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Columnists

The cross in the box

The electoral process is in full swing, with leaders' debates,  battle buses, daily press conferences and rapid reaction policy statements clogging up the twittersphere. The polling companies will do well as they work to tell the parties what we are thinking. It will be the first Facebook election too and politicians will be figuring out how to use the new media.

Party leaders have already been on the increasingly influential Mumsnet to discuss key social policies relating to young people and families: it seems while the number of people voting is declining, the will to engage in a different way with public politics is alive and well on the internet.
Christianity has had a chequered history with the democratic process.  Historically, the form of government with which orthodox Christianity is most associated (and actually most comfortable)  is not of elected representatives but monarchs. English kings and queens ruled under the explicit  acknowledgement of their 'divine right' until the seismic events of the 17th century when Parliament executed Charles I.

In the 20th century democracy has become closely associated with Western, Christian Protestant values. They drove the rhetoric of the last US President and informed his zealous interventionism. But the Church, while the rest of the country is seized with electioneering,  will continue to use the language of king and kingdom and may struggle with the process of translation.

The king of the Hebrew Scriptures is a benign figure who rules by consent and whose chief task is to rule in favour of the anawim - the poor and marginalised. The kingship of Jesus as an inheritor of this tradition is a hotly contested issue in the sense that when the crowd tried to make him king, he escaped into the hills. He fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and was mocked before his execution as a criminal.  

The Church of England is a human institution that tries to reflect democracy and monarchy by saying that it is 'episcopally led and synodically governed'.  In truth, it is not at all clear what this means. It's often said that Jesus of Nazareth didn't say 'Where shall we go?' but 'Follow me'. Yet when bishops and archbishops do this,  there is often a howl of complaint. On the other hand, when the Church's parliament votes for a particular development or policy, it is often ridiculed by parishes and clergy who are overwhelmed by initiatives and diocesan schemes. The trick is to celebrate this as a healthy independence and scepticism (not cynicism) which will make for vigorous debate about how to live as people of faith.  

If there are criteria on which Christians should vote, perhaps they are those embedded in the Hebrew Bible: vote for whoever will do the most, in your judgment, to promote the interests of the anawim. If there were a Christian manifesto to be proud of, this, surely, after the example of Jesus Christ, is it.