Not wanting to be part of a larger union, disputes about trade and independence were hugely significant issues in the forthcoming election. There was considerable division in the country as to how to respond. Some wanted to be conciliatory, others favoured a more aggressive stance.
The year was 1774 and the cause of the controversy was anger in the colonies of America about the relationship with Great Britain – war was looming. John Wesley was in Bristol where the divisions were keenly felt because of the trade relationships with the new world. An election was called late in the year and voting began on 7thOctober – closing 23 days later in November!
The day before voting started John Wesley records in his journal (October 6, 1774):
“I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them
1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy
2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and
3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”
This is sound advice as we prepare to vote in 2019. It is also worth noting only some Methodists could vote – today we all can, and it is our solemn duty to do so. When the result was announced one of the MPs elected was a man named Edmund Burke. This is what he said in his speech:
“Authoritative instructions, mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote and argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgement and conscience – these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution. Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests … but a deliberate assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole …You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, he is a member of Parliament.” The Works of Edmund Burke – Speech to the Electors of Bristol 3rdNovember 1774
The point Burke made is important – MPs have a responsibility to represent the interests of all of us – they are not delegates for a chosen few. In the Christmas season ‘for all’ is born in the manager. In Christ, God becomes human taking on the responsibility not just to be one person but representative of all humanity. It is not surprising therefore that Jesus goes on to prioritise those who are vulnerable, those who have been excluded and marginalised and in so doing asks questions about the society in which he lives. As the followers of Jesus it is incumbent upon us to ask those same questions in our words and actions recognising our shared humanity. We should also be aware that ‘for all’ is more than just humanity. In Christ the whole created order is being redeemed – humanity cannot exist apart from creation. Humanity is part of the gift of creation and again we need to ask questions about this in our words and deeds. These questions form the basis of our judgement about who we consider to be “most worthy” when we vote. And when we have voted and the choice has been made, we offer our support and, hold to account, those who have been chosen. And if we are tempted to tune out the election or the news, or get frustrated thinking does my vote make a difference, remember the difference the birth of a single child 2000 years ago has made in your life and give thanks.
May the peace of Christ abide in your hearts now and in the days to come.