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08 May 2015

Let's commit to engaging relationally with politics

Let's commit to engaging relationally with politics

Yesterday we went to the polls to cast our votes with the expectation we would wake to find no clear winner. So the result will come as a shock to many.

It has been so encouraging to see a higher turnout at this election especially among young people. Voting is just the start our engagement with politics. There is so much more we can do beyond the election.

Sometimes Christians can distance themselves from what they perceive to be the messy business of politics. They justify that it's better not to get involved than risk getting their hands dirty. This perspective is far away from the biblical narrative, which calls for us to get involved in the messiness of the flawed world we live in.

Moses received the laws that reflected God's heart for good government. Nehemiah, a civil servant, diligently worked to rebuild Jerusalem and restore authority. Esther and Mordecai lobbied the authorities to save their people. Daniel, a government minister, demonstrated that God's people can be called to rule in alien, pagan cultures. Joel challenged public consciousness. Jonah spoke of the responsibility we have beyond the borders of our own race and ethnicity. Micah emphasised the importance of morality, integrity and justice. Habakkuk and others talked of God's care for the poor. 

They understood the importance of prayer, working together and remaining culturally and politically relevant, while avoiding personal compromise.

And Jesus was very much engaged with society. He engaged with church leaders, political leaders, tax collectors, tradespeople, servants, the sick, the elderly, prostitutes, business leaders, children, mothers, fathers and grandparents. He commented on the issues of the day. He lived amongst the community. We see through his actions that he valued the society in which he lived.

Often read without reference to its wider literary and political context, Romans 13 has shaped and misshaped Christian thinking about politics. The preceding verses provide an alternative vision to that of standard politics. They show how Christians are to live together as the community of the Church in the world, describing an ecclesial politics and its practices of Christian love.

Paul, though writing to Christians in Rome under Nero, is clear that God has established political authority to serve Him. Despite having endured a lot more political abuse than most of us, Paul expects Christians to have a positive attitude to political authority that expresses itself in proper respect, honour and submission.

So once we've accepted the biblical mandate, it's time to think about the ways we can do this. You could join a political party. You could join a campaign, start a petition, and submit to a select committee. You could also contact your MP to share your views on issues before parliament. These are all good and important ways to get involved, but more importantly we should commit to engaging relationally with politics.

God by his very nature is relational. We see this in the triune of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Relationship is at the heart of the Christian faith, reflecting the fact that we as humans have been made for relationship with God and with others. It clearly matters to God. It's reflected in His nature, it's why we were created and it's throughout the biblical narrative. So it makes sense that relationship be at the heart of our political engagement.

Too often we take a consumerist approach to our engagement. Contacting our political representatives when we want them to help us, represent our view on an issue or complain. How often do we send an encouraging email, a letter of thanks or offer of prayer?

Sometimes we forget that our political representatives are human just like us. They have mothers-in-law, children struggling in school, teenagers going through teenage angst and high blood pressure. They have dreams and aspirations. They make mistakes. Yet too often we hold them to a higher morality and unrealistic expectations. Conveniently forgetting our shared humanness, brokenness and vulnerability.

While it's important to advocate for Christian values, our engagement with politics should first and foremost be about sharing the gospel so that others can be in relationship with God. This is after all the Great Commission.

So get to know your MP and local councillors. Whether you voted for them or not;whether you agree with them or not. They are your representatives and they are precious and loved by God. Send them an encouraging email. Arrange a meeting to thank them for their work in the community. Head along to their regular local clinics and ask them to share their story, what motivated them to enter politics. Offer to help them in local community activities and of course offer to pray for them.

Engaging relationally is a long-term commitment. Especially when it comes to building genuine and authentic relationships. It takes more effort than sending a quick email, but it's worth it. And it's at the heart of who God is. So let's commit to honouring, serving, supporting, praying for and above all getting to truly know our political representatives.

For inspiration about getting involved beyond the election watch the Show Up 2.0 video

Amelia Abplanalp is public policy officer for the Evangelical Alliance