Are the Christian Churches key to beating voter apathy?

Has the time finally come for the Christian Churches in Ireland to fully engage with the political process? And if they did get organised, what impact could they make on society?
In the recent Stormont poll, only some 54 per cent of voters turned out. A key question which political parties and churches alike must pose is – how many of the 46 per cent which didn’t vote are church-attending folk?
Long gone are the days when the DUP was led by the Moderator of the fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church; where that denomination was dubbed the ‘DUP at prayer’.
The current Assembly mandate faces the challenge of how it encourages more people to engage in the democratic process, otherwise the next Assembly in five years’ time could be elected by less than half of those registered to vote.
In this battle, the church vote must be motivated, and by church vote I mean the middle ground religious vote.
The DUP is now led by a practising Anglican. Gone are the days when a DUP leader would publicly slam the Church of Ireland’s theology. The evangelical Christian vote in Northern Ireland is going through a rebranding.
Fundamentalists no longer dominate the DUP. Even at its height, the Free Church could only muster around 16,000 worshippers. Last month, more than 200,000 people voted DUP. It doesn’t require a doctorate in mathematics to conclude that the DUP has successfully made huge inroads into mainstream and fringe Protestant denominations.
But is the DUP going mainstream, or is it a case that the DUP has re-engaged with the loyalist working class by mobilising the smaller Protestant denominations, such as Elim Pentecostal, Baptists, Brethren, Church of God, and Church of the Nazarene?
Perhaps one reason of the DUP’s dominance in the pro-Union community is that party’s decision to take clear stances on issues such as gay marriage, divorce, abortion and homosexuality, compared to the conscience agenda of the rival Ulster Unionists.
The present Assembly mandate needs to focus on the challenge that if it does not increase the number of voters coming out to the polls, the next Assembly could be elected by less than half the entitled voting population.
Likewise, the Christian Churches cannot shout from the sidelines if they refuse to become involved in the democratic process by encouraging flocks to vote in elections. There is no doubt that the secular society is making advances across the island.
Churches cannot moan from their pulpits and pews if the electorate vote in politicians and parties with a staunch pluralist agenda, while Church worshippers continually boycott the polling booths.
The challenge for both Church and State – especially in Northern Ireland – is to find out why the Churches are not pro-active in the political process.
I don’t wish to reignite Church/State debate, but to start a debate on Faith and Politics. Perhaps one of the reasons Church-goers ignore the ballot box is because of the fundamentalist interpretation of the Biblical advice – Come ye out from amongst them?
If the Christian Churches are to have relevant voices across Ireland in the coming years, it must return to the core thought – What Would Jesus Do?
In this respect, the Churches need to adopt the example of the New Testament account of Christ in the Temple when he confronted the money changers. He didn’t moan or mumble, but took positive action and physically threw the money changers out of the Temple.
This should be interpreted as Christians registering and voting, as well as joining political parties and becoming elected representatives. This middle ground religious vote is the potent factor in defeating electoral apathy.
Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter


  • Gopher

    “Perhaps one reason of the DUP’s dominance in the pro-Union community is that party’s decision to take clear stances on issues such as gay marriage, divorce, abortion and homosexuality, compared to the conscience agenda of the rival Ulster Unionists.”

    Nope it is seen as the most effective counterweight to SF. Though I’m not particulairly enamoured with Christian interference in peoples personal affairs I would be amazed that even Christians decided because about 3 Ulster Unionists support Gay Marriage and perhaps one supports abortion they must vote DUP instead.

    The sub text of the opening post is easy to read on this “Onward Christian Soldiers” or else those pagans will vote Green, Alliance, PBP or a godless Unionist that does not shout it from the roof tops that he is against personal choice.

    At the end of the day Northern Ireland has too much Christian interference in the governance of our lives and anything that can weaken that (apart from the nonsense of bullying small bakeries, just because Christians have used the same shoddy tactics dont make it right ) is a positive.

    To clear the air we need referendums on Gay marriage, Abortion and Interaged education to make it absolutely clear where the population stands and Im sure Christians will support that call.

  • CatholicLeft

    Given the fact that I think constant use of referendums is a ridiculous way to run a representative democracy, this is one Christian who would oppose that call.

  • Croiteir

    You are quite right. The DUP did do well as it set out its agenda in clear unambiguous terms as opposed to those who waffled.

    The Churches should clearly set out their views on the issues of the day. They have a duty to preach and teach, (I am speaking as a Catholic here, not too sure what the various churches post Luthers rebellion do), and go into the marketplace. The Catholic Church in Ireland did so before the last election.

    Of course those who oppose the Church complained. This is a good thing. They are supposed to if you teach the gospel.

  • NotNowJohnny

    When I hear people ask the question ‘what would Jesus do?’ I become concerned, mainly because those who claim to know what Jesus would do tend to believe that Jesus would do exactly as they would do.

  • Smyth Harper

    In the past I have been an Ulster Unionist, but in the recent local elections I voted DUP for the first time in my life…simply because the UU Candidate in my area supports “gay marriage” and wasn’t a supporter of Ashers Bakery decision to refuse to add a slogan to a wedding cake which went against their religious principles!!

  • Gopher

    I’m an atheist and don’t give a monkies if two people want to get married and no I’m not a lawyer. I am totally against the cowardly attack on Ashers.

    Could you name the UUP candidate that did not support Ashers? I would be very interested to know the name of any candidate who attacks business in case I have the misfortune for voting for them in ignorance at a future election.

  • Smyth Harper

    The UUP candidate I was referring too was a member of the Equalities Commission!!!

  • Northern Ireland has had quite enough of the noxious cocktail of religion and politics.

    Let’s hear some calls for secularism, the only system were the beliefs and non-beliefs of everyone can be respected.

    You don’t have to support a position to defend another’s right to exercise it – this goes for equal marriage, female bodily autonomy etc.

    As for Ashers, I’ve read plenty of Christian condemnation of their thinly disguised bigotry.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Certainly faith in politics drives people more to the ballot box and to standing than cynicism does. Whether churches can inspire faith in politics is another matter.

  • Abucs

    I have no respect or allegiance to a secular state. I would support a pluralist state, but not a secular one. Secularism favours godlessness under the lie that godlessness is really neutral. Screw that.

  • Secularism doesn’t favour godlessness. No faith or non-faith position is favoured or sponsored by the state. That is the point.

  • Abucs

    It is an obvious lie. No allegiance to your state sponsored godlessness from me.

  • I’m as opposed to state atheism as state theism. Religion, or a lack of one, is a matter for the populace, not the state.

    Secularism is indeed pluralist by nature. State atheism is NOT secularism.

  • Abucs

    There is no God in the cultural ethos of a secular state. That underpins and orientates its citizens to interact in a godless culture. In business, in universities, in schools, in shared ethics. In everything that the state is involved in. Secularism underpins and supports a godless culture and treats the religious culture as ‘the other’ as foreign, as a culture that cannot be supported by tax payers own money.

  • Now you’re just making stuff up.

    The largest secular state in the world is USA. It is by some distance the least godless country in all of the West. All those megachurches seem to be doing just fine without any state funding (that they enjoy tax exempt status may also be something to do with it).

  • Abucs

    What exactly is made up? How about answering the points?

    Whether mega churches in the U.S. are doing fine or not is very much off topic. The greatest growth of Christianity is at the moment in China which imprisons church officials and bans membership to the ‘international’ Catholic church. Your ‘observation’ that a certain type of church is ‘doing fine’ in the United States is not relevant to the discussion.

    There is no doubt that the mistake of universal state sponsored secular education in the US, as with other countries is producing a more godless people. Such a blatant bias towards godless education is unjust. Forcing people to interact and look at the world from a godless ethos is not neutral and is clearly having an affect, everywhere, including the US.

    No to your state forced godlessness under the cover of the word secular. No way.

  • Well, lets see – you said “Secularism underpins and supports a godless culture and treats the religious culture as ‘the other’ as foreign” and I cited USA where that is emphatically not the case.

    China is not a secular country – it is an oppressive atheist state, which I’ve already stated I am equally opposed to.

    Either you can take my word for what secularism actually means (here’s a helpful link: ) or you can continue calling me a liar. It’s your choice.

  • Abucs

    You’re a liar and your examples are not logical or comprehensive in any way.

    I gave a detailed example of where secularism favours godlessness and your comment was simply ‘you;re making stuff up’,

    Instead of addressing my details you start the red herring that the US is a secular state where you think mega churches are doing well. I draw attention to the fact that you didn’t address the points and showed you the Chinese model, that is clearly unjust, and where Christianity is growing more than anywhere on earth.

    This clearly shows the irrelevance of your point regarding how you think mega churches are doing well in the US therefore their system of secularism must be fair.

    You completely missed the point and then wanted to discuss whether or not China is a secular system. That has no relevance to my point. It is an unjust system regarding the religious and yet Christianity is thriving. Therefore your point about the U.S. is obviously not relevant.

    So you went from ignoring the original detailed point, to creating a red herring; to missing the point on the irrelevance of your red herring to creating another red herring of whether the Chinese system is secular or not.

    Don’t bother and no to your secularism. It dumbs own the population and favours godlessness.