Typically, when people think of ‘religion and politics’, they think of social issues such as abortion, contraceptives and gay marriage. While that’s not a bad place to start, it does in fact start at the communal level rather than focusing on individuals and, as much as secular governments strive for a clean break between religion and politics, many (like me) argue that the two do actually mix, and they mix in complex ways. On the political end, religion can strongly influence which party a person votes and campaigns for and, on the religious end, political views can play a major role in religious conversion. In other words, people change religions or denominations in order to find a fit for their political beliefs.
Since mid-April, we have been in national election mode, and so proper time and reflection should be given to how best to engage with the various party manifestos. I have long advocated a belief in the thinking that the national budget is a moral document, because the figures will prioritise where your money is spent and who will (or won’t) be protected by the services you invest in. By that reckoning, I suggest you look at political manifestos with a similar lens. Make no mistake, the manifesto choices made are also moral choices, and voting on them is a matter of moral priorities. Whether that refers to the immigration and refugee row; protecting the ‘Just About Managing’ group (aka the JAMS), or the BREXIT pathway… all of this issues deserve proper Christian debate.
We only tend to hear things we want, and therefore champion whoever and whatever promotes our advantage point. In this sense, we are not always open to other points of view – particularly if claiming a one-truth approach. But if we want to, like Jesus, promote public debate that is truly dialogical, we all have to give up something in order to gain more. Only last week I reflected on these words by Rev Dr Rowan Williams: “Britain’s political and social landscape is in flux, and we face great choices about the soul and future of our nation. We can choose to turn inwards and struggle more and more urgently to protect ourselves; or we can look outwards, recognising that our good is bound up with that of others.”
I understand the apathy of Christians, whose advice is to stay out of politics, because in their view nothing really changes. But my response is non-involvement should not be an option on the table for Christians, because our beliefs shape our worldview and how we think we should live in community together. The history of the relationship between Church and politics tells us that there have been many attempts to reconcile faith into public policy, and I agree we might not yet have achieved the best model but the two need to relate in some way. If Christians have a strong doctrine of creation that tells us God is interested in the whole economy of life – not just the Church – then individual Christians have a calling in some sense to interact with those who have the responsibility for shaping the life we live together as God’s image-bearers within God’s world.
Jesus said: “I was hungry and you gave me food.” Cutting support for social care to pay for more tanks is a moral choice. Cutting essential humanitarian foreign aid to a famine and war-torn world to build more weapons is also a moral choice. We need strong political leadership to make the right choices to enable all citizens to flourish!
Jesus said, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed Me.” Demonising our immigrants and refugees and using them as political footballs is a moral choice. We tell political leaders to change the narrative!
Jesus said, “I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink.” Cutting environmental protections, which leads to massive flood and droughts here and all over the world, is a moral choice. Not only do we need to examine our lifestyle choices, but we also need the government to keep its commitment to develop clean renewable energy!
Jesus said, “I was in prison, and you visited Me.” Mass incarceration, based on race that disenfranchises men and women of colour, is a moral choice. “Racism is a philosophy based on a contempt for Black life. It separates not only bodies, but minds and spirits” (Dr Martin Luther King Jr). We need government to dismantle racist policies and structures!
And Jesus said, “I was naked, and you clothed Me.” Cutting services for the vulnerable, while making tax cuts for the rich, literally strips the most vulnerable of what little they have and is fundamentally a moral choice. We need a fair tax system!
Clearly the Bible has a lot to say about politics and government. It shows that not only is it legitimate and biblical for Christians to get involved, but also that there is a cost associated with not doing so. As I said before, opting out is simply not an option!
I support the argument to see political involvement as a mission field and, in doing so, it should sit alongside preaching the Gospel, serving our communities, and helping the poor and needy. According to Christians in Politics, when this aspect of mission is taken seriously, Christians respond by:
- developing and teaching sound, biblical theology for political involvement
- identifying and pursuing work in this sphere as a genuine calling and ministry
- releasing resources like time, money and people
- encouraging and equipping individuals and groups to get involved, and supporting them do so
- praying regularly for politics and government
Question: Does your church have any of the above in place? As Christians, we do not live in a bubble; Church and society are intertwined, so take a step to becoming salt and light in your community – make sure you vote, and make your Christian voice count!
If you are not registered to vote, you have until Monday 22 May to register for the UK general election. In England, Scotland and Wales, you can register to vote at gov.uk/register-to-vote.