Friday, 16 January 2015

Belief in Politics

I contributed this week’s ‘Connecting with Culture’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Next Tuesday, 20 January, marks the 750th anniversary of the first English Parliament, held by Simon de Montfort in the Palace of Westminster. As we gear up for a General Election in May, it seems appropriate to recognise the long, albeit somewhat checkered, history of democracy we have enjoyed in this country.

At the very least, elections provide an opportunity for us to reflect on priorities and concerns, for ourselves and for the society in which we live: health, education, transport, housing, welfare, tax, crime, environment, immigration. Not for the first time will we notice how many of these play to our fears as well as our hopes.

In all of this, we recognise that politics is an inevitable feature of life for the ‘whole-life’ disciple. We recognise, too, that Scripture allows us to be neither overly cynical nor overly confident about the potential of politics to make a difference.

As Romans 13:1-7 reminds us, we acknowledge that ‘the authorities... have been established by God for... our good’ – words written in the context of an imperial power holding sway. In the UK where we have a voice in deciding who the ‘authorities’ should be, where it’s possible to encourage the values by which society operates, we accept the responsibility that comes with the privilege, and vote wisely.

More specifically, a perspective nourished by Scripture helps to reframe how and why we vote. We vote not simply for what will benefit ourselves, but for what will benefit others, for that which serves the wider community. Scripture places high premium on right treatment of the vulnerable and marginalised. What do manifestos say about the poor, the elderly, the disabled, the asylum seeker? Since the gospel reframes aspirations, we vote less for what might bring material gain than for what might bring moral gain. What will be the effect of policies on marriage, family life, poverty? Given the the centrality of relationship at the heart of the gospel, we vote for what will build and nurture relationships – personally, nationally, internationally. On issues related to religion, not least the freedom to practise our faith in the public square, we vote for that which is more likely to promote the way of the gospel.

Who we vote for and why arguably says as much about us as it does about candidates and parties.

Who will you vote for? What will you vote for?


Some Resources

The Show Up campaign aims to encourage positive Christian engagement in the run up to, and beyond, the 2015 General Election.

Guy Brandon’s Votewise (London: SPCK, 2014) seeks to help Christians think about the major issues in the May 2015 General Election from a biblical perspective.

The Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics is also publishing a series of pieces to help Christians engage with election issues.

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