In the months leading up to the General Election in May, there was a lot of buzz among Christians about getting involved in politics.
We invited speakers to our church services and gathered at events like the Faith in Politics conference held by Christian Aid, the Children’s Society and Greenbelt. And we made sure to share the ‘Show Up’ video on all our social media accounts.
Outside of our evangelical bubble though, others were less convinced about the idea of an organised Christian effort to infiltrate the political sphere. And it didn’t come only from the hardened secularists – just average, intelligent people uneasy about the mixing of religion and politics.
And I can see their point. It does seem a dangerous combination. Here are three particularly terrible reasons for Christians to get involved in how the UK is run:
1. To make Jesus the leader of our country
The logic made sense when I was a zealous teen, swept up in my own ambition and potential, and making plans to rule the world.
“If I’m living for Jesus, and we’re meant to be his body on Earth, and if I’m filled with the Holy Spirit and I listen to what God says… then if I become Prime Minister, it would be like Jesus being Prime Minister!”
Even if others are not quite so arrogant as I was to believe they can personally channel the authority of the Almighty, it’s still easy to be drawn in to the idea of ‘getting Jesus into power’ through Christians in the political system.
Except that Jesus the man rejected attempts to put him in positions of earthly leadership, and Jesus the risen Lord probably has enough authority being Son of God to really need to add Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to his CV as well. Besides, it’s always a dangerous thing for people in authority to claim to act in Jesus’ name, or according to the will of God – as if by holding a title, they also have access to special divine instruction that stops them being accountable to the rest of us.
No, just like every other Christian, their lives are to be rooted in prayer and humility, following Jesus the best they can. But if Christians are in leadership, they must do it in their own names, taking responsibility for the mistakes they make, and being accountable for the tough decisions.
2. To make other people live by Christian ‘rules’
It’s the legacy left to us by the Puritans: give Christians a bit of authority and they’ll start banning stuff right away. Theatre, dancing, gambling, sport, even Christmas. Because they can’t have fun, they’ll stop other people doing enjoying themselves too.
Even if UK evangelicals aren’t in any rush to drag singers off the stage and footballers off the pitch, might there be some who want to be in power for similar reasons? Is there a risk that we see our country as becoming too ‘secular’, and rush to preserve the last remnants of Christianity in public life, by imposing our own personal morality on other people’s freedoms?
There are Christians who don’t drink. There are Christians who don’t shop on Sundays. There are Christians who will not have sex outside of marriage. There are Christians who don’t eat halal meat. There are Christians who won’t watch porn. There are Christians who pray with their kids every day. These are freedoms of conscience they’re entirely entitled to exercise.
What they’re not entitled to do is to seek political power to limit the freedoms of others.
Nowhere in the stories of Jesus, nowhere in the stories of the apostles, do we see the gospel being used as a burden of rules to lay on unsuspecting masses. In not a single case do we see Paul or Peter go to a city, and head straight to the governors to start banning stuff they didn’t like. Being a Christian in politics should never be about making people conform to our religious rules.
3. To defend Christian rights
I don’t know when this happened, but we’ve developed a victim complex. At some point in the last few years, despite living in one of the most tolerant countries (and perhaps because of it), we gained this notion of being persecuted for our faith.
‘Christian rights’ has become a thing. The right not to bake a cake for people. The right to refuse a double bed to people. The right to pray for patients. The right to wear a cross at work. The right to worship in schools. The right to have public winter celebrations called ‘Christmas’. The right not to have certain people marry in our churches.
It’s not that all of these are bad things in themselves (nor are they all good things, in my humble opinion). And of course, there are really important conversation to be had about how human rights, discrimination laws, and individual freedoms are to be held together in one society.
But since when did Christian faith become about defending ourselves? Since when were we supposed to be interested in our rights? Our mandate as far as rights are concerned comes from Proverbs 31:8-9:
“Speak out for those who cannot speak,
for the rights of all the destitute.
Speak out, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Sometimes the destitute, the poor and the needy will be Christians. Then we should absolutely be speaking up for their rights. Sometimes those persecuted for their religion will be Christians. Then we should absolutely be speaking up for their rights. But sometimes they’ll be Muslims. Sometimes they’ll be Sikhs. Sometimes they’ll have no faith, and sometimes we’ll have no way of knowing. If that matters, we’ve gone wrong.
If we should ever get caught up in defending our own right not to be offended as comfortable middle-class evangelicals and ignore the rights of the poor and needy, we’ve gone badly wrong.
Three very pressing concerns for Christians wanting to be in politics.
Three motivations to check ourselves for before we leap on in.
And yet… there are so many compelling reasons that we should absolutely go for it. Reasons to show up. Reasons to sit in committee meetings. Reasons to read through long papers. Reasons to hold events. Reasons to start listening, start talking, start getting to know people. Reasons to write letters. Reasons to march. Reasons to stand. Reasons to lead.
Christians should be in politics because loving our neighbour demands it.
If we love our neighbour, we’ll call for laws that protect the vulnerable. We’ll demand a platform and an audience for groups who are marginalised. We’ll call for justice for the wrongly imprisoned. We’ll act with compassion for the struggling and hurting. We’ll stand against corruption and greed. We’ll commit to the common good. We’ll act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.
Christians, please get involved. But let’s do it for all the right reasons.