The General Election is happening on 07 May 2015, so now is a key time for thinking about how Christians should pray and act during the election campaign period.
Despite the headline, I’m not going to suggest to you what party I think Jesus would stand for, and therefore tell you who to vote for. One of the great blessings I see in Christian engagement with politics in this country is that we don’t have a (major) Christian party that claims to be exclusively representing Jesus in their policies. Nor do we tend towards the sorts of discussions that are common in the United States amongst voters, on who “God’s man” or “God’s preferred candidate” is at each election.
At university I remember attending a political event with an MP who was a member of one of the two larger parties, but who described himself as a Liberal. He believed it made more sense for Liberals to join and influence the direction of the Conservative or Labour parties, rather than to only band together in a Liberal party. This is how I see healthy Christian engagement with politics. Rather than form our own Christian party, it’s far better to have Christians join all the parties, and therefore influence the direction of all of them.
I know Christian members of Labour, the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and the Greens. I don’t agree with all of them all the time, but I respect their convictions and I know they’re sincere followers of Jesus. I don’t personally know any Christian UKIP members, but I’m sure they’re out there. And I can see how Christians can get involved with each of these parties. It often depends on your starting point in politics.
If a root belief for the Labour Party is that people should be paid a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work, and that huge inequalities in income are bad for society, I can see how many Christians are drawn to Labour. If a root belief for the Tories is around standing for traditional nuclear families, having a vibrant private sector that rewards entrepreneurialism, and releasing a big society of volunteers, I can see how many Christians are drawn to the Conservatives. If a root belief for the Lib Dems is around freedom of speech, about tolerance and respect for others, and giving extra support to the poorest in our society, then I can see how many Christians are drawn to the Lib Dems. If a root belief for the Greens is about being good stewards of our planet, and creating a future energy market that halts the progress of climate change, I can see how many Christians are drawn to the Greens. And if a root belief for UKIP is that we have ceded too much British sovereignty to Europe, and we want to pull out of the EU so as not to have to implement some of the Brussels laws we disagree with, I can see how many Christians are drawn to this.
Here’s my point; I don’t think it’s helpful to demonise particular parties, and claim Christians should never associate with them. Granted, the BNP are an exception to this rule, since they embrace an overtly racist persona and racist candidates. But beyond that, I’m not sure that any other party should be off limits to Christians. I have heard Christian lefties claim you can’t be a Christian if you vote Tory or UKIP, and I’ve heard Christians to the right of centre claim you can’t be a sincere follower of Jesus and vote Labour, Lib Dem or Green. I don’t think any of these sorts of slogans, taunts and insults help us, push forward political debate in a sensible way or represent Jesus very well.
I had a recent chat with a vicar who has a keen interest in politics, and a long history of hosting hustings events prior to general elections. I asked about his personal political allegiance, and he replied “Jesus is my ideology. I look at each party, each manifesto, and each policy through that lens.” This is surely the place for all of us to begin when thinking through who to vote for. But then I think it goes further than that.
Jesus was filled with grace and truth (John 1:14). So as Christ-followers we too should seek to be filled with grace and truth. And an election campaign is a great place to demonstrate both of these traits, since sadly both are often in short supply. So often as Christians we focus on one or the other. Can we embody both like Jesus did?
If grace and truth are present, we will treat all parties and candidates with respect, giving them a fair hearing. And we will also forensically scrutinise their statements and manifestos, to dig beyond the simple slogans and uncover the truth of what they stand for.
So here’s some suggestions I have on what to pray for, and how to conduct ourselves, during this election period.
- Pray for the whole election to be conducted in an atmosphere of grace and truth. Pray that political candidates and activists, and media players, all treat one another with grace, and move beyond simple slogans to unearth truth.
- Pray for God to remove people he doesn’t want in power, and to elect any he does want in power. We don’t always know who those people are! But we can still pray this prayer.
- Conduct yourself with grace. If you violently disagree with someone, rather than attacking, why not politely ask why and how they came to that position? Seek to understand the root causes for their position. That understanding will build a bridge to enable dialogue. If you want to change their view, starting with understanding them is likely to bear far more fruit than trying to shout them down.
- Speak up for truth. Where you know that others are massaging the figures, not telling the whole story, or hiding under a simplistic slogan, speak out against that. Ask questions about details and policy implementation. Dig deep and bring truth out into the open, so that all of us can be more informed when we come to vote.
All of this is relevant not only in person, but also even more when it comes to social media. Please, rather than shouting each other down and seeking to demonise other views, let’s extend grace and truth, to people inside and outside the church whom we disagree with, to better understand one another, and to get to the heart of the matter.
Mark Williamson also blogs regularly for One Rock, a training organisation developing missionary leaders across the globe. He’s passionate about good films, good food, getting into deep conversations, and going for long walks with his wife Joanna. You can follow him on Twitter @markraynespark.