I posted the article below in 2017 when a general election was called. Now we face another general election and the same question applies.
With a general election looming in the United Kingdom I am asking the question, “How, as a follower of Jesus should I vote?” Does Jesus give us any clue how we should act in a democratic age? Jesus said a lot about how we should order our lives, but very little about how we should go about choosing a politician or political party to rule over us. But if we want to be true to following Jesus we need to look carefully at his life and words and see if we can glean some clues.
- What are the cultural differences between Jesus’ day and today?
- Was Jesus a nationalist?
- Was Jesus a socialist?
- Did Jesus believe in a free market?
- How would Jesus vote?
Empire and Democracy
When Jesus was on earth, the counties around the Mediterranean were firmly in the grip of the Roman Empire. This was an absolute dictatorship and the people of Judea had no say at all in how they were governed. There was no possibility of them choosing a new government or in overthrowing their oppressors. Today, most countries have some sort of democracy in which the people can decide what sort of policies they want and choose leaders to govern them. It is not easy to say how Jesus would have instructed his followers to deal with the situation we find ourselves in today.
There was a group of freedom fighters or terrorists, (according to your point of view,) called the Zealots but their resistance ultimately resulted in a crushing defeat by Rome (AD70). Jesus realised that this approach would sooner or later result in disaster. Much of the prophecy in Matthew 24 refers to the destruction of Jerusalem as the inevitable result of rebellion against the Roman Empire. Many were looking to a “Messiah” to free them from the shackles of Empire but Jesus made it clear that he was not that type of messiah. Certainly Jesus came to usher in a new Kingdom, but this was not a man-made kingdom but the Kingdom of God. The good news was that this Kingdom is open to all and offers a completely different way than nationalism, socialism, democracy and empire. We must conclude that Jesus was not a nationalist.
In the parable of the talents Jesus talked about the merits of trading and depositing money in a bank to earn interest. He talked, again in a parable, about employers having the right to pay employees according to their own rules and the workers having to accept that.
But Jesus, living in the culture of the day, drew out examples to make spiritual points. We must be careful not to infer that he put his stamp of approval on the capitalist society of the day. Indeed, in another parable, he warned the complacency of building bigger barns to store crops.
In the Sermon on the Mount he said,
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 NIV)
We cannot conclude that Jesus supported capitalism, or was anti-capitalist. Indeed he showed us another way, the way of love.
The only link that I can find between Jesus and Communism is the fact that he and his disciples held a common purse. Jesus’ attitude towards money carried on after Pentecost when the new disciples sold possessions so that needs could be met. The apostle Paul, in raising support for the poor in Jerusalem, said:
Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.
At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.
The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15 NIV)
Jesus’ teaching supported meeting needs and Paul expressed this as equality but this was a long way from communism supported by Karl Marx.
Any one looking for evidence that Jesus was a socialist is bound to be disappointed. You only have to look at the examples he put in his parables to see he was no idealist socialist. Socialism tries to implement caring for the disadvantaged by legislation. But Jesus talked about loving our neighbour and even loving our enemy and there is no way these things can be forced on a society. So whereas socialism and the teachings of Jesus have many common ideals, it is all about the individual level, not the state level.
Jesus came to usher in a new kingdom. Jesus called this the kingdom of heaven and he asked us to pray that this kingdom would come to this world where we are living. We can be a part of this kingdom but cannot vote for it! It is a kingdom based on love. Jesus said we must love our neighbour and even love our enemy.
Love your neighbour
For the whole Law is summarized in a single statement: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14 NIV)
Love your enemy
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45 NIV)
How, then should I vote?
In a democracy I have a duty to help choose a government. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I cannot impose my views on a majority. As a voter I can only have a tiny effect on the result. We cannot vote directly for God’s kingdom and no political party comes close to following the principals of his kingdom. I can only ask, “What if the whole population were to follow the teachings of Jesus. How then should the country be run?”
I must not vote on the basis of what is good for me.
- If I am a pensioner, not just on the basis of which party promises to maintain pensions.
- If I am a business person, not just on the basis of what is good for business.
- If I am a worker, not just on the basis of workers rights, or minimum pay.
- If I am disabled in some way, not just on the basis of which party offers the best protection.
Jesus talked about loving our neighbour as ourself. This is my responsibility. We cannot leave this to the state to do this for us, but having a vote means asking these questions:-
- How would a party look after people who have spent all their lives contributing to society?
- Which party would increase the prosperity of the country for all?
- Which party would look after the rights of workers and make sure that their wages are sufficient to support their families?
- Which party would support those with mental or physical disabilities who cannot get a normal job?
Jesus took this ‘loving thing’ even further when he said that we should love our enemies. This surely cannot mean having weapons that can wreak terrible revenge on the civilians of an enemy country. So there is one more question.
- Which party, (if any,) would not depend on weapons of mass destruction to defend our country?
On the basis of the above questions, it is very clear to me how I should vote. It is up to each one of us to search our conscience and make our own choice. You may have other priorities and other questions but if you seek to be a follower of Jesus, I implore you to be sure that your vote is in line with the teachings of Jesus Christ.