I have never approached the final few days of any election period without a clear idea in my head of how to vote. These European elections, taking place in such a particular and peculiar context, have proved challenging as we consider how we ought to engage.
As Christians, how do we rise above the apathy and the sense of drift in our country? Are we even required to do so?
Our current political context is so volatile and contested that the very act of having these elections feels, to some, like an undemocratic act. For some people, it is impossible to understand why we are electing representatives to an institution that we voted to leave almost three years ago.
And then there are people who feel like we are being asked the wrong question. If circumstances have changed, if new information has come to light, if the very process of leaving the EU is so much more complicated than was anticipated, then we should check whether Brexit remains the will of the people.
Then there are people who are looking forward to politics reverting to normal, with a greater focus on the issues that animate their day to day lives and shape their communities.
These are far from ideal circumstances to turn out to vote on Thursday. But whatever happens, and however long the people we elect serve in the European Parliament, I believe engaging with these elections is so important.
At JPIT, we have been encouraging people to make their voices heard, because as Christians we’re called not just to turn up in perfect circumstances, to engage in activities only when doing so is straightforward. Rather, we’re called to turn up when things are difficult, to ensure that we can make a positive difference.
However trite it sounds, casting a vote in any election is a privilege. It’s a reminder of the say we have in the governing processes of our country. And in the aftermath of a referendum that was dominated by debates about where control lies, the fact that we are voting in European elections reminds us that our democratic principles will endure whatever the outcome of the Brexit process. Democracy only works when we appreciate the value of our voice and our vote.
Then there’s the more practical point about representation. Whether we like it or not, these elections are happening. If we vacate the field and allow others to speak for us, we might not necessarily like what is said on our behalf.
There’s always a danger in elections like these – where turnout is low and proportional representation is in operation – that racist and extremist parties can have their candidates elected. How can we walk away from any public vote when fundamental principles of decency and respect are at stake?
We’ve been thinking about how to respond to these elections at JPIT, and our resource encourages us all to do three things.
Firstly, we’re encouraging people to think: what are the parties campaigning for, and how does this fit with the values we seek for society?
Secondly, we’re encouraging people to pray. It’s crucial that we hold up the candidates and their families in prayer, as well as ourselves and our fellow citizens as we consider how to cast our vote.
And thirdly, we’re encouraging people to vote!
Our churches are such good places to have difficult conversations because we can be vulnerable with one another. This begins with a recognition that our primary identity is rooted in the person of Jesus Christ. We mustn’t pretend that our differences don’t exist, and that the hurt some people feel on all sides isn’t real, but we can disagree in good faith and by doing so deepen our relationships. JPIT’s ‘Conversation Welcome’ resource is a good place to start for help with facilitating these conversations.
The temptation is to become cynical or simply to disengage. But we cannot afford to adopt either of those attitudes. We need to be hopeful, not simply as individuals but as the body of Christ. We’re redeemed people, transformed by grace, set apart in order to live new and radically distinctive lives.
One of the ways we can live distinctively, particularly in the current political context, is in the way we respond in the face of difficulty and division.
That’s why it is so important that we engage with these elections. That’s why we need to pray, to have conversations with our neighbours, to step out of our comfort zones and turn out to vote on Thursday. We’re called to turn up not only when it’s easy, when the issues seem cut and dried and we’re absolutely sure of how we should vote, but also when it’s hard. We’re called to participate, to make our voices heard even when it’s difficult.
You can find ‘Think, Pray, Vote: European Elections’ here.
You can find JPIT’s resource ‘Conversation Welcome’ here.