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Christian witness in this political moment

What Christian teaching should guide engagement with politics at an impending election?

The likelihood of an election this autumn has increased with Boris Johnson becoming Conservative Prime Minister and his insistence of leaving the European Union by 31 October regardless of whether a deal has been reached.

There is expected to be a no confidence vote early September, and if this is lost and no alternative government can be formed, the country will once again go to the polls. In the event of an election in the coming months, Christians will be faced with greater than usual challenges in how to engage. It is likely that we’ll see candidates from new political parties gracing the ballot paper. We may also see parties choosing not to stand in some seats to allow other candidates a greater chance of winning if that will serve their desired Brexit outcome. Additionally, our hope in politics may well reach new levels of despair at a time when we want it to achieve the most. 

This is politics as idolatry. Over the last decade I have worked tirelessly to encourage Christians to engage in politics. At the 2010, 2015 and 2017 elections I have worked with the Evangelical Alliance to help churches consider how their faith should play a part in politics and how it should affect the way they vote. We have always sought to be impartial between political parties, recognising that Christians in good conscience will support a variety of different options. We took the same approach in the 2016 referendum: we helped Christians explore some key issues at stake and sought to provide information about the EU and the vote, but as an organisation we didn’t take a position. 

We have partnered with Christians in Politics to urge Christians to Show Up’. I’ve taught at conferences and trained church leaders on the biblical basis for political engagement. All this is to say that things have changed. A simple call to engagement is at risk of both being naïve and also understating the challenges that come with engagement. I am as committed as ever to the importance of Christians having influence in public life. I’m convinced that as we sit under the authority of God we are given authority and it is our responsibility to steward it wisely. 

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But what should churches and church leaders say to their congregations ahead of an impending election this autumn? Here at the Evangelical Alliance these are the sort of questions that occupy the minds of members of the advocacy team. We are committed to resourcing the church to engage in politics and these are hard times. So I’ve got a few ideas, along with a little bit of commentary. 

Salt and light

Christians are called to be salt and light in our world – salt to both preserve what is good and to add flavour and distinctiveness. Light, meanwhile, to shine in a world that is too often too dark for goodness to be seen. Regardless of the context, this command holds firm, in many ways, the more challenging a context, the more important for Christian witness. This does not disregard the problems Christians in politics are likely to face but focuses on what Christians can bring. A potential problem with this approach is that one person’s salt as seasoning is another person’s salt in the wound. One person’s city on a hill is another’s forest fire. 

Do not fear

Christians are taught not to fear because we have a God who cares for us, who loves us, and who is sovereign over all of creation. It may be difficult to not succumb to fear when there are many aspects of our current political context that might engender such as response. But it is a valuable reminder to know that God is not fazed by the turbulence we are witnessing, and if we can adopt a posture that follows His lead, we can be a witness of peace in the storm. This does not necessarily help us know what to do once we are not afraid, however!

Faith, hope and love

Of these that remain, love is the greatest. We’ve heard a lot of talk about hate speech, but how would our political culture be transformed by an outbreak of love speech? How can we speak love into a political context that mutates disagreement into hate at the turn of a phrase? Our faith gives us hope, and our hope calls us to love. This is a powerful witness into a political context characterised by polarisation. It gives us a platform to offer a vision of hope to society, yes to the person whom our hope is in, but also the hope we have for society. A challenge here is that if we are speaking love to those in power, that can be viewed as endorsement of their policies. So, how can we stand with those who are oppressed and speak love to those who may be viewed as the oppressor?

Seek the welfare of the city

The words from the prophet Jeremiah are often spoken as a command to Christians to work for the good of the place where God has put them. It’s important to pay attention to the exilic context of the original usage, and that the call was not to build God’s kingdom (it’s God who does that) but contribute to a place that is often passionately opposed to God’s kingdom values. Christians will and do disagree with what this looks like in practice, that’s the heart of healthy political disagreement, but we can hold the starting point and the eventual destination in common. (Take a look at this piece on praying for political leaders when we disagree with them.)

The reconciliation of all things

Colossians 1 teaches that For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.” This places the work of God at the heart of our engagement, and His interest in the affairs of the world, not just the salvation of our souls. This helps Christians understand a wide-ranging vision for political engagement, and again focuses our attention on God’s work while also involving us in its outworking. What it doesn’t do is provide a roadmap for where Christians can trace what the reconciliation of all things looks like. 

The truth is that none of these biblical touchpoints provide an all-encompassing guide to Christian political engagement, and we haven’t touched on Romans 13, Luke 20 or Matthew 25.

What is also clear is that while we can emphasise the goodness of Christian political engagement, we are far more hesitant around Christian partisan engagement. Politics is a means by which we can seek to influence our world for the good, but partisanship often means trying to achieve that through aligning our beliefs with particular political parties and their agendas. Christian partisanship will therefore see some people rejoicing with the success of certain individuals, parties and policies, and others dismayed. 

Political idolatry is when we invest too much faith in the systems and institutions of this world to solve our problems. But we should have faith in politics, faith that even through broken and imperfect systems God can work His will, and that God calls His sons and daughters to bring their faith into politics to be a witness for good and for God. 

As a work in progress we are keen to hear your thoughts as to how churches can be encouraged and maybe provoked into fruitful witness in this political moment. Email me at d.​webster@​eauk.​org with your thoughts or if you would like someone from the advocacy team to speak at your church about how to biblically navigate politics.

About the author

Danny joined the Evangelical Alliance in 2008 and has held a range of roles in the advocacy team. He currently looks after media relations and oversees advocacy programmes and projects including public leadership. Before working for the Evangelical Alliance, Danny, who has degrees in politics and political philosophy, worked in parliament for an MP. Danny is passionate about encouraging Christians to integrate their faith with all areas of their life, especially when it comes to helping them take on leadership outside the church. He frequently provides comment on current political issues, both in Evangelical Alliance publications and to the press.

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