The sunny Sussex setting for my being proved wrong.
I was totally wrong.
I’d imagined that everyone would be the same – around 30 years old, white, male, dressed in a suit, public school accent, full of political jargon. This was about all I could come up with when I tried to imagine what sort of people might go to an event for young adults involved in public leadership, run by the Evangelical Alliance. All of them would fit the mould I’d invented, except me.
I was totally wrong.
I’d imagined we’d spend a good amount of time moralising about the decline of Christian values in our country, followed by a session on how Christianity in the UK is facing bitter persecution, and a case study on Christian rights illustrated by the ‘gay cake’ row. Lots of sitting around feeling better than other people – especially LGBT people, single parents and feminists.
I was totally wrong. I suppose I can’t have really thought it would be that bad, because something prompted me to sign up and go, but I definitely wasn’t expecting what I found.
Over the last weekend, I’ve had the privilege of talking, praying, worshipping, eating, laughing, and drinking very good whisky, with some of the most inspiring, passionate and wise people I’ve met in a long time.
Christians keen on public leadership (that is, any kind of leadership in the public sphere rather than in the Church), I imagined, would have an awful lot to say about what they really don’t like in politics, business, media, education, medicine and charity. I imagined there’d be a lot about concern, worry, and defence.
I was totally wrong.
When we went around the room, all 32 of us, summarising in 30 seconds what we each were passionate about, no-one stood up to say they cared about winning arguments or passing judgment on others (those two things that evangelical Christians have an unfortunate reputation for).
Instead, people spoke animatedly about educational inclusion,
about compassionate public policy,
about standing in solidarity with the oppressed,
about creating life-giving community among people in business,
about international development,
about ethical fashion and textiles,
about mentoring and inspiring others,
about investing in children and young people,
about mental health,
about finding beauty –
and even about menstruation and girls’ education.
This was a room full of people who wanted to bring light where there’s darkness, healing where there’s hurt, and life where there’s emptiness. This was a room full of people who had a deep conviction about God’s love for the world and were compelled to put that love into practice in every corner of society.
So, given that a couple of weeks ago I wrote about 3 reasons Christians should not be in politics, and given current levels of inspiration and hope, here are 3 brief reasons why we as Christians (and even as evangelicals) absolutely should – and not just in politics, but in every area of public life.
1. We’re driven by the vision of a certain future
The first reason is that if we’re doing it right, it’s good for society. When Christians work to change things, we shouldn’t just be aiming for a vague goal of a ‘better’ world with no real sense of what that looks like. No, we’re following a clear vision – a vision of the kingdom of God – and the vision is good. We’re certain that the future of our world is redemption and renewal.
So everything we do can be tested by that kingdom vision: is this change something that will make our society look more like God’s kingdom? Does it take us closer to a situation where every person can live the full, free, unfettered life they were created for? Does it promote the equality and dignity of every person? Does it move us further from greed, from selfishness, from exclusion, from pain, from injustice? And if we’re not entirely sure what the kingdom of God will look like, we have only to turn our eyes to the King, to learn from his character.
We have a vision, and the vision is good, and the vision will come to pass.
2. Public service should keep us compassionate and generous
It struck me that the reason that none of the people I shared the weekend with came across as judgemental or holier-than-thou, is precisely because they each spent their time with people, serving people, engaging with people, listening to people, working with local government, communities, schools, youth clubs, businesses, anyone and everyone to make those communities more beautiful and more life-giving.
Judgmentalism as far as I can see, so often comes from a lack of understanding, a deficiency of real contact with people, an aversion to true listening. But genuine experience of people’s lives, people’s messy, complicated, nuanced, unique, challenging lives, keeps us compassionate and generous. I think it’s very hard to hold on to black and white inflexibility, to cold moralising, when you commit to serving a community and allow yourself to be drawn in to the realities of people’s lives. And that can only be a very good thing.
3. It will attract people to Jesus
A Jesus who lives only in dusty pews and dry sermons is not an attractive Jesus. A gospel that has nothing to say to ambition, to families, to culture, to sport, a gospel that is silent on addiction and homelessness and poverty and loneliness and corruption, that’s a gospel that has very limited power. It’s a narrow gospel of bad-tasting medicine; it can only feed on fear of death but offers nothing of life.
That’s not the good news we have. That’s not the Jesus we know. And when we act as the hands and feet of the risen Christ in every area of our common life, when we work hard for the kind of reconciliation and redemption that his good news brings, we begin to invite people to see themselves in the big, beautiful, all-emcompassing story that God is weaving through human history.
That’s when people start to get a real glimpse of the character of God. That’s when people begin to see purpose in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That’s when people see our lives and find themselves drawn towards the one who gives life.
Christians, get involved in politics and public life: it’s good for our communities, it’s good for our compassion, and it’s good for the glory of God.