Update: For an official statement on Covenanters and politics see here – probably a good few years old though.
So Christians are being told by organisations like the Christian Institute and denominations like the Free Church of Scotland (The Record, May 2010) (taking as example a few things I’ve watched / read in the past week) that they must vote. In fact, apparently, we are disobeying Paul’s command to pray for those in authority if we don’t vote – even if that means voting for ‘the least worst option’ (a quote from both sources).
So I was going to do a post on voting and the upcoming election, based on the introductory essay I did to a project on the project I did for my MA last year on Clarendon Street RPC. It wasn’t all on voting, but it was a big part of it. But election day is here and I’ve run out of time, so I’m just going to copy and paste most of the relevant section and boldify the salient points for those that aren’t historically inclined enough to read all of it. The project covered the years 1871-93, with the election in question taking place in 1892:
“Practical Political Dissent from the British Constitution”>
“…Covenanters disciplined those who registered leases, voted in elections, served on juries, took oaths of allegiance, or signed parliamentary petitions as ‘a direct result of their political theology and unwillingness to accept the legitimacy of the Erastian state’. Indeed, ‘since their renunciation of allegiance to the British monarchy in the [Scottish] Sanquhar declaration of 1680, the Covenanters had theoretically lived in a state of war with the civil authorities’. Although the Revolution Settlement had brought an end to the persecution, the Covenanters protested that it did not recognise the kingship of Christ over the nation, the supreme authority of the Bible in civil affairs, or Christ’s headship over the church, a protest that ‘remain[ed] in full force’ when the Irish Historical testimony was published in 1868. Besides this, ‘the British nation [had] incurred the special guilt of rejecting Christ after having sworn allegiance to Him in the public Covenants’ and in short was ‘living in open rebellion against God’.
The practical implications of political dissent became more apparent in the nineteenth century than they had been before, with the extension of the franchise. Before the Reform Act of 1832, it was doubtful whether there was ‘one member of the Reformed Presbyterian Church’ in Scotland legally entitled to vote. But with the passing of the Act, and its Irish equivalent the same year, many Covenanters in both countries found themselves newly enfranchised. The Scottish Synod immediately responded by declaring
that the exercise of the Elective Franchise conferred by this Act, is a direct recognition of the Constitution, in virtue of the political identity subsisting between the Representative and his constituents, and is therefore inconsistent with the enjoyment of privileges of this Church.
However a refusal to actually discipline members who voted led to a disruption in the mother church in 1863. The Irish church stood strong however, and when members ‘abandoned their principles’ to ‘incorporate with the anti-Christian constitution against which they had solemnly protested’, the courts of the church refused to ‘wink at this dereliction and duty, and so concur in the tacit abandonment of the Church’s position and testimony’. Accordingly, the 1868 Testimony reaffirmed that ‘it would be a plain abandonment’ of an essential part of their Covenanted testimony for members ‘to accept of seats in the British Legislature, or to vote at the election of representatives in Parliament’.
The issue of voting was far from unique to the Londonderry congregation. In the wake of the General Election the previous year, the Covenanter reported in June 1893 that discipline over the franchise had also recently been exercised in Bready, Faughan and Limavady, the three congregations closest to Derry. The Synod of that month, ‘having learned there is difficulty in some of our congregations in maintaining the law of the Church, owing to the extreme political pressure that is brought to bear on our members at this critical time’, enjoined ministers and elders to instruct their people in the duty of abstaining from using the franchise, and to faithfully exercise discipline in the case of those who had already voted. The ‘critical time’ undoubtedly referred to the attempt to introduce Home Rule, the 1892 election having returned Gladstone and the Liberals to power, and the Second Home Rule Bill having already had its second reading in the House of Commons when the Synod met. A letter issued by Synod to the members of the church on the eve of the 1895 General Election acknowledged that many of its members were being urged to vote against Home Rule. Their verdict of 1893 remained in force however, when the Synod had condemned Home Rule as the ‘establishment of a Romish ascendancy’ but also urged its members not to look for help to the Unionist party, ‘who are but contending for their own supposed rights and interests without a thought of bringing the nation back to Christ’. They concluded that
no member of the Reformed Presbyterian Church can vote at a Parliamentary Election and be an honest man; for either he has made vows and professions which he believes to be wrong, or he has broken vows which he believes to be right.
In conclusion, here is a short quote from a recent article on the Loughbrickland website:
Honouring Christ with our Vote:
“Covenanters are not against voting, as such. But we must ask: is there anywhere a candidate who is committed to practical dissent from the Christ-dishonouring aspects of the constitution and a return to the obligations of the Solemn League and Covenant? Has any made even the slightest public assertion of the rights of Jesus Christ over politics as King of nations? We have not heard of any such. This silence means that loyalty to King Jesus requires we vote for no-one. “Now therefore why speak ye not a word of bringing the king back?” (2 Samuel 19:10). Failure to openly acknowledge the crown rights of the Redeemer should not receive our support whatever relative qualities a candidate may have. The attached pamphlet is recommended for your edification.”