Why vote

A Northern Ireland Assembly election will happen on 5 May this year. The current sitting of the Assembly has been a tumultuous one, with words of division and dissent a common theme. It would be remiss of me to ignore the current season in Northern Ireland’s politics; perhaps you aren’t yet considering WHO you are going to vote for but rather WHY vote at all? Nothing ever changes, right?

Let’s take just a few minutes to remind ourselves how we as Christians have a biblical mandate to continue to engage with politics by not only exercising our right to vote but using it in a considered and wise way.

Repeatedly, across the Old and New Testaments we see the God of heaven is not only aware of, but actually orchestrating his sovereign plans and purposes for the earth through individuals who are faithful to him and can speak to those in power. In the Old Testament we find examples of God’s favour being placed upon individuals, such as Daniel, Nehemiah and Esther, and then placing them within the corridors of power. They were obedient in living out the commands of the LORD in hostile places, risking their own reputations, positions and even lives by using their voices to speak truth to authorities. In the New Testament we read of Paul repeatedly engaging in dialogue about the Gospel and the Kingdom with religious and secular leaders of the day. Neither he, nor the other Apostles shied away from proclaiming the truth with divinely inspired words and a holy boldness, counting the cost and considering it a privilege to be ambassadors of The Way. Across Scripture, it is clear to see that God’s desire is for His people to engage with those in Power, the decision-makers of the day.

In fact, the Bible’s teaching on the role of government in each of our lives is important. For example, Roman’s 13: 1 – 7 tells us to submit to the authorities and respect government by upholding the rule of law. 1 Peter 2: 13 – 17 tells us to do the same, ending with a command concerning believers’ interaction with the world around them and God; “Honor everyone (society). Love the brotherhood (church). Fear God (holding Him as highest authority). Honor the emperor (government)” (v17, words in brackets my own). Finally, we are commanded to pray for those in authority over us (1 Timothy 2:2), for “kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” From personal experience, prayer changes me before it changes those I’m praying for. God uses prayer to soften and mould our hearts, turning them towards compassion and then our hands and feet toward action. So, why include teaching in the Bible on government if we as believers are not to take seriously our role to engage with and hold government to account?

Does our stance and response as believers change when governments or elements of them are hostile to Christians and the teaching of Scripture? Well, when the Israelites were carried away from Jerusalem in captivity to Babylon and forced to live under the rule and reign of Nebuchadnezzar, the prophet Jeremiah had words to deliver that came from the throne of Heaven to the Lord’s people; “…seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Our response is not one of revolt or returned hostility but rather an attitude of prayer and seeking the good for all we live alongside. One way we can do this is by voting for those who have a servant heart, a respect and even love for God, His ways and the vulnerable.

Ultimately, love for God and for neighbour can be the motivation for using our vote and wisely (we’ll unpack this further in an upcoming blog). Jesus’ description of his followers is that we’re light and salt (Matthew 5: 13 -16) and one way we can be distinctive in our world and bringers of hope and justice, is rejecting rampant cynicism and engaging in politics by using our right to vote positively. To love our neighbour is to engage with those in power to ensure accountability and play our part in creating laws and policies which are equitable and care for the vulnerable and marginalised.

So, will you stand with us at CARE in Northern Ireland and vote in this upcoming election? To quote our colleague and friend, Stuart Weir, “…As it ever has been, God’s desire is that we shape and reshape these countries according to godly purposes and principles. The election in each country is our democratic way of admitting people who can completely focus on this task. Who will you put your strike of the pencil towards?” Together, let’s take seriously our vital Christian responsibility to continue to engage with those in authority over us and tell our politicians and society of the better story that is ours in Christ Jesus.

//Hannah Arnold (NI Development Officer)