Friday 21 May 2010

Business as Usual?

[I contributed today’s ‘Connecting with Culture’, a weekly email service provided by London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, where I seek to be gainfully employed.]

The flurry of interest and activity surrounding a general election is matched in Christian sub-cultures with the publication of books and articles on voting wisely, with the organisation of hustings events for the quizzing of local candidates, with earnest prayer for good government, and more besides. And rightly so.

Scripture everywhere recognises the inevitability and importance of politics. Not only are Christians on the frontline in the world of politics itself, but politics affects us all, wherever we find ourselves – the teacher in the classroom, the cleaner in the hospital, the parent in the home.

But what happens when the voting stops? What is our default mode for engaging with politics when the excitement of an election dies down?

As it happens, the unusual nature of the current situation has sustained a level of interest and media coverage. Following the formation of a coalition government, David Cameron welcomed new MPs to Parliament this week, heralding a ‘new start’ for politics, ‘the chance for a new generation to show just how good this place can be’.

Perhaps as expected, much of the response has been cynical, questioning the motives of those involved, and wondering just how long the honeymoon period will last.

Indeed, the coalition will doubtless be challenging as the partners navigate their way through competing ideologies. But whatever self-interest might be at play (and let’s not pretend it won’t be there), both seem to be seeking the national interest above their party’s interest. Is it too much to hope that this moment might signal a new era of negotiation and collaboration? Perhaps the culture of opposition and attack will give way to something different, as people work hard – in relationship with each other – at generating principled discussion and cooperation around ideas for the future.

So, let’s not lose the momentum generated by the election. Let’s pray for the Government and our local MPs – by name. Let’s appoint trusted people in our churches who can help us think through issues from a Christian perspective. Let’s inform MPs of matters that concern us – not simply the narrow range of topics where people expect us to speak out, but on other things too – deficit reduction, education, banking reform, health, environment, immigration, civil liberties. And let’s recognise that the best changes will be brought about by demonstrating through our lives that there is a better way to do business as usual.


Check out the BBC website, which contains a helpful set of questions and answers on the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition.

Stay informed by organisations which help Christians reflect and act on issues in politics:

Christian Concern for Our Nation
Jubilee Centre

Read Nick Spencer and Jonathan Chaplin (eds.), God and Government (London: SPCK, 2009).

This is a thought-provoking collection of essays from a joint project between Theos, the public theology think tank, and the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, showcasing – from different perspectives – the interface between theology and politics. It helpfully explores biblical and theological foundations for Christian political thinking and considers different ideas about the role of government. This could be a valuable contribution not only in encouraging Christians to see politics as an honourable vocation, but also in demonstrating something of the wealth of material in Scripture and Christian political thought.

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