Europe is ill. How seriously, and why, are matters not always easy to judge. But among the symptoms three are conspicuous, and inter-related. The first, and most familiar, is the degenerative drift of democracy across the continent, of which the structure of the EU is at once cause and consequence. The oligarchic cast of its constitutional arrangements, once conceived as provisional scaffolding for a popular sovereignty of supranational scale to come, has over time steadily hardened. Referendums are regularly overturned, if they cross the will of rulers. Voters whose views are scorned by elites shun the assembly that nominally represents them, turnout falling with each successive election. Bureaucrats who have never been elected police the budgets of national parliaments dispossessed even of spending powers. But the Union is not an excrescence on member states that might otherwise be healthy enough. It reflects, as much as it deepens, long-term trends within them. At national level, virtually everywhere, executives domesticate or manipulate legislatures with greater ease; parties lose members; voters lose belief that they count, as political choices narrow and promises of difference on the hustings dwindle or vanish in office.
If this is in any way an accurate reflection of contemporary European politics (and I believe that it is) what is to be done in today’s European Elections?
I consider the EU to be fundamentally illiberal and undemocratic. I like Europe, but not the manner in which Europe is governed and am concerned that the manner of its governance will mean Europe will not be so likeable in years to come. This would seem to put me squarely in the realm of, ‘potential UKIP voter’. Perhaps it would, but I find UKIP’s policy on immigration so morally repugnant and economically ridiculous that I cannot bring myself to vote for them. What choices remain then? In my region eight parties are represented, and I find fault with them all. Lib-Dems: too pro-EU and too risible. Conservatives: too much trying to hold the centre ground and have it both ways. Labour: already socially too passive-aggressive-EU-like. Green: too marginal, and too green. English Democrats/British National Party/An Independence from Europe: too weird, racist or UKIP+.
I’m still not sure how I will vote; but vote I will.
70 years on from the D-Day landings there is a powerful emotional appeal to vote: ‘Thousands died for your freedoms – the least you can do is vote.’ But my reason for voting is primarily theological rather than emotional. In a democracy, voting is the evidence of our obedience to Christ. The clear ethical imperative upon Christians to submit to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1; 1 Peter 2:13) seems to me to make voting a necessity, as part of the way in which we submit to authority in a democracy is by engaging in the electoral process by which that democracy is maintained. Doing this is ultimately an act of submission to Christ.
This also means that any vote cast in obedience to Jesus is not a wasted vote! If my primary motivation in going into the voting booth is to obey Jesus, and an act of faith in him, then it is not a great disaster if the party I vote for do not win the election. I would even take this a step further and argue that going to the voting booth, writing ‘none of the above’ on the ballot, and casting that, is a more godly action than failing to vote.
A confidence in God’s sovereignty means that even if there is no individual candidate or party who I would actively choose as my representative, I don’t have to succumb to apathetic cynicism about politics. Last Sunday we happened to be up to 1 Samuel 8 in the teaching series we are working through at Gateway Church. This passage, in which the people of Israel demand a king from Samuel, has obvious application to today’s elections. In verses 10-18 Samuel lists the unattractive habits that a king will adopt – a list of habits that pretty well reflect how kings throughout the ages, and the EU today, have always operated: He will take…he will take…he will take.
As the saying goes, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Samuel recognizes this and warns Israel what to expect. The fundamental issue is the human heart, which is always inclined towards corruption. Those in power tend to do things they should not do, and those who are governed tend to resent their rulers. The ruled also tend to assume that things would be different if it was them in the position of power, but they wouldn’t. Paul makes this surpassing clear: Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things (Romans 2:1).
This means we shouldn’t be surprised when politicians make a mess of things, but at the same time we need to see that politicians are important! How we vote and what those we vote for do really does matter. I asked a friend of mine in India how she felt about the new government there:
The Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the chief Minister of Gujarat and leader of the BJP, which has been the cause of some of the country’s religious tensions and pushes an ideology that states every Indian has to be Hindu. Modi has been accused of initiating the 2002 Gujarat riots where around 2000 Muslims were killed. So, there is a concern among Muslims and Christians in the country, regarding the new Government. But, we hope it may not happen the way we think and that the new government might bring a positive change and will act for the good of the nation. Would really appreciate your prayers for my country.
It is perhaps easier to see why a vote cast in the Indian general election counts, than is the case for the European elections. But vote! If, like me, you think that ‘the degenerative drift of democracy across the continent’ is the problem, that problem is not remedied by refusing to vote. If you think the EU is a benign force for good, then you should vote. And even if you are completely confused, and naturally indifferent, voting is still an act that expresses faith in a king who rules without any corruption, and will one day unite all things in himself.
Which box I cross in today’s election is a very marginal decision, but my going to vote is an absolute declaration of faith in Jesus Christ.