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01 May 2010

Making our votes count

Making our votes count

This year's election brings special challenges to the Church. General Director Steve Clifford writes...

It all happened in Committee Room 10 in the Houses of Parliament. It was the afternoon of our most recent Alliance Council meeting, after a great morning with more than 140 people - council members and special guests - crammed into the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft beneath the Palace of Westminster. This was the official launch of the Biblefresh initiative with worship, prayer and a great lecture from Professor Alister McGrath.

The afternoon was taken up with Council business, including an opportunity to engage with representatives of the three main political parties in the run-up to the approaching General Election. The question was raised as to how we can encourage the Christian community to go out and vote.

Disillusionment with politicians following the expenses scandal, alongside voter turnout dropping dramatically in recent years, is leaving us with a potentially dangerous vacuum at the heart of our democratic structure. So the message was clear: get informed, hold hustings, consider joining a political party and make sure you vote.

And then it happened: as the three representatives of our major parties stood before us, one of them came out with the statement, "Of course our first allegiance isn't to our party: we are brothers and sisters in Christ." And so another story began to emerge.

A higher calling

This isn't a story that we hear on our televisions or in the newspapers, but one of Christians right cross the political divide working away in Westminster. MPs, researchers, special advisors and civil servants are meeting together regularly to pray, provide support and give encouragement. These people are committed to their parties but have a higher calling: they are part of the family of God and want to see God's kingdom expressed on earth as it is in heaven.

These are Christians committed in their faith but called to work in Westminster, looking to do politics in a different way. At a time when - and in a place where - things often look so dark, God has made sure that there is light. One commented, "If you don't believe we are in a battle, you should spend a few days in Westminster."

It felt like all those years of praying, training and supporting Christians as they explored their calling into politics was bearing fruit. The Care intern programme has made and continues to make an impact, as does the support for MPs offered by Bible Society, the Alliance and others.

"Disillusionment with politicians is leaving us with us potentially dangerous vacuum"

As you read this, the General Election is upon us, and my plea to politicians of all persuasions is that the election be fought on issues of policy, confidence in leadership and a vision for the future, rather than dirty tricks, false accusations, smear campaigns and a mantra of election success at any cost.

Let's recognise the challenge that, despite who wins the next General Election (or who forms a minority government), we are faced with a period of wholesale cutbacks both at a national and local level as the Government attempts to deal with enormous levels of public and private debt.

Services and provisions we have taken for granted will no longer be available. And as usually happens, it will be the most vulnerable that feel the greatest impact: the elderly, the young, the poor and unemployed, those living with disability.

Rise to the challenge

This is an unprecedented opportunity for the Christian community, both individually and as churches, to rise to the challenge. If the state is no longer able to help, will we make ourselves available? Wouldn't it be wonderful if in every village, town and city across the UK, Christian leaders of all backgrounds and walks of life - church leaders alongside those in business, the police, health care and education - started strategically planning ways to reach out to those in need?

As Christians, we need to be talking to our local councils, asking how we can help in these hard times. Perhaps God is pening up opportunities for us to pastor our communities - not just our church communities, but the neighbourhoods that surround us. Maybe this will encourage us to actively work for the wellbeing of our local community physically, emotionally and of course spiritually.

The final instructions of Jesus must ring in our ears: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me... And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28.18-20). In our calling to make disciples we are not on our own, Jesus promises to be with us.

This is already happening in some places where leaders are praying, planning and acting together, so why not all over the UK? We must remember that "the earth is the Lord's and everything in it" (Psalm 24). There will come a day when everyone will recognise this, but until then we must live, work, and pray, "Let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

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