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If we look through the history of the church, we see time and time again that Christians have stood up in the public sphere as agents of change for the good of society. We need such people now.
So, now we know, a general election has been announced for 12 December following a vote in the House of Commons to overrule the Fixed-term Parliament Act.
For those of you suffering from whiplash regarding all things Brexit and Westminster, here is a brief reminder of how we got here. Following the government’s revised agreement with the EU, Prime Minister Boris Johnson failed to get agreement for his expedited timetable for passage of the bill. This was despite agreement for the bill to receive detailed scrutiny by Parliament.
Parliament previously refused to give backing for the Brexit agreement in a meaningful vote, so Johnson was obliged to request an extension until 31 January which the EU agreed to. This was because earlier legislation had been passed to require an extension if parliament had not approved a deal. The combination of these measures meant he would not be able to deliver Brexit by the end of October as promised.
Platforms of those who want a 'cleaner, no deal, Brexit', those who want a second referendum to confirm the agreement, or those calling to cancel Brexit altogether. Manyother issues will also be raised, and it is essential these receive attention too.
Parliament will now dissolve for the election before there is time for the Withdrawal Agreement to pass through Parliament. The election is therefore likely to be fought largely on the grounds of the Conservative’s commitment to pass the withdrawal bill, while other parties will, in varying ways, stand on platforms of opposition to this plan.
We are in strange times. Politics has moved at a frantic pace for months and we are seeing significant realignment of the political parties and their priorities. This means some who had identified clearly with one party for many years no longer have the same attachment, and others who have not engaged in politics before are now passionately involved.
Many of us will be asking questions about what it means to work out what our faith means at this time. In this political moment of uncertainty and highly charged political rhetoric the Evangelical Alliance United Kingdom passionately believes Christians can and should engage in politics, but we are also aware of some of the challenges many of us may encounter. We can’t tell you who to vote for or whether to back Brexit (deal or otherwise). But we will seek to encourage and equip you in your Christian witness in this topsy-turvy, highly charged and unprecedented political moment.
In it all we believe we can be guided by faith, hope and love. These eternal tenets of the Christian faith can guide our witness, motivate our engagement and season our influence.
It is our passion and our conviction that the Christian faith guides our engagement with politics. Politics is not some separate thing that is disconnected from what we believe; it is a part of who we are as we live our lives as disciples of Jesus.
We want more faith in politics – and by that we mean people of faith in politics, and specifically people who place their faith in Jesus. If we look through the history of the church, we see time and time again that Christians have stood up in the public sphere as agents of change for the good of society.
We need such people now. These times are difficult, and many people are disappointed, disheartened and disillusioned. This can be our spur towards greater engagement and not less. God’s kingdom gives us a faith-filled perspective beyond the momentary turbulences of our current time. We are assured of the future of God’s kingdom being fully established and trust in the truth that it is advancing forcefully here and now.
Faith in politics does not, however, mean faith in our political system. This is not where our faith lies. Again, a tour through church history is instructive. The early church did not have faith in the Roman Empire, and the reformers did not have faith in the fifteenth and sixteenth century rulers of their day. The Victorian social reformers may have worked through the systems and structure of government (as well as private enterprise and charity), but their faith was never in the system to deliver all that was needed.
As Christians we can stand assured that God is not fazed by any amount of political chaos or uncertainty. He is the rock who we have faith in, and through the perfect faithfulness of His Son, how we can have assurance of our faith. We do not trust in earthly institutions – even when they are valuable and contribute to righteousness in our nations. We certainly do not trust in political institutions and party ideologies when they are placed in primary position for deliverance from all trials. That’s political ideology as idolatry.
Our politics need people of faith, but we cannot place our faith in politics.
Christians hope in the glory of the risen God. This is our hope that transcends circumstances and delivers joy and assurance of salvation. But what does this mean in the coming election campaign?
It means we must be ambassadors for hope. We must speak up for the kind of society we want to see, the glimpses of the redemption of creation that we long for, and the reconciliation of all things on heaven and earth that the Bible promises will come to pass.
If we are not witnesses to a compelling Jesus-orientated vision for society, we let others set the agenda. If we allow despair and frustration drive our political process, we are abdicating responsibility to those who are fuelled by alternative agendas. Our hope is not in our ability to deliver utopian ideals, or in the promise of political parties, but in a belief that God cares about our day to day reality, the nitty gritty of our world, not just some distant future. Those who offer political liberation frequently disappoint or corrupt. Our hope is in a freedom in which Christ has set us free.
Our faith is grounded in a belief that God will come once more to judge the living and the dead. We have certain hope there will come a day with no more pain and suffering, when our worship to God and his glory will encompass all of creation. That day is not today, but we see dimly what is to come. We are created in God’s image and we are His image to all of creation.
So we speak hope into our political culture, we offer a vision of what it looks like for societies to flourish, for families to thrive, for communities to grow. We demonstrate with our lives and with our actions, as well as our crosses on a ballot paper, what Christian hope means.
While the world is tempted to fear, we hold firm to a God of hope who holds the whole world in his hands and commands us to fear not.
“And the greatest of these is love.”
In 2017 the Evangelical Alliance published our What kind of society? resource. This was premised on the belief that if society was more loving, more free, more just and more truthful we would all benefit. Love is the anchor of all these values, and what sustains and fuels them in the Christian life. It is the heartbeat of the Christian faith and is desperately needed in our society.
Love is tangible and it is a robust foundation for our common life. Love pushes us forward and presses us out. It encourages us deeper. Love forces us to re-evaluate our context and encourages us to respond, in our love of God and His love for us, we are formed into disciples who love all that He loves.
Love is contrasted with hate, and we’ve heard plenty about hate speech recently – some of it deeply concerning and some which seems more like a thinly veiled attempt to silence views disagreed with. If we heard as much about promoting love as discouraging hate that might be a start. But love is not the absence of hate, love is the outworking of hating the right things, we should hate the persistence of injustice, we should hate the discord that drives too much of politics.
The Evangelical Alliance noted in What kind of society?,
Love requires that we know people. We can be generous at a distance but we cannot love without proximity.
You and I cannot change political culture overnight but we can love our neighbour. And while this does have broader meanings, it also has meaning literally. If we start with showing love to those around us, those in our family, and community, regardless of whether we agree with their politics, that will have lasting and valuable contribution to public life.
Love should define our engagement in politics and our priorities at this election.
Above all else we are called to love one another as Christ first loved us. That should focus our approach to politics, our policy priorities and our practice as we engage in the political process. When we debate, discuss and disagree in this election season, may we be known by the love we have for each other, may we be recognised as Jesus’ disciples.
Danny Webster, Media Relations director of the Evangelical Alliance United Kingdom (EAUK). This article first appeared on the EAUK website and was re-published with permission.