The last few weeks have been tumultuous for us as a nation. The results of our referendum on EU membership have polarised people, and turned most people on social media into politicians overnight.
During the referendum campaign I was very careful not to post about my views on the subject. As a church leader I felt quite strongly that I didn’t want to use the platform to get across my political views. I just don’t feel that I have a mandate for that as a pastor. I have to admit that this was hard for me. I have an active interest in politics, which stems from studying for an A-Level in Government and Politics 10 years ago (wow, really?!). It’s occurred to me in the aftermath of the referendum that perhaps I backed away too far.
We now face a political system in turmoil, with a leadership vacuum developing in both major parties and still no clear plan for moving forward with Brexit. Alongside this we have an electorate who, judging by everyone’s social media feeds, is largely swinging between feeling disenfranchised and downright angry with the political classes. As distressing as this might feel, I actually think it’s mostly a good thing. If people are not happy with the system, they’ll exercise their democratic right to see it changed. In this post I want to offer some suggestions to help Christians to sort through the miasma of political opinions, soundbites and propaganda so that we can engage with our political system in a Bible-centred way.
Examine the Motives
As we seek to involve ourselves in political discussion, we must do so with the right heart. Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t give us a clear direction on which political party to support, but it does allow us insight into the heart of God. Politics is incredibly important – the decisions we make at the polling booth, at hustings and even posting on Facebook can impact the direction of our nation – so we ought to do all of that from a position of understanding the heart of God.
“The Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8
As you make decisions about which party you will support, which petitions you will sign online (which seem to be increasing in number every day) and which politicians you will criticise online, first put it through the filter of this verse. For me, this comes in two forms:
- Your heart. Ask yourself: what is the right thing? Will this bring about mercy and justice, and can I do/say/support this while walking humbly with God?
- The politician/party/cause. Does this line up with what God requires?
God has a clear heart for justice. If our politics doesn’t match up with that we need to reconsider our politics.
Look at the Fruit
I used to think that if a politician was a Christian that I should just vote for them. The trouble is, there are Christians in every political party, so how do you decide which is the “most Christian” and therefore worthy of your vote? We’re really not qualified to make those kinds of judgments! I would suggest that you look instead at the fruit of their lives. I have to be careful here, because I don’t want to cast aspersions on anyone’s character.
This week I’m reading Matthew’s gospel. This morning I read this passage:
“A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” Matthew 7:17-20
Here Jesus is warning about false prophets, but the principle applies to all of our lives. It’s easy to talk about the right things and to make it look like you’re godly, but the proof is in the fruit. Right now there is a lot being written about individual politicians, particularly with a leadership race ongoing in the Conservative party and possibly about to begin in the Labour party. Some of what the media will present to us will amount to nothing less than character assassination, which is sadly an element of how we do politics. Our task as voters is to sift through that to find the genuine information upon which to base our opinions and votes.
You might not be a member of any particular party, and therefore not eligible to vote in these leadership elections. Nevertheless, the outcomes will have a direct effect upon your life, so I urge you to find out all you can about these potential leaders. What is the fruit of their lives? Do their words match up with their actions? Are they a person of integrity?
This might be controversial: being a professing Christian might not make someone the best political leader. There are people who don’t know Jesus but serve the people in a more Christlike way than some Christians! (Let’s face it, none of us is perfectly Christlike). Paul tells us that all authority is established by God (Romans 13:1) and that includes non-Christian politicians. It might be that the person who most deserves our vote is a follower of Jesus, but equally they might not be. Let’s not be afraid of that.
It might be that the person who most deserves our vote is a follower of Jesus, but equally they might not be. Let’s not be afraid of that.
Watch Your Words
In our frustration over the political system as it is, it’s easy to allow sin to creep into our discussions. The Internet allows us to talk about and to people in a way we never would face to face. We have become used to seeing vitriol in tweets, Facebook statuses and YouTube comments. This is not helpful for good political discourse, and certainly not good for our Christian discipleship!
I have to admit that I am not blameless in this. I know that I am sometimes guilty of disparaging certain politicians and making judgmental statements about their character. Here’s the thing: you might be correct in that judgment, but wrong in how you say it. Remember the verse from Micah? Ask yourself: is that comment showing mercy?
My initial response to that question is to complain that they don’t deserve mercy. That’s the point of mercy! We show mercy to those who don’t deserve it, because God showed mercy to us.
I hope that the current atmosphere of political engagement continues over the coming months and years. We need to grow and maintain a passion for our democracy. If you’re someone who doesn’t ‘do politics’ I suggest that you start doing it now. Don’t wait until the day before the next election to start getting involved.
I’ve been feeling over the last few days that this is a time of challenge for the church. There is a shaking happening in our nation and in our churches. The pews are being tipped forwards, and we have to decide if we’re going to fall down or stand to our feet.