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18 September 2014

Alliance Council responds to need for Christians in power and politics

Alliance Council responds to need for Christians in power and politics

The Church needs to "get comfortable" with engaging in politics, the Evangelical Alliance's Council heard yesterday. 

Nearly 100 people gathered for the two-day meeting of Council members and guests to talk, worship and pray together, as well as engaging with the theme of power and politics. 

Gavin Shuker MP spoke about how Christians should handle power in public life, saying there is a need for the Church to get comfortable exercising power, even if sometimes it exercises it badly. 

"There is a massive need for people to engage with power," the MP for Luton South said. "For Christians, the exercising of power is deeply important –it's part of our redemption." 

He admitted that institutions, such as political parties and indeed the Church, can be places of low level corruption, but added: "We need to learn how to love institutions, to change and transform them, while recognising they're broken as well." He said if every evangelical joined a political party, there would be a huge impact to the quality of politics. 

In a closed panel of political leaders from across the UK held during Council, panellists commented that the Church did not understand the pressures on them, and certainly did not engage in politics. One member of the panel said their Church did not understand why they couldn't participate in church life fully. Because politicians work 6-day weeks it can be difficult for them to attend mid-week meeting, and one panelist said they were viewed negatively because of it. 

Churches should be supporting their local, Christian politicians, it was agreed, and not just by offering prayer. 

During a time of discussion, Council members and guests voiced their desire for the Church to see politicians as human. They would also like to encourage Christians to get involved with politics themselves and create a space in the Church to engage with politics and support local politicians –despite the party they represent. Validating politics as a calling, in the same way worship leaders and teachers are supported, was also discussed.

The power and politics survey carried out by the Alliance's advocacy team, which 2,000 evangelicals took part in, will be released in February ahead of the general election. 

The Council took a smaller version of the survey and the results were released at yesterday's meeting. Almost half of the 46 Council members who participated said they were less trusting of the government today than previously, with 47 per cent answering that their faith in those in power had decreased. Worryingly, a third of those surveyed also said that when they voted, they chose the 'least bad' option. While national polls show the electorate's most important issue is race relations and immigration, for Council members, poverty and inequality was a key issue they wanted their government to tackle. No political parties support Christian values, according to half of the Council members who answered the poll. 

But this can easily change, argued director of the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum Claire Mathys, speaking later about the importance of Christians engaging in public leadership. 

Taking the time to attend a local constituency meeting where policy is being discussed can have a great deal of impact, she explained. Decisions at this level go forward to policy committees and stand the chance of being included in the party's manifesto. This is a simple way of positively affecting policy, she said. 

A campaign called Show Up was previewed at Council, which encourages Christians to vote at next year's general election. Churches are being asked to engage their congregations and educated them in the importance of using their vote. 

The Council met at High Leigh Conference Centre in Hertfordshire on 17 to 18 September.