Get voting and stop whining! That’s the stern advice given to Irish Christians from religious commentator, Dr John Coulter, in his latest Fearless Flying Column today.
Hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear my fellow Christians moaning about the supposed advancements being made by the so-called secular society, but we Christians need to stop our whinging, get active and get out and vote – especially on 2 May in Northern Ireland’s local council elections.
Some religious pressure groups, such as the Caleb Foundation – named after the Old Testament Israelite spy – suggested in the past that it represented some 200,000 evangelical Christians in Northern Ireland. Imagine how the shape of our councils would change if all the Christians eligible to vote on 2 May actually bothered to come to the polling booths.
While it has been suggested, too, there is too much false religion in Ireland and not enough true Christianity, many of the predicaments which Christians now find themselves in are their own fault.
Put bluntly, if Christians ignore the ballot box, they should not complain about the make-up of the politicians who get elected. In the Sixties’ Deep South of the United States of America, the civil rights movement getting people registered to vote had a tremendous impact.
With Easter looming, traditionally many more people attend Christian worship to commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ than during other times of the year with the exception of Christmas.
This is a wonderful opportunity for clerics of all Christian denominations and fellowships to urge their flocks to vote for pro-Christian candidates on 2 May. The ‘should I, or should I not vote’ debate has been sparked by two theologically differing interpretations of two key passages from the New Testament.
The first is from 2nd Corinthians Chapter 6 and verse 17, and is used by Christians who believe passionately that they should abstain from worldly activities once they become ‘born again believers’, and that includes voting.
This verse states: “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.” (King James Version)
This is a favourite portion of Scripture for the more fundamentalist denominations in Christianity, who would include clubbing, pubs, the cinema and even watching television on the Sabbath as being among ‘unclean things’ to avoid. To some fundamentalist Protestants, this can also include membership of the Loyal Orders, such as the Orange, Black and Apprentice Boys, as well as involvement in political parties, pressure groups, and the Freemasons.
The case for Christians getting involved in politics is made equally valid in Matthew’s Gospel Chapter 21 verses 12 to 15, commonly known as the story of Jesus confronting the money changers in the Temple.
And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves. And said unto them. It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them. And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the son of David; they were sore displeased. (King James Version)The core of this passage is that Jesus did not stand idly by and tut-tutted from the back seats of the temple; He took positive action and physically threw the moneychangers from the temple.
This can be interpreted that we Christians should get actively involved in politics, not simply in casting votes, but joining political parties to ensure that Bible-supporting candidates are selected and elected.
The rise of early Paisleyism in Northern Ireland can be attributed to the fact that Rev Ian Paisley gave a political voice to a section of the community, especially in Unionism, which has lain politically mute for generations – namely, the evangelical and fundamentalist Christians.
While the famous spiritual Revival of 1859, which spread across North East Ulster, saw many people becoming ‘born again believers’, one of the knock-on effects was to see many of these Christians opting not to participate in politics, which in turn allowed a liberal element to dominate Unionist politics.
Particularly in the Terence O’Neill era following the failed IRA border campaign of 1956-62, Unionism was ruled by the ‘big house aristocratic and farming families’ who were avowedly liberal in their Christian outlook. It was no wonder the Ulster Unionist Party in this era gained the reputation of the ‘fur coat and no knickers brigade’.
While Paisley senior founded his fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster in 1951, it would only be two decades later that he was able to convert his Christian fervour into a political appeal and formally launch the Democratic Unionist Party in 1971. Although it can be noted that he won the Bannside Stormont seat and North Antrim Westminster seat in 1970 under the Protestant Unionist banner.
The lesson we Christians can take from Paisley senior’s experience is that it is not sufficient to preach from the side lines; Christians have to be actively involved in the political process if they wish to make a difference. It was not until he entered the political arena, that he began to make a difference within the Unionist family.
While he may have had a few headlines from 1951 onwards as Paisley the preacher, it was not until his election to Stormont and Westminster that Paisley the politician gained his real influence.
And even if Christians point to the growing liberalism and secular drift within existing political parties, such Christians still retain the option of fielding their own candidates under the banner of an Irish Christian Party. Taking Caleb’s claim as a benchmark, 200,000 first preference votes would even be enough to get a sizeable number of Assembly members elected. (that’s if we had a working Stormont!)
Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter
Listen to religious commentator Dr John Coulter’s slot, Call Coulter, every Saturday morning around 9.15 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM, as part of the ‘At The Table’ show.