Voting & Praying

We are in the middle of election season here in Ireland, and politicians are falling over themselves to ask for our votes, to insult each other, and to explain their own statements, tweets and verbal mis-steps.

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The media increasingly seizes on anything that will seem to reflect badly on a candidate. And, to be fair, this year the candidates seem to be doing everything they can to help the media in that process. It must be difficult being a political candidate, with everything you say being picked apart for unintended meanings – a bit like being a pastor, only worse!

In the past, of course, silly statements would be forgotten with the passage of time. After all, every one of us has probably said things at one time or another which now, looking back with the benefits of hindsight and (hopefully) added wisdom, make us cringe. But in our age of social media, all these past transgressions can be dragged up and made public at the moment when they can cause the worst possible damage. Yes, as far as the east is from the west, God has removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12) – but Google, Facebook and Twitter are not so forgiving!

I’ve been accused on occasion of being too hard on our politicians, but I do have sympathy for them. I don’t think that they should automatically be trusted just because they hold office, and they should be held to account for their words, actions and policies – and if they behave in ways that diminish truth and justice then I’ll point that out – but they also deserve to be recognised when they do things well. Most of all, of course, we should pray for our politicians – both at the local and national levels.

It is important that Christians not only pray, but also that we vote. If we choose not to participate in the process that elects our politicians, then we have no right to complain at the results that come from that process. So, what are the issues that should guide our prayers – and our voting – in this election season of 2020.

  1. The value of human life.  We may have already had a referendum that legalised abortion in Ireland, but it is still important that we elect politicians who value all human life – including unborn children. It is vital that we don’t idly sit back and accept as normal a society where it is permissible to deny someone the right to life, for example, because they might be diagnosed with a disability. I was dismayed to see, in a recent Irish Independent set of interviews, the leaders of four of the five largest parties (Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Sinn Fein and Labour) all trumpeting the legalising of abortion in Ireland among their major achievements. The other fifth leader (Green Party) didn’t make mention of it, but the introduction of abortion was also their official party policy at the time of the Referendum. As a Christian who believes in the value of life, that will obviously influence my vote. Several Independent candidates in my constituency are pro-life, including one who resigned from the governing party due to his pro-life principles. But there is also a Fianna Fail TD who was strongly opposed to removing the Eighth Amendment. I want to see such people represented in national politics – even though I wouldn’t want my vote to be seen as support for his party, or, more pertinently, for his party leader.
  2. Equality and justice for all. I believe every person is made in God’s image. This principle, which is the ultimate basis for my stance on abortion, also means that I could never vote for any candidate who tries to stir up prejudice against others. For example, I could never vote for certain so-called ‘pro-life’ candidates who try to boost their numbers by playing up fears of migrants, refugees or travellers. There should be no place in Irish politics for those who release racist or anti-semitic tweets, travel to far-right rallies in other countries to consort with neo-Nazis, or post links to conspiracy theories about powerful Jewish forces deliberately promoting migration in order to weaken white European identity (all of these apply to certain individuals among the 2020 crop of candidates). Equally, I could never vote for a TD who uses bogus economic figures to slander Ireland’s Nigerian community. The same applies to those who discriminate against others on the grounds of gender. One candidate in South Dublin recently attempted to shame a pregnant woman (also a rival candidate) by demanding to know whether she will be taking maternity leave after the birth of her child. Every new mother is entitled to maternity leave – and to imply otherwise attempts to undo all the recent advances we’ve seen in regards to respect for, and the rights of, women.
  3. The housing crisis, and the scandal of homelessness, should also be a major factor in our praying and voting. The Irish Council of Churches has called for a Constitutional amendment that would enshrine the right to have a home as a basic human right. Now, there’s a Referendum I would wholeheartedly support! Reducing homelessness is not impossible. Finland have developed a Housing First policy that is greatly reducing their homelessness problem. A couple of years ago I attended a dinner in the Dail, with senior politicians and religious leaders, where we discussed homelessness. I had the opportunity on that occasion to share my own experience of being homeless, and how coming to faith in Christ had changed things for me. A special guest on that occasion was the Finnish ambassador, and listening to her description of the Finnish approach, I hoped that this might mark Ireland following their example. Sadly, that initiative has seemed to go no further. As I pray about who I should vote for, I want to know what the candidates plan to do about homelessness. Will they vigorously push for increased social housing to be constructed, or will they cosy up with property developers to ensure that the profits continue to roll in unabated?
  4. The health service. Successive Ministers of Health have failed to get a grip on the crisis in the Irish health service, with thousands of people suffering the indignity of lying on trollies in hospital corridors for days at a time, with hundreds of thousands more on waiting lists that seem to stretch on forever. I know that perceived political wisdom says ‘It’s the economy, stupid!’  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in this election, we rejected that narrow selfish attitude, and, instead of always focusing on our own bank balances, we actually saw the election determined by our concern for others who are suffering because of homelessness and an inadequate health policy?

These are the main issues that will guide my voting. Maybe you have other ones that you see as equally important. So, in the light of all this, what are we to do? We need to research where the candidates stand on the issues. That isn’t hard to do – Google is our friend! A few minutes on genuine internet news sites (not Facebook) will soon help us to discover the position, and statements, of candidates on the main issues. Then we need to pray. Pray individually, but pray corporately as well. If you are in church leadership, please consider taking time in a church service or a prayer meeting to pray about this election. Then vote. Vote with your conscience. Let your vote honour Jesus.

Nick Park, Executive Director, Evangelical Alliance Ireland

An expanded audio version of this article is available on a podcast at: https://www.buzzsprout.com/562411/2612134-the-evangelical-seanchai-episode-20-praying-voting-mick-toolan-the-church-in-indonesia

 

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