We live in very interesting political times. Donald Trump in the US has torn up the rulebook about how to run and behave as a potential presidential candidate and in doing so has garnered enough support to be the likely Republican candidate come the convention later this year. While many describe him as racist, misogynist and falling to have a grasp of the roots of major issues, he just responds with a sort of “I’m just saying what people are thinking”. Some people, Donald, not all of them.
Here in Britain we have a referendum looming about whether we should stay in the EU or leave it. Our Tory government is split on this issue with members of the cabinet not only disagreeing with the Prime Minister but actively criticising his ability to understand the issues and speak truthfully about them. In the best of times this would result in a spectacular collapse of the government but in these special circumstances it is labelled “Freedom to Campaign”. How these people will be able to return to normal government and collegial relationships after the vote is hard to see, regardless of the outcome.
The Psalmist writes in Psalm 146
Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.
Right now, we may be tempted to agree with him. When politicians are making promises about all the problems they will fix, all the prosperity they will bring and the order they will keep, we would do well to be wary. We all know that what is said on the hustings is quickly forgotten in government (remember Nick Clegg and no tuition fee rises?). When someone promises salvation it’s best not to hold your breath.
Christians have been keen as anyone to put their trust in princes and see them as fellow builders of the Kingdom (or at least bulwarks against all that is bad in a “fallen” world). This rush to embrace candidates who are “saying what we are thinking” has its dangers and we’d be wise to look out for them. What we need is a lens to view candidates and their promises and their policies through.
It’s not that hard to make such a lens. The apostle Paul gives us two really good starting points: where our heart’s desires lay and how we should be as people. After all, what we desire and how we believe we should be set the tone for what we want to see government and society do.
The first starting point is about where our mind should be. Paul writes in Phillippians 4
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Clearly not all policies can be noble or beautiful. Some legislation deals with bus fares and school curricula. Pretty boring you might say. However, maybe with a little high mindedness you might think about those who are reliant on public transport and that it should be comfortable, affordable, and convenient. Perhaps in school children should be educated as creative, purposeful, and potential filled people rather than as future employees. Thinking in this way means more than just a process of attainment and measurement and production. If your policies are about people having fulfilling and thriving lives regardless of their status then your policies are going to be about what benefits people rather than what benefits the economy or big business or the rich. Everyone will have a stake.
This is a Christian value. All are made in the image of God and therefore all are created to share in the whole of creation in a meaningful, creative, peaceful and just way.
Paul also wrote to the church talking about what transformation looked like in people. In Galatians 5 he talks about the fruit of a person’s life:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
I’m not suggesting we create a theocracy but to support a candidate ignorant of these values or who works directly against them isn’t such a great idea either. These ideas provide a realistic lens by which we know they can’t live up to them but will do good if they try to go as far as they can in them. But holding a candidate up to this template will reveal what they really stand for and reveal exactly who or what they are willing to abandon in pursuit of what they believe is important. If their words don’t stand up to that list of fruits then neither will their governance.
Voting as a follower of Jesus frees us from the demands of party politics. Our identity comes from Christ first and then we may align ourselves with those we fit with. We start as independents who do not find their identity in isms or economics. We are distrustful of slogans like “Making America Great Again” or “Fixing a Broken Britain” because they raise far more questions than they answer.
Christians (and everyone really) have little interest in or use for abstract statements about our country. They have a great interest in greatness being defined by the well-being of all citizens. A great nation removes vulnerability from people rather than increasing it; a great nation sees everyone as important to the well-being of the nation and therefore doesn’t tolerate margins. It recognises people’s limitations but doesn’t establish their value based on those limitations. All in all a good country is like the Kingdom of God: if you want a place in it, come and take it.
The Kingdom of God is not going to come through the ballot box. The work of the Kingdom will not be replaced by reasonable policies and legislation. Instead, it comes from transformed people who live by the patterns God put in us at creation and who follow the one who lived it best and makes it possible for us to do it too.