Politics : Christian Faith in Action
Politics is about government, which is about making important decisions and passing laws that affect every single citizen, so why wouldn’t you want men and women of faith and values at the very heart of it?
For too much of the twentieth century, Christians fled the field and left it to all the others to make crucial decisions on the economy, healthcare, education and the family. Maybe that partially explains why the country faces so many challenges today. When I was first elected in 1992 it was still commonplace for Christians to ask me: 'How can you be a Christian and involved in politics - and especially how can you be a Christian and a Conservative?'
All that is changing and today the church has a fresh understanding that God wants his people to be engaged in every sector of society being salt and light, including the grubby world of politics!
I have been proud to be part of a close-knit cross-party group of believers here at Westminster in the past few years, enjoying the fellowship, trust and support that this has brought. We are also now beginning to ask how best we can together serve the Lord in this place. We have set up a cross-party organisation 'Christians in politics' to serve as a web-based gateway to believers joining the political party of their choice. So there is every incentive and every opportunity for Christians to get engaged in the public square, at the level and in the way that each prayerfully feels is right. It may not be to become an MP, but there are many opportunities to serve on local councils or school governing boards. In all parties the number of members who select candidates to stand for Parliament even in safe seats is relatively small. Why not sign up and become one of them? I believe the key message of our generation is: get engaged. We, the church, still have a lot to learn about how to do this.
What are the pressing issues for Christians as we approach another general election? I am afraid that many of the traditional 'Christian' issues have been swept away on a tidal wave of social change, including gay rights, the special treatment of marriage, abolishing abortion and so on. The world is a very different place today from just a decade ago, and we need to dust ourselves down, forget the battles of the past and move on. We have to deal with our society as it is, not as we would like it to be or as it once was. Politicians cannot be expected to try to build a theocracy, or preach or moralise. We have to work with what we have got: a mainly secular society.
Yet a glimpse at the news or a read of the newspaper or a walk down the high street on a Friday evening tells us that we face many social challenges. There is a need for Christians to engage with these issues like never before, but if we are to be effective we have to prioritise. Might I suggest three crucial areas?
A significant minority of our children growing up today do so outside of a framework of love, encouragement, security and discipline. We have sown the wind and are beginning to reap the whirlwind in terms of personal misery, anti-social behaviour and welfare costs. What are we going to do about this? Recently some of us Christians at Westminster held a conference about children and then sparked a Commons debate about how we can try to remedy this growing challenge. Several good ideas are emerging, including better harnessing the skills and energy of the voluntary sector to help vulnerable parents put in place the rudiments of parenting. It should not be necessary but it is.
There are many excellent schemes out there trying to make a difference including the admirable Community Family Trust group. I believe that as Christians, for whom stable families are an essential part of our core values (not always achievable, I do recognise) we have a huge role to play in promoting greater stability for the next generation, but we need to seek news ways of intervening. All political parties should be put under pressure about this.
Secondly, many of our communities are being afflicted by drugs, binge drinking increasing levels of low-level violent crime and other forms of anti-social behaviour. It is important not to exaggerate this, but I am deeply concerned that no matter how many police we recruit or CCTV cameras we install these problems are escalating out of control. Why is this happening? What can governments do about it? What is it about home life for many people that is exacerbating the problem? Obviously, it is not unconnected to the parenting issue I speak of above.
Christians will rightly be concerned both about the individual human misery involved in all this and the impact on social cohesion and order. We are right to ask ourselves what we can do as churches in our own communities. We are also entitled to put politicians under pressure to find new ways to tackle this alarming social malaise.
Finally, in this rapidly globalising world, we cannot ignore the plight of so many impoverished people around the world, when (despite our problems) we have got so much. The abject poverty experienced by at least 1.2 billion people is an affront to God and should be to us. Many Christian organisations and individuals are at the forefront of the battle for greater resources and fairness for the world’s poorest, as we should be. The Jubilee campaign was a great example of what can be achieved when the church speaks with a clear united voice, and builds alliances across the spectrum.
But we will clearly not now hit the millennium goals to eradicate or significantly reduce global poverty. So we must redouble our collective efforts. With better targeted debt relief, increased opportunity for free trade, the promotion of good governance, a real focus on HIV/Aids and support for education and healthcare throughout the developing world, our country has a duty to do our utmost to help. As our economy shows signs of slowing down, it would be easy for any future government to allow our focus to slip onto more domestic issues and Christians should not allow that to happen.
So there is a lot to be done and every reason not to sit on our hands but to get involved. At the very least all Christians should vote and keep alive the democratic process that we sometimes foolishly take for granted.