Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Christian Vote

I was interested to see the BBC web page on the effect Christians can have on an election outcome. The power of the religious right in the USA is well documented, but politicians are generally a bit more shy about their faith over here. The New Labour "we don't do God" story is well known, as was Tony Blair's Christian affiliation, but it's an interesting question as to whether the Christian community has any significant effect.

Apparently Christians are more likely to vote than the population in general. It's believed around 80% of practising Christian vote; however they are only a minority of the overall population. It would be interesting to know what the equivalent statistics for other faith communities and also for atheists would be. I suspect that anyone with a commitment to a world-view, rather than being generally 'agnostic' or 'lapsed' has a greater motivation to vote. The exceptions might be those who see extremism as the only way out, or in a very different way, those whose faith means that they are suspicious of engaging with anything 'wordly' like politics.

There are some declarations around to rally Christian interest. Westminster 2010 bills itself a "declaration of Christian conscience". I have sympathy with some of the statements made, such as the stated concern about the poor, the vulnerable and victims of human trafficking. However, it seems to be an alliance of people with a variety of concerns, which also includes some quite socially conservative (with a small 'c') attitudes on family etc. There is a tacit assumption that if you're properly Christian, then you will sign up to it all. I haven't

More open-ended in its aims is the Faithworks declaration, which simply seeks to uphold the positive contribution of Christians and Christian agencies to society in general. Whilst I think that's largely (but not exclusively or uniquely) true, I do wonder why it needs a Declaration? If Christian voluntary activity is good news for local communities, shouldn't that speak for itself? Or maybe we need to be more canny with the media, rather than sign declarations?

Perhaps more generally helpful is the fact that Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) have been assisting churches to get together and organise General Election hustings meetings. Some have happened already, but you can find out if there is one in your area here. These offer an opportunity to question candidates and meet them. In my experience, the question raised in these meetings can be be very different from the Paxman interviews on TV. Issues of overseas aid, millennium development goals and more haven't had a lot of press recently.

CTBI also have something you can sign up to - the Sanctuary Pledge. Supported by major faith groups and denominations, it asks candidates to be committed to using positive language and attitudes towards those seeking asylum or sanctuary in the UK. The website has a facility to email candidates, and the commitments don't require you or the candidates to hold any religious faith.

Responses (or lack of them) could be revealing.
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