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Political issues

As you'll almost all be aware, there's an election coming up here in the UK pretty soon. For some unknown reason, robhu suggested I write a post about what I consider important when choosing who to vote for.

On the one hand, this seems a bit of a strange idea; I'm a fairly interested but fairly uneducated layperson when it comes to politics, and well-meaning amateurs can do a lot of damage to a serious consideration. But on the other hand, there are some things I do think are important, and this is my blog after all, so it's the perfect place for me to record my thoughts.

I think that with the current electoral system, choosing who to vote for in a general election should be balanced between what you know of the candidate as an individual and what you think of their party, with slightly more emphasis on the party's views. Obviously you'll never agree with a party on every issue, so it seems sensible to decide which issues you think are the most important, and weight your considerations accordingly. For the sake of simplicity, I've decided to record my weights as numbers out of 10.

I believe my views below are all consistent with Christian principles. In some cases I think all Christians should share the priority, but in most cases I think Christians can differ on these issues. The important thing is to think through how the policies relate to biblical principles.

Things I think are important:
  • International poverty and development. Weight: 10.

    By this I mean working towards the Millennium Development Goals, international aid, continuing to work towards Making Poverty History, and related issues. The population of the UK is a tiny fraction of the world's population, but the UK is an influential country in the world. Massive reductions in global poverty, famine and disease are achievable now that were simply impossible last century. I think a party's position on these issues is immensely significant.
  • Climate change and environmental issues. Weight: 9.

    The general scientific consensus is that the Earth's climate is changing rapidly, and strong global actions are needed immediately to prevent the global temperature rising above 2°C and triggering a vicious circle. I think this is very scary given how little governments are actually doing about it, and how little the Copenhagen Summit achieved. The only reason this isn't a 10 is because I think the models don't quite match the actual current observed climate change, so it's a bit hard to be sure what the actual consequences of things will be. But even what we are seeing is disastrous for many countries and urgently needs addressing. A low-carbon economy will be difficult to achieve and need strong leadership and political guidance.
  • Domestic poverty and injustice. Weight: 7.

    I believe that it's part of every Christian's mandate to care for the poor (see e.g. Matthew 25). There is great oppression, poverty and injustice within our nation, and I don't think the solution is to put more and more people in prison. Restorative justice could be much more effective. I also think the rich should be taxed proportionally more than the poor.
  • Civil liberties. Weight: 5.

    I think the government has been going in dangerous directions recently, with things like the Digital_Economy_Act, the National Identity Register, and the extent of the SOCPA. I believe Christians don't need to hide, but too much power in the hands of government is a dangerous thing, particularly for vulnerable people. I'd like to see several of these repealed.
  • Education. Weight: 4.

    I think the country should prioritise schools more and university less. I think the target of 50% university education is destructive, as are student loans.
  • Electoral reform. Weight: 3.

    I think there are problems with our current political system, and a voting system other than first past the post could be a good idea. I think a lot of the population is disaffected with politics and significant shake-ups are needed to change this. But I think there are other more important issues (as listed above).
  • Religious expression. Weight: 3.

    I think it is important that Christians and people of other faiths are able to discuss openly their beliefs, and have open reasoned debate on things like (to choose one controversial example) whether homosexuality is sinful. I'm concerned about legislation that threatens to make discussions like this illegal as "incitement to homophobic hatred" when they're very far from such things. The reason for the relatively low weight here is that I think Christians tend to stick their noses too much into people's sex lives, and even if you do believe homosexuality is a sin, many Christians focus far too much on it rather than the sins the Bible spends a lot more time talking about, such as greed and oppression.
These aren't the only important issues, of course, but they're among the ones that seem most significant to me. Other issues can be assumed to have a weight of 1 or 2 rather than 0.

On a related note, robhu has written a meme to see how the voting plans of people's friendslists compare. If you follow the link below, you can help make the data more accurate. (Yes, this does rather go against secret voting, as in many cases it's moderately easy to deduce what any one person has told this database. As Vitenka put it, "Are you really going to sell out your right to secret voting, hard won by our forefathers, in exchange for a little virtual badge?" "Yes" "Duh" "Of Course" "Wait, I get a shiny thing TOO?")

Help alextfish and get your own badge!
(The Livejournal Electioniser was made by robhu)


( 32 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 22nd, 2010 12:08 pm (UTC)
On the point about religious expression, what concerns me is that the change in laws do (and increasingly will) act to prevent the spread of the gospel, and be used by those opposed to the church to try to shut it down.

In my examples I'm going to talk about homosexuality, not because I think homosexuality is the worst of all sins (it's not) or because I'm particularly interested in condemning homosexuality (I'm not), but because that seems to be a key place where clashes are happening with respect to religious expression at the moment (I imagine in the future it will happen over various issues).

Several street evangelists have been arrested (and one American guy was deported) because people either complained that they mentioned homosexuality in their preaching (which I understood to be a mention in a list of other sins) or because (it seems, in some rarer cases) they were baited to say something about homosexuality. I think that's extremely troubling.

Julian Hardyman (pastor at Eden Chapel for those who don't know) mentioned in one of his sermons that a pastor somewhere in Europe was arrested for having a list of passages in the Bible that referred to homosexuality. He said that was for having a private list.

The government kept trying to push through changes in the law that would have made it illegal to refuse to hire a youth worker who held to and practiced different views on morality to the church. I find that particularly concerning because youth workers are almost always responsible for teaching our beliefs to our children, so it cannot be right that we are forced to employ someone to do that who does not agree with those beliefs (and this seems to be what Paul the apostle would think I believe given what he says about the requirements for being a 'deacon' etc).

I'd agree with you that there's a concern over general freedom of expression, and it's very bad that it can be called "incitement to homophobic hatred" if you want to discuss whether homosexuality is a sin, but the bottom line for me is the expression of the gospel. I think that laws which support freedom of expression are extremely important because freedom of expression is linked with freedom to share what we believe, and so give other people a chance to know and be forgiven by Christ themselves.

In terms of the priorities of things, I don't think we're in a situation today where we're on the brink of preaching the gospel being banned, but that could happen in the future, and that's (along with making it harder to do) is my main concern.

I remember a discussion between John Piper, Tim Keller, and someone else where they talked about social issues and preaching the gospel, they all agreed that a biblical church will do both (and that a proper understanding of the gospel will lead to social work) but they also agreed that the preaching of the gospel is in a sense a more primary thing because if we really believe that people who do not choose Christ are going to suffer an eternity of bad stuff, then the finite amount of bad stuff has to take a lower place in our priority list. That's very definitely not to say that it should be last place, or unimportant, but just to say that preaching the gospel and the related issue of freedom of expression ought to come higher.

I would be interested in your thoughts as this seems to be the largest area of difference in our views.
Apr. 22nd, 2010 12:19 pm (UTC)
Another effect of the changes in law with respect to freedom of expression has been that several important adoption agencies have had to close because it became illegal for them to operate according to their Roman Catholic principles. As a result the situation for children needing adoption is now bleaker :(
Apr. 22nd, 2010 01:49 pm (UTC)
I don't think that had anything to do with 'changes in law with respect to freedom of expression'. That was to do with changes in the law with respect to how they could operate and the criteria the could use. Very different.

Apr. 22nd, 2010 01:35 pm (UTC)
I think I do agree that preaching the gospel has to be more important than working to alleviate poverty and injustice, just about. Although it's a bit odd that Jesus spends more time in the gospels talking about justice and suchlike rather than preaching how to be saved (which he actually does very little), nonetheless I do agree with the reasoning you mention connected with the Piper/Keller discussion.

I do believe freedom of expression is very important.
I think the reason for my lower weight on the issue as it relates to this election is that I don't think the UK is in real danger of things getting very bad very soon.

Christians in closed Muslim countries still manage to find ways to preach the gospel, although it's much harder for them. In the UK there's still basically no risk to discussing the core gospel message, and most of its outworkings in people's lives; I think the restriction on Christian evangelism in the UK is not fear of legislation but apathy and fear of some nebulous idea of rejection. We're still free to discuss faith matters with our friends, and to openly invite people to church.

(To all those reading this: I'm very happy to discuss basically any aspect of my faith with you, so if you want to talk about anything related to Christianity, please feel free! :) And similarly if you want to visit our church, for that matter.)

There's also an extent that the Christians likely to run afoul of the current laws are likely to be ones who tend to preach in a way that I think puts people off and dishonours the gospel. I'd still strongly defend their right to say things even if I find them distasteful, but I don't feel the current laws are actually stifling actual preaching of the gospel at all.

So to that extent, I think the actions of the government are likely to have more impact on caring or otherwise for the poor and oppressed than they will on the preaching of the gospel by sensible churches. Preaching the gospel is more important than fighting injustice, but I don't think preaching is actually compromised by the current laws or the way things are going.
Apr. 22nd, 2010 02:07 pm (UTC)
Society is heading that way, though. And it's not really to do with laws: it's to do with the general movement towards a secular agenda which holds religious views (or indeed anything other than liberal humanist views) as unacceptable in the public sphere, and certainly unacceptable as bases for opinion. Religion is being relegated to the private sphere, and it's not being done by laws or policemen arresting preachers: it's being done by the far slower but far more powerful force of an apathetic population. And it's enforced on politicians by their own fear of losing votes by being seen to have any opinion which might alienate any section of the electorate.

Often, I think that a bit of real persecution is what the Church needs, right now. Get rid of the dead wood. Go through the flames of the forge and come out tempered, hardened. Real persecution would strengthen the Church -- but right now, she's being killed with secular apathy.

Apr. 22nd, 2010 01:48 pm (UTC)
The street evangelists you mention: was this in the UK? Do you have more details?

If this is true, it's troubling that preachers can be baited into saying things that get them arrested. But the advice to Christians has always been to be self-controlled (as well as persevering, godly, kind and loving - 2 Peter 1:5-7. I think it's probably been the case through a lot of history that if a preacher forgets where and to whom he's preaching and lets his thoughts run away with him, he'd potentially get in trouble with the authorities. Part of the responsibility of preaching is to not do that.
Apr. 22nd, 2010 04:14 pm (UTC)
Recently a street preacher was arrested and fined £1,000 for saying "Homosexuals deserve the wrath of God - and so do all other sinners - and they are going to a place called Hell.". This bit seems relevant (from the DailyFail):
When asked about his views on gays, Mr Holes, 47, from Lake Placid in New York State, said he told questioners: 'Homosexuals deserve the wrath of God - and so do all other sinners - and they are going to a place called Hell.'

He also said he told listeners, when asked for his views on Islam, that he believed there is only one true Christian God and he believed the Prophet Mohammed is a 'sinner like the rest of us'.

Mr Holes added: 'Two men who were listening went over to a couple of police officers and they came over and told me, "These people say you said homos are going to Hell". I told them I would never say that, because I don't use the term homo. But I was arrested.'
There are some other examples referred to here, where the BBC did a report on street preachers now being arrested when sharing the gospel. Here are some highlights:
[the report] included a recording of a recent incident where a street preacher was told by police officers that it is a criminal offence to identify homosexuality as a “sin” ... even though he had never mentioned homosexuality in his preaching.

Earlier this month it was reported that a street preacher had been arrested after reading out Bible passages in Maidstone, Kent.

Last summer a street preacher in Birmingham was arrested after he had mentioned homosexuality while preaching about sin and its consequences.
If someone were standing up on a street corner urging people to attack homosexuals (or anyone else) that would rightly result in them being arrested, but where a preacher mentions that homosexuality is a sin, or reads Bible passages relevant to homosexuality, or even preaches about homosexuality they ought not be arrested.

I agree entirely that we're called to be godly, kind, and loving, but I don't see that those things are incompatible with what these preachers have been preaching. The preachers have been getting in to trouble with the authorities because the law is so close to the line (or over it, it's ambiguous) that the authorities interpret that saying that homosexuality is sinful or that homosexuals (like everyone else) deserve to be punished for their sins is understood to be illegal. I don't see that there is an issue with what the preachers have done, but rather with the law, and I expect that laws like this (especially if further laws moving in the anti-free speech direction) will suppress the gospel message in our country.

On an unrelated note, it pains me that the troll (who doesn't always explicitly troll because that would give things away) is allowed to post here (of course it's your LJ so you can do what you want), but I won't be replying to his comments (or probably the rest of the threads here) because given how he has treated me, my wife, and my friends in the past, I don't want anything to do with him.

Edited at 2010-04-22 04:15 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - alextfish - Apr. 22nd, 2010 04:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Apr. 22nd, 2010 12:13 pm (UTC)
Oh, and the other thing that would be really cool for you to do (seeing as how I got you to write this I might as well push my luck), would be for you to rate out of 10 how well you think the main parties do on each of these points, possibly even with some commentary :)
Apr. 22nd, 2010 01:21 pm (UTC)
I'm a fairly interested but fairly uneducated layperson when it comes to politics, and well-meaning amateurs can do a lot of damage to a serious consideration.

I know what you mean. But I provisionally think that talking about it is likely to help a lot more than NOT doing so: there's a risk you'll contaminate people with ill thought out views, but I think it's more likely that you'll get useful feedback, and give useful feedback to other people who are already talking about it. (And of course, there's a good chance that the LESS I know, the MORE I talk :))

FWIW, I generally agree with the vast majority of your points (not necessarily the exact ordering, but the general reasoning), both that they're good things, and that (although I have no right to say so) they're things I'd like to see Christian values support :)
Apr. 22nd, 2010 01:27 pm (UTC)
I honestly don't think there's anything to worry about in the incitement to homophobic hatred offence. The law makes it extremely clear that people saying they think it's wrong to be gay won't be committing the offence, whether it's for religious or other reasons. Technically, the law will cover things like (for example) a preacher telling his congregation to go out and attack gay people, but (1) I think that's probably fair enough, (2) everyone I know who works in discrimination law thinks there won't in fact be any prosecutions at all.

In fact, the only reason why the incitement offence might stifle free debate is the fear stirred up by people who are worried about it...
Apr. 22nd, 2010 10:43 pm (UTC)
The law makes it extremely clear that people saying they think it's wrong to be gay won't be committing the offence.

According to Mattghg (who is himself quoting the Telegraph quoting Gordon Brown), Labour were not too pleased that the amendment which makes this clear got through, and would like to repeal it. I don't know any of the other parties' views on this one.
(no subject) - the_alchemist - Apr. 23rd, 2010 07:59 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 22nd, 2010 03:38 pm (UTC)
Does 'likelihood of your chosen candidate/party getting elected' play any part in your voting choices? Do you think it should?
Apr. 22nd, 2010 04:16 pm (UTC)
Good questions both.
Francesca Elston is of the opinion that Christians shouldn't do tactical voting:
(3) Being a Christian makes tactical voting a rather dodgy idea at best.

My understanding of Jesus’s teaching is that He is telling me to stand up for what I believe is right, even when I am a minority, even (or perhaps especially) in the face of conflict and adversity. If I believe that the LDs will do the best job of running the country then I have to cast my vote in that direction, even if they have no chance of winning. As it happens that’s far from being true any more, but that doesn’t affect the argument.

Up until this point I'd been broadly approving of tactical voting in seats where it made sense. Ms Elston's is an argument I'd not encountered before, and I haven't yet decided quite what I think of it.

Fortunately, whether I should or shouldn't allow it to influence me doesn't matter for this election, because (1) I believe the Lib Dems come out looking best by the principles in my post, and (2) a Lib Dem vote in Cambridge city is relevant and unwasted because Labour are making a push for Cambridge City, and I want to help defend the Lib Dem seat even though I don't think Labour have much chance of stealing it.

I think the Green Party are the other party who come out looking good by the principles in my post, but I think the Lib Dems' policies are more reasoned and better costed. (It's possible however that I am being influenced by believing the Lib Dems have far greater chances of being elected; it's hard for me to say.)

David Howarth was also a truly superb MP, but very sadly he's standing down. Having had a TheyWorkForYou alert on all the things David said in Parliament while he was MP, I've been thoroughly impressed, and would be likely to vote for David out of loyalty and knowing he's sensible and passionate about the things I care about. Julian Huppert is untested, but so are his rivals in the other parties.
Apr. 22nd, 2010 04:33 pm (UTC)
How far should that sort of argument be carried? In America, IIRC, after all the printed candidate names there's a space for you to write in anyone's name and vote for them. If you think your next-door neighbour would be a better candidate, are you obliged to write them in even though they have no chance of winning?
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Apr. 22nd, 2010 11:10 pm (UTC)
On the religious expression stuff, Matt's posting and his later one are interesting. robhu and I have already argued about whether religious freedom really is under threat in the comments of the first one.
( 32 comments — Leave a comment )