This Thursday – those of us who are Scottish voters get to decide who sits in these seats.
I suspect that many Christian voters in Scotland are like me, thoroughly confused/depressed/concerned about the upcoming Scottish Parliamentary elections this Thursday. Who can I vote for? Is there really any choice? What is happening to our country? As moderator of the Free Church I wrote to all the party leaders and sought their answers to some questions that I hope reflect many of our interests. You can read the responses on the Free Church website by clicking this link – Who Should I vote for?
These were the questions that were asked: Sometimes more is said by the ones they chose not to answer than the answers they gave:
Questions from Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland:
As a church that covers the whole of Scotland we are clearly interested in everything that involves the Scottish parliament. We pray for you and we honour you as the political leaders of our nation. We realise that there is a legitimate and right separation of church and state, and therefore we would not seek to impose our views on everyone. We also realise that sometimes there are areas of overlap where what the parliament does directly affects the church. It is in that latter regard that I wish to ask some questions on behalf of the church.1) Are Christians and those of other faiths welcome to become members in your party, to participate within them and in the political process, without discrimination?
2) Would your party support another cross-party group on religious freedom in Scotland at the Scottish Parliament?
3) Do you think that Christianity has a role in the public square, especially in politics, education and the media?
4) How will your party ensure Scotland has a strong influence protecting the rights of persecuted Christians around the world?5) What is your party’s position on state-funded faith schools, whether they be Christian or Muslim?
6) We believe a diversity of schools would create a healthy competition of ideas and outcomes and improve educational standards across the nation. Should Scotland lead the way by democratising our education system by allocating vouchers to parents to produce financial support for faith schools?
7) As the state education system becomes increasingly secular and removed from its Christian roots and values, if the Free Church were to set up its own schools, open to all, would you support this?8) Do you agree that children being bullied and taunted at school because they go to church should also be included in new anti-bullying advice being prepared by the Scottish Government?9) Do you agree that sex education should be inclusive of a wide variety of opinions and views on the nature of sex and sexuality?10) Will your party support moves to reconsider the Sunday trading issue in Scotland so that we can move towards a more continental approach?11) Given that babies can survive at 24 weeks outside the womb, and that France, Germany and Italy have 12-week limits, is there any scientific or logical reason not to reduce the age limit on abortion in Scotland? Would you support a reduction in the time limit?12) Do you agree that the named person scheme needs to be refined, if so in what way?
13) What are your proposals to alleviate poverty in Scotland? How do you think that government can work together with the churches on this?
14) Do you believe that we should accept more refugees in Scotland?
15) Do you think that children have the ability to choose their own gender? How many genders do you think there are?
Amongst some of the more interesting reactions are the following:
UKIP are opposed to faith schools and said they would definitely not take any more refugees in Scotland. The Scottish Christian party advocates improving mental health in the work force. The SNP answered the question about faith in the public square by talking about individual politicians being allowed to express faith and stated that Christians were welcome in the SNP without discrimination. They reinforced their belief that young people can ‘make informed choices about their gender’. They promised not to change the law on abortion. They also support denominational education. Scottish Labour welcome Christians into their party, they answered the question about Free Church schools by stating that they do not support the creation of new schools outwith the state system. Which was not the question. Would they support Free Church schools within the state system? Like the SNP, ‘Scottish Labour support people to determine their own gender identity’. The Scottish Conservatives indicated they were for ‘diversity’ within the state education system. They want a tool kit for transphobic and homophobic bullying to be dealt with, but said nothing about people being bullied because of their faith. The Greens and the Lib Dems did not think we were worth responding to. (note the Lib Dems sent in their reply a week late – see above. They did not answer most of the questions).
I must admit that I find this election confusing. I would normally vote for one particular party but in recent elections have primarily voted for the local candidate I like best, whatever the party. In my local constituency I was thinking about changing my vote from my usual party, but then I received the manifesto of the party of the candidate I was thinking about, and it depressed me so much, I will probably return to my original choice. Many Christians seem tempted to give up in despair (and we are not the only ones – the alienation of much of the electorate from the political elites is a Europe wide phenomena). But can I encourage my fellow believers not to despair. And to reflect upon the following:
Honour – There is far too much cynicism, anger and rudeness when we discuss our political leaders. I have been as guilty of this as the next person. But I was wrong. We are to respect the king and those in authority – even if that king is Caesar, Pontius Pilate, David Cameron or Nicola Sturgeon. The authorities that be have been established by God. They are God’s servants. If you want a biblical attitude to government then read Romans 13:1-6. We should be thankful that we live in a country where there is a functioning government and be grateful that we are not in a society that has broken down. Think Aleppo. I am thankful for the Scottish government, and the opposition parties. They have done much good and they deserve respect and honour. Yes – there are aspects of their policies that I don’t like and some that are just downright daft and dangerous, but overall they do the best that they can. We must not be those who just snipe from the sidelines. We too must play our part in the body politic.
Humility – We need to show a lot more humility when we critique government. Sometimes as Christians we come across as those who have all the answers and who have a tone of contempt for others. That is not helpful and it is not Christlike. If we were in government I suspect we would make as big a mess of things as any of the current politicians! Humility does not of course mean that we say nothing, or that we just fawn and cringe. But if we are to have a genuine prophetic voice in the nation we need to learn to see all people as made in the image of God, and to treat those with whom we disagree with respect and compassion. Again I just simply state – mea culpa!
Why would we expect non-Christians to behave like Christians, or to have a Christian philosophy or Christian worldview? We are not to judge those in the world (including politicians) but rather those in the church. We are not to promote one political party as ‘the Christian’ choice, but rather recognize the common grace that works in each. It is certainly not our job to tell people who to vote for, or indeed who not to vote for. I know I said that I struggled to see how Christians could vote for the Greens given their radical pro-abortion stance, but I think I was wrong in at least this one respect – I would vote for a Green who was prepared to go against the party view. And there is great difficulty in making one or two issues the shibboleth issues because that ends up leaving us with no one to vote for. Sometimes we have to go for the least worst option. From a personal conviction I could not vote for someone who is so anti-life, but I don’t think I have the right to tell others how to vote.
Hope – Trust not in princes, says the Good Book. Our hope is not in any of the political parties or any of the political leaders. When we see some of the anti-Christian and anti-human ideas, as well as some of the inept practices of our political leaders, we can be tempted to despair. As the Psalmist says (at least in the old metrical version) ‘trust not in princes, nor mans son, in whom there is no stay”. But our hope is in Christ. He has renewed and reformed this country before – and He can do so again. I am thankful that I know believers in every party, including some fine Christian candidates who are standing in every party, and some fine non-Christian ones. I have voted in my lifetime for someone from every party, except the BNP and UKIP! None of this is to deny the seriousness of what we face, or the folly of some of what our political parties are proposing. I believe that this country is going down the tubes and that what we are sowing today will have devastating effects in the future. Unless the Lord shows mercy. But he often does….so what can we do?
Pray – that after all is our first responsibility –
1 Timothy 2 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
Vote – we have a responsibility to vote. Even if it is just to turn up and write ‘none of the above’. I once voted Scottish Socialist, not because I wanted all their policies or thought they could get elected, but as a kind of protest vote against the banality of the rest – and I knew and liked their candidate. Use your vote on Thursday.
Work – get involved, get our hands dirty. We need more Christians actively involved in all spheres of public life, including politics. May God grant that we would be salt and light and that Scotland would once again have that ‘righteousness which exalts a nation’.