By this point in time, you are almost certainly aware of the upcoming General Election, but why is the Christian Union publishing a blog post about it? There is often a widespread feeling that religion and politics shouldn’t mix. As Alastair Campbell infamously declared when working for then Prime Minister Tony Blair, “We don’t do God.” Certainly, the alignment of many US churches with the Republican Party makes many people uncomfortable today, reinforcing this sentiment. But as a Christian student involved in politics, my faith has been one of the most significant influences on how I engage politically, and how I prioritise different issues.
One of the biggest challenges I have received as a Christian is to seek to be loving and gracious to people in everything that I do, and political activity is definitely part of that. I remember very clearly a conversation with a friend in CU, in which he asked what student politics would look like if we engaged with grace, even at the cost of losing some of the power of our message. In more public debate, this can be particularly challenging, especially if the topic under discussion is controversial or personally difficult. The passion many of us feel about these issues is a valuable part of democracy, but it can very easily create a hostile and aggressive atmosphere. In situations like this, I try to hold onto the fact that every person is made in the image of God, and is deserving of dignity and respect. Acceptance and agreement are not the same thing, which I wish was more widely recognised. It has been my experience that most people are willing to listen to you and engage constructively if you approach them in a respectful and cooperative manner, although they aren’t always going to agree with you.
That is an important point. In politics, people don’t always agree, and many of the most significant changes over the past century have only been achieved because of extended campaigns by dedicated inviduals. The important and ongoing fight for equality has been a significant part of this including women suffrage, civil rights in the US and equal pay, to give just a few examples. In a much smaller way in a student context, the university and college authorities are often reluctant to support change. But I think that trying circumstances make acting with integrity more important not less and, to me, they also emphasise the importance of prayer. I am regularly reminded that, however much I might like things to be otherwise, I can achieve relatively little on my own. Through prayer, and by building relationships with others, I can be part of more powerful actions.
In these issues of working with and respecting others, I am deeply concerned by the seemingly favourable conditions for authoritarianism I see in the world today. I see it in our national politics, focusing ever more on the personalities of individual leaders. I also see it in us, the electorate, where it manifests itself as uncompromising attitudes and an inability to see the good in our opponents. One of the other most significant ways in which my faith impacts on my political engagement is the reminder of my own fallibility and the limits of politics more generally. As a Christian, I know that I am far from perfect and I know that we cannot save ourselves. But that doesn’t mean that I consider myself powerless.
In many ways, my faith motivates my political action. I believe in a God who cares deeply about humanity and creation, including politics, who has absolute power to bring about change, and who delights in working through our actions. As Abraham Kuyper put it, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’” God has placed all of us in communities, and whether we like it or not, politics is an important part of community life, whether that is in our JCR, or at the UN. Knowing that God cares gives me conviction that positive and lasting change can be brought about, and motivates me to take action. It also reminds me that politics isn’t there to make me feel good, or for me to build my reputation, but to serve people, as Christ serves us. I frequently find that democratic decisions don’t go the way I would like, and sometimes it is really only God’s passion for the world and for justice, and his unchanging love for me that keeps me going. Whether I do things well or badly does not change my value in God’s eyes.
A number of people have asked how I will be voting in the General Election. I can honestly tell you that I haven’t decided, and will continue to pay close attention to what the candidates say in their campaign material and at hustings. My decision will be informed by my conviction that we can and should work towards a clear positive vision, combined with the thoughts about love, grace and listening that I have outlined. I will be praying for all of the candidates at this time, and asking that God will give me and you wisdom to decide. Finally, I hope this blog doesn’t suggest that I have it all together, because I definitely don’t. I make mistakes, I sometimes ignore what I have written here, and I still have a lot to learn. But as a Christian, I know that God is so good, and loves justice, my hope is in him and I trust that one day He will straighten out the whole world and establish justice in everything. This is a concrete hope for the future, and God also works in the world now, including through our actions. As the General Election approaches, I encourage you to think about what God could do, and how you might be part of that.