The Right Reverend Tim Dakin, Bishop of Winchester, is quoted in today’s Church of England Newspaper explaining why he believes Christians should vote in the forthcoming General Election. His full comments are below:
There has been considerable discussion following the pastoral letter from the House of Bishops regarding the forthcoming General Election. The Bishops stated what their aim was, ‘We offer these reflections because we believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ is enormously relevant to the questions which the coming Election will throw into sharp relief.’ (§ 21)
Of course, the argument about whether or not “troublesome priests” should intervene in politics is centuries old and it was inevitable that some people would argue that we should say nothing. Some people may also argue – from a modern perspective – that Christ’s admonition to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” means that the Church should say nothing about matters of politics. However, my fellow Bishops and I believe that Christians, as citizens, are already involved in society and that Bishops should offer a lead in encouraging people to engage, because of their faith, with the key social issues. Throughout the Gospels we are called to take positive action to help our fellow human beings and one way we can do this is through proactive engagement with our political system. As do we so, we need to ask what can be best done by the state, by local government and by local voluntary and community action?
It is of course not our role to tell people how to vote. However, what we have tried to do in writing this letter is to encourage people to use their votes wisely to ensure that all those elected are prepared to work collaboratively for the common good of society. Our letter is designed to set out some principles which we believe Christians across the country should follow when they come to vote in May. Fundamentally we ask, “Who is my neighbour?”, “How can we be good neighbours to each other?” and “How can we build the common good together for each other?”
In an age where we often view politicians cynically, with our opinions coloured by the various scandals which have engulfed Westminster in recent years, we sometimes forget that politics could and should be a force for good. When voting we should place that sense of moral purpose at the heart of our decision-making. Who could be that force for good, working to support our local communities on a national stage in the ongoing responsibilities for developing the best environment to secure the basic goods which make the common good possible: education, health, work, transport, water, food, housing, power, sewage, global security, economic enterprise, environmental care and international development.
Let me highlight just a few matters. In this General Election the economy will inevitably be one of the deciding issues. We know that we are living in an age of austerity and politicians will be forced to make some difficult decisions: to address past overspending but also to care for those who are most vulnerable. In making those decisions they should consider how they can encourage businesses to act responsibly, putting people before profits. Promoting social enterprise is something which every MP could do within their local community and nationally, taking an ethical approach to hard work, investment and the sharing of profits.
A good society is based on each of us offering support to one another. In this country we are fortunate to have a health and education system which we can all access, no matter how great or small our income. As Christians we should pay our fair share of taxes to help contribute to our hospitals and schools, and politicians should take their responsibilities as guardians of health and education seriously, making sure that there is adequate investment in these services and that the people who provide them do so with the greatest of care.
Another factor to consider is our responsibility to act as stewards of God’s creation. In the parable of the talents Jesus reminded us that we should take care of that which God has entrusted to us, chief of which is the world in which we live. Consequently we have a duty to protect the environment and so our elected representatives should also follow that duty, whether that be on a global scale through taking steps to alleviate the pressures of climate change or more locally ensuring the promotion of policies which encourage recycling.
I have highlighted just some of the factors which we should consider before casting our votes. I hope all Christians will take this opportunity to choose the next generation of leaders, and to use their votes for the good of society, as a society of good neighbours.
The Right Reverend Tim Dakin, Bishop of Winchester