Put together by Seán Mullan and me for Evangelical Alliance Ireland (Sean is General Director).
Comments, as ever, welcome.
Election 2011 provides Christians with an opportunity to recover hope, a hope based not on political promises which are so uncertain, but on the character of God and his commitment to his people and his world.
The Scriptures provide us with considerable clarity on what God values and what he opposes. The Ten Commandments provide a framework for worship and justice, while showing God’s view of worshipping other gods and of abusing our neighbour. In the Exodus story, Moses leads the people to an understanding of Yahweh being opposed to the military and economic might of Pharaoh’s empire. In Jesus’ teaching, there is a renewed expression of God’s values in the two great commands, love of God and neighbour. Jesus leads his followers into an understanding of God as their Father; opposed to the proud, lifting up the humble, establishing a kingdom based neither on economic nor military might but on grace, generosity and suffering service. It is this view of the world that every follower of Jesus can bring to the political process.
The following is a brief examination of some key election issues in the light of God’s character and his ways. Given the time constraints, they are brief and rushed, but they are intended to help us to pray wisely and to engage effectively in the political process.
Political leadership is now hamstrung by unseen and unaccountable “market forces.” Politicians hold up their hands and claim they have no choice as they place the burden of enormous long-term debt on the shoulders of even the lowest paid. Bondholders, rating agencies and market forces are seen as the gods who must be obeyed. Leadership means painting a picture of a better place and mapping out a path to get there. For a Christian, the better place is a place of justice, a place of grace, a place where we experience God’s generous provision, where God and neighbour are loved and where the poor, the vulnerable and the outsider are protected.
The measure that Jesus provides for judging character is “fruit” – what the tree produces will tell you what kind of tree it is. The rest is spin.
Choose leaders who are most likely to lead us towards justice, who will not bow the knee to unseen gods that claim power to shape our lives but instead map out a path towards justice, especially for those who cannot speak for themselves.
God is the defender of the poor and the fatherless and the widow. Jesus’ new community of the kingdom of God is be marked by justice, equality and love of neighbour. Justice means living in right relationships with others as people made in the image of God. Neglect of the poor and needy or taking advantage of others is injustice.
Ask candidates what their policies are to protect the weakest and most vulnerable members of society – the elderly, the ill, the handicapped, children at risk. What policies are in place to address the injustices of our broken political and economic system where many ordinary people are paying for the reckless actions of an elite group of bankers and property developers? How will they prevent our country from living in servitude to economic forces?
‘Love of neighbour’ has an absolutely central place in God’s value system. Christians are called to love their neighbour because they have been recipients of the boundless love and grace of God. Politically, neighbour love involves seeking the best for others, even, and perhaps especially, those with whom we disagree. It means putting in place laws, structures and financial incentives that will work to restore relationships, develop neighbourliness, strengthen community and build a new vision of the common good.
Ask your candidates how they will lead us away from our selfish consumerism towards becoming a society committed to the common good. Ask yourself at this election, what does it mean to love my neighbour?
4. Power and accountability
Increased power and decreased accountability has produced greater corruption. Human nature is always in danger of being corrupted by power. Jesus used his unlimited power to become a servant and serve others.
What plans do candidates have to devolve power away from individuals and small groups and give it back to the Dáil and to local authorities? What are their proposals to increase accountability and to make those who hold power accountable to the people they represent?
5. Relationship and community
Jesus teaches that relationship with neighbour is second only to relationship with God. In particular, Jesus places value on our relationship with the “outsider”, the person on the margins, the one who is different from us because of their social, economic, ethnic or religious status.
What value do candidates put on relationships? How do they propose to build and strengthen relationships – in politics, in business, in the public service? Can they set forth a vision for the common good that will draw people, businesses, public servants, politicians into deeper level of cooperation for the common good? How will they facilitate this?
6. Freedom and Identity
Since Jesus is Lord of all, Christianity resists the idea that there should be a split between the realms of ‘private faith’ and a secular public square. Christians should have deep concern for matters of public life and the wellbeing of all of society. In a plural democracy, Christians don’t need to agree on everything, to work with others around areas of common concern and common values.
Ask what a political party will be doing to develop laws that provide as much justice and compassion and social stability as possible. How will they promote virtue while, at the same time, provide the least curtailment of the freedom of individuals and groups to live as they believe is best?
7. Money and work
In the “noughties” we became a society that worshipped money above all. That worship has now led us to a place of scarcity and need. Jesus’ warning, “gaining the world and losing our soul” has never been more relevant. While money is essential for living in society, we need political leadership that recognises the power of money, the danger of greed and the need for proper regulation and supervision of the financial industries. Like Pharaoh of old, these industries are now demanding more and more, while providing less and less resources.
At the same time, the opportunity to work and earn a living, is a basic human right coming from the Creator. With rising unemployment and emigration, there have to be new policies to encourage employment. Incentives are needed for those employers who are entrepreneurs and are seeking capital to develop their businesses. A future generation should not be forced to pay for the recklessness of an older generation by having to emigrate or face long-term unemployment.
A radical reform of this system is long overdue and we need to ask for clear proposals about how this will happen. Ask for proposals on how new jobs will be developed and entrepreneurs facilitated and supported.
Quality of life is not purely a financial issue. Yet love of money became the value that shaped our society and became the root of all kinds of evil. We need a society shaped by values other than the love of money, hunger for power and the drive for success at the expense of others. Justice, mercy and humble service are values that bring life and wholeness, not destruction and fragmentation.
Do candidates’ proposals reflect these values? Do they agree that there is a need for new values?
Change must start from the bottom and work up rather than be imposed from the top down. Communities co-operating together, working to serve each other, to tackle problems, to protect the vulnerable. Politics that seeks to satisfy the demands of the consumer is doomed to produce more demanding consumers, not active citizens seeking the common good.
How will candidates help start and encourage change in local communities? Are they willing to empower and resource communities rather than control them? Do they understand the value of local ownership of local issues?
There is much talk today of ‘renewing the Republic’. This is to be welcomed. If the last few years have shown anything, it is that there is a desperate need for values and beliefs to be honestly aired and talked about rather than a blind trust in ‘impersonal market forces’ or an ‘economic system’.
Judging how a wrong should be righted is a moral action. Christians have as much right, and responsibility, as other citizens, to contribute to the current debate about what sort of Ireland we want to live in. Let’s not be passive observers, but active citizens contributing to a more just, transparent, accountable and effective society.
Leadership: Exodus 5:1-2; Exodus 20:1-3; Matthew 7:15-20; Mark 12:28-31
Justice: Deuteronomy 10:17-18; Job 29:12-17; Isaiah 58:6-7; Mark 12:40; James 2:15-17
Generosity: Leviticus.19:18; Matthew 19:19, 22:39; Mark 12:31-33; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; Jas 2:8
Power and accountability: Exodus 5:4-18; John 3:19-21; Philippians 2:1-11; 1 John 2:7-11
Relationships: Exodus 23:6-9; Deuteronomy 15:7-8; Luke 10:25-37
Freedom and Identity: Philippians 2:11; Romans 13:1-7; Luke 20:25
Money and work: Exodus 5:6-9; Luke 12:13-21; Ephesians 4:28; Colossians 3:23; 1 Timothy 6:7-10
Values: 1 Timothy 6:7-10
Change: Exodus 5:19-23; Exodus 15:1-6; Matthew 13:31-33
Success: 1 Peter 2:12