I’ve not decided who to vote for yet and, according to the polls, a lot of you haven’t either. One thing that we Christians have to consider is how the various choices match up to the ideals and aspirations of the Bible. And so I thought it might be helpful to examine where the parties stand on the pertinent issues.
My aim isn’t to assess “what would Jesus do.” If Jesus were alive today, not only would he not vote but there would be no election – we’d all be far too busy dealing with the Apocalypse. Moreover, I appreciate that Jesus instructed his followers to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”, which is often interpreted as a call to recognise some division between one’s personal faith and the will of the state. So I am not looking for perfection or imagining that Christians have a right to impose their views on everyone else. I’m trying to identify what’s important and where the parties stand on it. Using this excellent voting guide produced by the Christian Institute, I've tried to reduce it to three basic themes.
Somalia is one of the countries stuggling with poverty that the UK has helpd (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images).
1. Fighting poverty. Jesus calls us to lead lives of self-sacrifice: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Many socialists claim Jesus as one of their own. But the Gospels do not tell us to try to build Heaven on Earth and do not contain a prescription for the welfare state. Conservatives tend to emphasise those parts of the Bible that praise hard work and charity rather than collectivism (Christianity is big on free will).
Happily, all the parties are concerned with reducing poverty and how you vote for them will depend on whether you favour a statist or volunterist approach. Labour would cut government spending less and in some cases reverse Tory reforms (such as the bedroom tax) The Conservatives argue that it is more compassionate to encourage people in to work, and they’ve helped create an economy with record employment. Christians should applaud the commitment made by most of the parties to protecting foreign aid. Only Ukip opposes a fixed target. The cynic might say that the manifestos are so generous because an election is approaching, but the Crash raised questions about inequality while the recovery has given government the cash to do something about it. Hopefully the opportunity to build a better society will not be squandered.
Abortion is an area of near unanimity among the parties. They generally oppose reasonable restrictions (Photo: Alamy).
2. Promoting a culture of life. It’s when we enter the sphere of ethics that things get more complicated. Christianity teaches that life is sacred, inviolable and to be lived with dignity. Sadly, there is a growing view that life is only worth living if it’s lived rich and well – and that it is disposable.
Pro-life sentiment is strongest among women, the young, Labour and Lib Dem voters. For instance, 48 per cent of people aged 18-25 would cut the abortion limit from 24 weeks to 12 weeks. This diversity of opinion is not reflected in the party manifestos. The abortion rules have been liberalised under the Coalition and the attempt to more clearly outlaw abortion on the grounds of gender was defeated thanks in part to a lack of government support. Labour was rumoured to have operated a whip on the "gendercide" vote – and Labour would restrict the ability to protest outside abortion clinics.
Few Christians would outlaw abortion altogether, but most would like to see its causes and consequences more seriously discussed. The Green manifesto is surprisingly strong on the subject. Yes, they would make it far easier in terms of procedure for a woman to get an abortion. But they do also acknowledge that economic policy affects the national rate of terminations and that a high rate is tragic. Indeed, this is one reason why talk of the Conservative Party limiting child benefit to two children is very concerning. Welfare policy ought to be designed to value childhood and help mothers and fathers do their jobs properly – and the Greens do well to consider this.
Meanwhile, support for assisted dying is probably growing in Parliament. Cameron, Miliband and Clegg have said they won’t personally back a change in the law. But the Lib Dems as a party appear to be rather more enthusiastic. The consequences of such a move could be enormous: see what has happened in the Benelux countries.
Ukip believes that moral issues should be subject to national referendum, a position I find incoherent. If assisted dying is a moral matter, so is war or NHS funding, and there is no proprosal to hold referenda on those. One suspects that Ukip's refusal to take a stand is, unusually for them, an act of deference to the prevailing mood in metropolitan Westminster.
Nadia Eweida, a BA worker, from Twickenham, south-west London, made the headlines when she was sent home in 2006 after refusing to remove a necklace with a cross or hide it from view (Photo: Heathcliff O'Malley).
3. Respecting the Christian conscience. From employees being sanctioned for wearing crosses to the state actively trying to suppress religious speech in schools, Christians find their freedom of conscience under attack. The worst culprits are, paradoxically given their name, theLiberal Democrats (but then they are the only party that wants to disestablish the Church of England). They would end the requirement for schools to have an act of collective worship and would effectively abolish faith schools. Britain's Left is broadly monolithic in its approach to the privision of education, opposing the Free Schools and wanting to place strong regulations on faith schools. Nick Clegg, by the way, sent one of his sons to a Catholic school - so they can't be all bad.
The Coalition supported liberalised sex education guidance, but the two Tory education secretaries decided against forcing all primary schools to teach it. Good for them: anyone who has actually taught children that young will appreciate that it is an inappropriate thing to do and a waste of precious class time. Nevertheless, Clegg wants to compel all primary schools to teach sex ed to their pupils. In Parliament, Labour supported a move towards compulsory sex education but today its stance is less clear and appears to uphold the principle that parents can object.
Labour goes further than other parties in wanting to eradicate homophobia in schools. This is a fine objective, but what it means for Christian teachers who decline to teach about gay marriage is unclear. The Tories have taken a tough stance against Islamic extremists addressing universities that could also end up affecting Christians. When they draw up policy affecting civil liberties, the parties tend to react to headlines rather than stick to a consistent, coherent line. This is bad news for all faiths.
Drink, drugs, sex and gambling are all sources of potential social decay and require some sort of government regulation (Photo: Alamy).
4. Creating a more moral society. Margaret Thatcher, a conservative Methodist, tried to relax Sunday trading rules in part because she believed so strongly in free will. That’s all well and good, but some social forces are so great that some Christians may feel government action is necessary to regulate them. The internet, for instance, has released a tidal wave of pornography that degrades women. The Conservatives have worked to outlaw violent pornography and would in future place age-verification checks on websites. The Lib Dems have rejected such an idea; Labour doesn’t appear to have any policy on it.
Labour would give local councils more power to control betting shops and their licenses. The Lib Dems also want to see the end of high-stakes gambling on high streets. In government with the Tories, they have worked to reduce access to low cost alcohol – a move that, it is hoped, will cut crime. The Lib Dems might well be against restraints on porn but, oddly, are for minimum unit pricing for alcohol – something that the SNP have in common with them. The way that the Lib Dems apply their philosophical liberalism is random, to say the very least.
Parties are divided on drugs, following no clear ideological line. The SNP is against the legalisation of cannabis while the Greens are all for it. Labour and the Tories oppose relaxing the rules, while the Lib Dems would investigate experiments in decriminalisation in the US. That sounds like one wild junket.
Labour Party leader Ed Miliband meets members of the Praise House Community Church in Croydon (Photo: PA).
Spoilt for choice? It's been a popular grumble among Christians for the past five years that our influence in politics is declining. In some regards it is: we'll never again have a PM like Macmillan who could confidently state that a nation can't be moral without religion.
But in 2015, a great deal of the issue agenda is shifting onto Christian turf. Poverty and the environment are major areas of debate, and all parties are keen to stress that society should be fairer as well as the economy stronger. Moreover, even while Labour appears grimly secular, it still does its best to win religious votes. Recently, Miliband spoke at a massive rally at an evangelical church and assured the crowd that he would work to protect their right to express their faith at work. Labour wants a global envoy for religious freedom. Across the board, everyone recognises the need to deal with the Islamic State. Ukip, typically anti-immigration, was the first of the big four parties to call for offering asylum to persecuted Christians.
Where Christians remain under-represented in the manifestos is on questions of personal morality. Britain's establishment appears to believe that there is no popular call for a review of the abortion laws, despite polling evidence to the contrary. And it edges perilously close to dictating to Christian parents and teachers what should be taught in class about sexual ethics. Metropolitan values are our leaders' gospel.
Nevertheless, there are individual MPs who dissent and you would be wise to try to find them by asking them searching questions. Ultimately, it is impossible to separate religious conscience from politics and a fraud to say otherwise. Religious convictions cannot be put aside in the voting booth any more than one’s political ideology, gender, financial status or health. They are a part of what makes you you, and you should be honest about that when considering who to vote for. And remember: overeas, many Christians are being driven out of political participation altogether. Turn on to politics before it turns on to you.