Thursday, July 4, 2024

HOW to vote

 It’s election day.  But before we consider how we should cast our vote, (if its not too late already), we need to do some theology, first.

When the crowds saw that Jesus had the power to heal, and to forgive sins, they were (and I quote) ‘filled with awe and glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings’.  It’s a fascinating observation, for bible nerds.  It’s easy for us to focus on Jesus’ divinity, but his humanity doesn’t appear front and centre to us very often – despite how many times Jesus himself uses the phrase ‘son of man’ to describe himself.  In this case, Matthew points to how God has given his authority to Jesus, a human.  It’s a theme that Matthew pursues later in his Gospel – specifically at the Great Commission, in chapter 28.  There, Jesus declares that ‘all authority, in heaven and on earth, has been given to me’ – before then commanding his followers to go into all the world, baptising and teaching the words of Jesus. 

According to the Psalmist, the law of the Lord is perfect. “The statutes of the Lord are right and rejoice the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure and gives light to the eyes.”   The Psalmist sets up the presumption that in God, and God’s laws, we may find the purest, most noble, most efficacious expression of how to live.  Of God’s judgements, the Psalmist says “More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold;” They are “sweeter also than honey, dripping from the honeycomb”.  God’s kingdom laws are therefore set up for us as an ideal, an icon, an inspiration, for all human law-making.  

And yet, according to Matthew’s gospel, God has given authority to human beings, through Jesus – our Master but also our brother.   We share with him the responsibility of enacting God’s laws in the world.  He has commanded us to go into the world, baptising the nations and teaching them everything that Jesus has taught us – especially, we can wisely deduce, about the laws of God.  This idea, that God’s laws get enacted through faithful human beings goes right back to the Genesis myth – in which God gives Adam dominion over the world, while also commanding him to ‘take care of it’.

What, then, do we mean when we speak of God’s laws?  How shall we know on this election day, which of the political parties on offer to us are enacting God’s laws?  How shall we judge where to put our voter’s cross, so that the cross of Christ may triumph over our nation?

Jesus was not the only teacher doing the rounds in that first century of the common era.  At the time of Jesus, there was another respected teacher, called Rabbi Hillel.  According to certain Jewish sources, Hillel was once challenged to stand on one leg, and recite the laws of God.  (It’s not entirely clear why he was so challenged – but presumably, his challenger wanted Hillel to come up with a brief summary, before he fell over.)  Hillel is said to have carried out the challenge – standing on one leg and saying “Love God, and love your neighbour as yourself – the rest is commentary”.  In doing so, he obviously quoted the same ‘golden rule’ that Jesus also taught…a golden rule that is known throughout the world, and throughout all religions.  If we ever wanted to look for evidence that God has planted his law in our hearts, then the golden rule is the best evidence we could offer.  ‘Love God, and love your neighbour as yourself’.  Sometimes, the Golden Rule is expressed in negative terms – ‘don’t do to others what you would not want them to do to you’.  But the essential core is the same.  ‘Do as you would be done by’.  ‘Love others as you love yourself’.

This then is the core of the Law of God.  Love.  Love for God, and love for others.  Any human law which does not, in some respect, reflect the Golden Rule, is something of which we should be deeply suspicious.  Which is easy to say, but not so simple to apply to the plethora of political manifestos we have before us as we vote today.

But I think that it is as least possible to hold up the parties’ manifestos to the Golden Rule.  It’s possible to take each area of our national life, and to ask to what extent they reflect God’s law of love.  Take, for example, the issue of justice.  We might ask, does justice policy reflect the desire to punish and take retribution against evil doers, or is it slanted towards forgiveness, restoration, and hope – for both criminals and their victims.  Take the troublesome issue of immigration.  Is our immigration policy designed to show love to our foreign neighbours, or does it stigmatise and place unfair blame upon them for the problems of our own country?  Take our education and health systems.  Do we pay our teachers and our medical staff as we would like to be paid for the amazing work they do?  In other words, do we treat them as we would like to be treated?  Or do we seek to protect our own purses first, by voting for the party which promises the lowest possible tax rate?  Take our energy policies.  Is there justice and equity between energy producer and energy user?  Or is it the case that our energy producers are ignoring the law of Love – the law of doing as they would be done by?

Do you get me?  I think that the law of Love can and should be applied to all political thinking.  So, I’m going to take the unusual step of recommending how you should vote today.  Not, you’ll note, who you should vote for, but how you should think about who to vote for.  If you have not already cast your ballot, I urge you to vote for the party whose manifesto promises, when held up to the Golden Rule, most closely align to the principle of ‘do as you would be done by’.  Any party whose promises prioritise the needs of one group of people over another, should be rejected.  If taxpayers are given greater love than people on benefits, question it.  If foreigners are shown less love than natural-born countrymen, question it.  If certain groups in society, like the bankers and financiers are given more advantage than everyman, question it.  If the love we offer our neighbours through healthcare and education is to be done on a shoestring, so that tax payers can afford an extra Costa coffee per week, question it.  If energy policy veers towards destroying the planet, instead of caring for it – as God commanded Adam, for the love of all humanity, reject it.  Apply the Golden Rule to every political promise, every political policy, every political claim – and do unto others as you would have them do for you.  Love your neighbour as you love yourself.  Everything else is commentary.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you Tom for your sermon on ‘How to vote’. I also found it helpful going to a couple of hustings and listening to the responses of the prospective candidates. I saw care, concern and personal sacrifice in the willingness to take up the role of doing their best for our community/constituency. They may not achieve the highest votes necessary to become our MP, but I was impressed and heartened