Tuesday, May 5, 2015

May 7th: X

Cryptic title, perhaps, but it'll all become obvious when you read the words 'general election'. To anyone not from the UK reading this, on May 7th 2015 the UK will be holding a general election to decide who will be running our government for the next five years.

At the time of writing there's very mixed reports and it doesn't look like there's going to be a clear majority. This is pretty much what happened last time too, suggesting that the UK is trending away from having any great faith in the major players. That is what it is and we need to talk about what I think we, as Christians, need to consider when voting in our elections.

First lets look at the word Christian, historically it was actually used as an insult to the early church who were identified as being 'Christ-like'/Christian, I guess the name stuck because that's what we use to this day.

Now, when we consider that we are known for being Christ like, it is obvious then that we must study Christ, learn his heart and attitudes. What he said and what he did, and how he lived his life.

If we consider what Jesus stated was the greatest command in the law was we have this:

"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'" - Luke 10:27 (NIV)

Now, this does refer to the 'old law' which the Jewish nation at the time was following but, do you know how hard it is to love your neighbour sometimes? I mean, you might not even LIKE your neighbour, they might play their music too loud, they might take drugs, be from another country, practice a lifestyle choice that makes you feel uncomfortable, you don't get a choice in who your neighbour is, you gotta love them anyway.

This one is important, we're going to come back to this.

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35).

There's that l word again. It's worth noting that Christ doesn't command us to do things that he hasn't already done himself, Jesus wasn't a 'do what I say, not what I do' kinda guy, he first lived and asked us to follow his example. Love one another! Ever been in a group and found there's only a couple of people you get on with? Yeah, even in Church, ya gotta love people and serve them.

"For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don't use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love." - Galatians 5:13

We see it again here, we are not called to be selfish and please ourselves but we are called to serve each other and demonstrate love.

Serve and love folks, serve and love.

Ok, so what does this have to do with the elections? 

I'm frankly sick of the system the way it is, and I will not mention any names of political parties, but I used to vote for one party consistently and in our 2010 election I changed, I voted for another party. I was hoping for a 'hung parliament' where there was no clear majority and all parties had to put aside their differences and work together... So yeah... That didn't happen.

This time around I find myself with a choice between two minor parties, neither of which are likely to get many (if any) seats, but, these two parties have strong manifestos that align with what I believe we should be doing as followers of Christ.

I mean I could turn up and spoil my ballot paper, but I understand that unless a statistically significant number of people do this then nothing changes... So I feel compelled to vote for someone.

So lets look at some things that I think we need to bear in mind when we put that cross in the box.

Mark 12:13-17 details some religious leaders trying to trick Jesus with a question of taxes and he ultimately asks them whose face is on a coin and the leaders reply 'Caeser' to which Jesus replies 'Give to Caeser what belongs to Caeser and give to God what belongs to God'.

So yeah... Tax, that tricky thing everyone wishes wasn't as much as it is.

I pay tax, gladly I might add. As a child I grew up and my family got working tax credits (or something like that, I don't know the exact term), I went to school, I saw doctors, I even had dental work provided free due to services that are paid for by tax. I am happy to pay my tax, I was born in a hospital, I entered this world on the backs of others who had paid their taxes. Our entire national community depends on us all paying our fair share of tax.

My taxes pay for others to have the same luxuries I have been lucky to have, I made no effort to hide the fact that my company provides private medical care, but I absolutely will never criticise the fact that I'm paying for National Health Services (NHS) I never have to use. Most of my friends use the NHS, the homeless girl on the streets suffering from hypothermia uses the NHS, the junkie shooting up to numb the pain uses the NHS. The NHS is something so many people depend on, something I've used, how can I begrudge it as a service, how can I in any moral standing condemn people to a private system that many could not afford and any pre-existing medical conditions would not be covered. I for one am grateful that there is a place everyone can go, regardless of their status, and be healed. 

Kinda sounds like someone else doesn't it? Come as you are and receive what you need.

Taxes pay for our sewers, for social care projects, maintenance of the places we live, investment into the places we live. Taxes are hugely important, the sooner we ensure everyone pays the fair share (this includes corporations tax, entities that aren't even real people) the better.

What else?

Immigration, yeah, I'm going there, remember I said we were coming back to Luke 10:27?

Behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested him, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
He said to him, "What is written in the law? How do you read it?"
He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself."
He said to him, "You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live."
But he, desiring to justify himself, asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbour?"

Jesus then proceeds to tell the story of the good Samaritan, which I won't rehash here, but I'm sure most people will be familiar with, the most significant part of the story however is in its name, 'Samaritan'! Jews hated Samaritans, there was a lot of racial tension between Jews and Samaritans. Yet Jesus pointed out that in this context the Samaritan was the neighbour that the lawyer is commanded to love as he loves himself.

This would have been deeply uncomfortable then and I know that it is deeply uncomfortable now to some people. We don't get to choose our neighbours and we don't get to exclude certain people or groups of people which crap platitudes like 'But they're different' or 'But they've done X and Y' or even bringing up stereotypes. We have to love our neighbours regardless of who they are or where they're from. 

Finally I'm going to pick one other topic and look what Jesus had to say on the matter and wrap this up...

The poor.

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. - Mark 10:21-22
Jesus doesn't say give it to the temple indeed he rebukes the Pharisees for manipulating the rules so that they can avoid giving to their own needy parents and be seen to be giving to the temple.
But Jesus put it right back on them. “Why do you use your rules to play fast and loose with God’s commands? God clearly says, ‘Respect your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone denouncing father or mother should be killed.’ But you weasel around that by saying, ‘Whoever wants to, can say to father and mother, What I owed to you I’ve given to God.’ That can hardly be called respecting a parent. - Matthew 15:3-9 (MSG)

I heard it preached once that the 'what I owed you' element in the above passage referred to parents who needed some (likely financial) assistance from their children and they instead of helping their parents, gave the money elsewhere. Essentially the law of charity was being re-interpreted such that those in need were not being helped and given a rather pathetic excuse that they are being helped, just not in any practical way.

It angers me, when I see political parties abandoning essential community services for the poor and for those in need while declaring that we need to return to good Christian values. I feel physically sick sometimes, to know that we are commanded to look after those in need and those with the power to make large scale change and create a better environment for those we are to love and serve are disengaging and claiming that those are the ones at fault.

Yes, some people don't help themselves, some people are scamming the system, but how many good, honest, trying people does it take? Because like it or not, we're talking about people, some need benefits and food banks. When we decide they cost too much, we are ultimately saying the lives of the people most in need cost our society too much, and that's just wrong.

When we look at what our political parties are all doing in our nation we shouldn't just be voting for what benefits us most as an individual, we should be aligning ourself with what we know to be righteous and moral. We are not called to be selfish, we are called to be the heart of communities, to be good Samaritans, what example do we set when we vote only to benefit ourselves and not for our communities? 

I don't think it's a coincidence that in Jesus' time the word charity and the word justice meant the same thing. Being charitable is being just and righteous

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