The Election is coming!

AB1404s

The word ‘democracy’ means ‘rule by the people’ and it is both a privilege and a duty for all citizens to participate in the process of government, not least Christians. Indeed, the German Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer went so far as to suggest that engagement with the authorities is not merely a duty but part of the Church’s mission: “The church has the task of summoning the whole world to submit to the dominion of Jesus Christ. She testifies before government to their common master [and] knows that it is in obedience to Jesus Christ that the commission of government is properly executed.”[1] If we are to be, as Jesus claimed we are, the “salt of the earth... [and] the light of the world... ” (Mt 5:13-14), then surely we are obliged to play our part in society and in the appointment of a representative in Parliament, and a Party in Government?

However, it is important that the Church is not aligned nor seen to be aligned to a particular political party but stands by certain values and on certain issues. Some years ago Alistair Campbell famously advised Tony Blair to play down his faith saying “my worry is that the Tories will pick this up and say, this is you saying, to be a Christian you've got to be Labour. And that's just a bad political position to be in.”[2] I agree with Campbell that it is unhelpful for one political party to be seen as more ‘Christian’ than another, not for political reasons but because firstly it could infer that Christians make better rulers which is far from conclusive, and anyway, the goal is not to get Christians into power but to have righteous and effective government. Secondly, if a church, or group of churches, is closely identified with a single party makes it more difficult to oppose that party. Senator Roy Herron is right when he says “God is not on the side of any political party but on the side of justice, compassion, truth, mercy, freedom and life.”[3] The Church must therefore stand apart from Party politics and promote what is right, regardless of which party, if any, is in agreement. It is then, at this point, worth making an important distinction. To speak of the ‘church and state’ is not the same as saying ‘faith and politics’. The church must be separate from the state in order to be free to engage in politics. In the Old Testament the role of the Prophet was not primarily in foretelling the future but in declaring the truth of God and in the same way, the Church is to be prophetic in speaking out for the sake of righteousness and justice and in opposing evil, for the good of society as a whole.

Palace of WestminsterAfter each General Election there is a rise in optimism; surely this will be the government that brings about significant change? – education and health will improve, crime will go down, the economy will thrive, poverty, homelessness and drug abuse will be reduced and everyone will live in peace and happiness! Then, within a short time we become aware of the government’s shortcomings and hopes are dashed. I would suggest that, at least in part, this disappointment is because of a misplaced hope, expecting something from a government it is simply unable to give, forgetting that political systems and politicians have their limitations. As exemplified by Wilberforce, Shaftesbury and others, much can be achieved through political means, but as Christians we must also remind ourselves that our ultimate hope lies beyond this world. In the final analysis, our hope is not in political power and structures but in the gospel which alone can transform individuals, communities, even nations. So, as we play our part in our society, our confidence is not in the promises of politicians but in the promise of God who said “... the government shall be upon his shoulder ... and of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end” (Is 9:6-7).

Additonal Reading

Evangelical Alliance Election 2015: EA have asked each of the main parties for their positions on Poverty, Education, Euthanasia/ Assisted Suicide, Human Trafficking/ Slavery, Health Services, Religious Liberty and Same-Sex Marriage. http://www.eauk.org/idea/the-issues-that-matter-to-you.cfm

Christian Institute Election Briefing: CI analysis of party policies on key issues for Christians as they consider how to vote on 7 May providing an insight into subjects including freedom of speech, religious liberty, marriage and the sanctity of life. http://www.christian.org.uk/election/

Christians & Politics: Subservient or Subversive?: Two subjects never to be discussed at the dinner table are Religion and Politics. However, the relationship between these spheres is too important to be sidelined or ignored. Adrian Birks discussion paper provides a clear and Biblical understanding of the ways in which Christianity and Christians should relate to Politics. www.coign.org/Christians+Politics

[1] Bonhoffer, D Ethics 350
[2] The Blair Years - http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2007/11_november/25/blair.shtml
[3] Herron, R How can a Christian be in Politics?  113

Adrian Birks, 22/04/2015