it was also introduced in a deceitful way. The political leaders hid their true intentions at the last election: for example, none of the three main parties at Westminster included same-sex marriage in their manifesto in 2010. The three party leaders went on to redefine marriage as quickly as possible, hoping it would be forgotten by 7 May 2015.
A majority of Conservative backbenchers voted against same-sex marriage. But it is also true that three days before the election David Cameron specifically denied that he planned to introduce same-sex marriage in an interview with Sky News. So there has been a huge breach of trust. In 2010 the political parties knowingly sold Christians a false prospectus. Christians are perplexed by all of this.
Some Christians may quietly think there is now no point in voting at all, that politicians will not listen to them in future. But we must remember the Bible's teaching on government and common grace. God has ordained the governing authorities in every country – as Romans 13 makes clear – whether rulers are Christian or not. There are many non-Christians who take the right view on a range of issues. Nobody's thinking is secular at every point. Even politicians who disagreed with us about redefining marriage can still strongly agree that assisted suicide or liberalising cannabis laws are wrong. Some atheists will strongly defend the free speech of Christians. The Christian Institute can testify that there are men and women of integrity in parties across the political spectrum.
Like the prophet Daniel, God's people must encourage leadership which promotes truth and righteousness, such as when he said to Nebuchadnezzar: "Therefore, O king, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed" (Daniel 4:27).Unlike Daniel, Christians in the UK today get to play a part in electing their leaders. It is not only right but essential that Christians in Britain engage in the General Election by voting and by witnessing to the truth.