Tuesday 3 December 2019

Belief in Politics

The below is a brief reflection I wrote for our local church community, following a brief spot on the General Election in one of our services.

‘Democracy is the worst form of  Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.’ So said Winston Churchill back in 1947. As we gear up for a General Election next month, it seems appropriate to recognise the long, albeit somewhat checkered, history of democracy we have enjoyed in this country. In spite of the cynicism some of us might feel about the possibility of our vote making a difference, the connection between the people and their government is crucial, especially at difficult times.

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 we can’t escape politics as followers of Jesus. Even to choose not to vote is itself a political act. We also recognise that Scripture allows us to be neither overly cynical nor overly confident about the potential of politics to make a difference. It’s important, but it’s not ultimate.

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 Emperor Nero and the swagger of the Roman Empire 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, it seems fully appropriate to accept the responsibility that comes with the privilege, and to vote wisely.

More specifically, a perspective nourished by Scripture and the gospel 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 value on the 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 our aspirations, we vote less for what might bring material gain (important though that is) 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 public life, we vote for that which is more likely to promote the way of the gospel.

None of this necessarily makes it easier to know where to place our cross on the ballot paper! But it encourages us to take the process seriously. Who we vote for and why arguably says as much about us as it does about the candidates and parties.

So, let’s make the most of the momentum generated by the General Election. Let’s pray for the Government and our local MPs. If we’re inclined to do so, let’s inform MPs of matters that concern us – not simply the narrow range of topics where people expect Christians to speak out, but on other things too – deficit reduction, education, health, environment, immigration, civil liberties. And let’s recognise that significant changes can be brought about by demonstrating through our lives that there is a better way to do business as usual.

General Election Resources from Christian Orgnisations

Websites of Christians in the Major Political Parties

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