This week the God and Politics blog ran an interview with Malcolm Martin, the lead candidate for the London Assembly elections for the Christian People’s Alliance. At the time I was inclined to respond but decided against it as I didn’t want to get drawn into a political debate, and I didn’t want to be seen as casting judgement on another Christian engaging in politics – something I am passionate to see more of. Then this evening came a bit of a discussion (not really a spat as I originally wrote) on twitter about the relative validity of the Christian People’s Alliance and whether Christians should vote for them.
So being unable to express in 140 characters some nuanced thoughts, here comes a quick fire summary of why I don’t think that Christian parties are the best way for Christians to engage in politics.
Firstly, a caveat, I think people should vote for who they support and would like to see in government. That means that for some people the candidates running under a Christian ticket may well be the best candidate for them. Gillan Scott, who’s set up and quickly established the God and Politics blog as a go to destination, has taken a bit of flack for running the interview, which is perhaps a little unfair, I think like everyone the Christian People’s Alliance have a voice that deserves to be heard. Occasionally I speak to churches about political engagement, almost invariably I will be asked a question about whether Christians should vote for Christian political parties, this is more or less what I say.
I do not believe that there should be any suggestion that for Christians the best party to support is the party with Christian in the name.
And this is why:
The two Christian parties that operate in the UK, the Christians People’s Alliance and the Christian Party are both very small in terms of the votes they garner and the seats in which they stand. This means that it is highly unlikely that they will be in a position to win seats, and even were they to, to influence political decisions.
This should not, in and of itself, be a reason not to vote for a party, often key voices come from the margin, and people not in the centre of decision making are able to take a view counter to the political mainstream. However, politics is about programmes and about delivering on these programmes. Therefore there needs to be an ability to do more than protests about problems with the current system. Fringe political parties, and by their electoral results the CPA and CP can both fairly be defined as such, are little more than pressure groups, and when I cast a vote I am voting for someone to govern not for someone to issue press releases.
There are two Christian political parties. This should be enough to demonstrate that Christians don’t agree on political issues, the CPA are more centrist and the CP are more right wing. All of the political parties contain things in their platform that I disagree with. If I wanted a party where I agreed with everything it would have a membership of one: me. If we are to engage in the political process then we have to accept that disagreeing with things that a political party says is not a barrier to engagement. And if we want to see political parties stand for things that are closer to what we believe, then it is more vital than ever that we engage in them and advocate for those policies we wish to see.
I wanted to find another ‘p’ to say this but my brain was struggling. This is the reason why in the end I don’t think that Christian political parties are the best choice for Christians, that’s over and above the other reasons outlined above, which in the right circumstances could all be ameliorated.
The idea and operation of Christian parties promotes an approach that verges on theocracy. It suggests that as Christians we will rule the country in a Christian way, and in a way that only Christians can. I am aware that those involved in the parties mentioned would dispute this.
But we live in a country where many people are not Christian, and to govern through parties that are identified as Christian with an explicitly Christian programme would suggest that we are seeking to introduce a political programme that is actually the enforcement of religious belief.
I don’t think that Christians have all the answers. I think that in the end, God’s Kingdom will come, and in the meantime God works through us to bring that Kingdom into our world a little bit at a time. But there are good ideas and aspects of that greater good that comes from sources outside the church. It is important that we recognise this. Politics is about making things work, for Christians it is about accepting that while overall authority lies with God he gives us a mandate to act on that authority.
The gospel is also about freedom, it is the thing that brings true freedom and it sustains freedom. The gospel is about the choice to follow God, and any attempt to legislate for religious belief, or even to try and enforce morality through the legal system will not only engender hostility towards Christianity, it is simply not the way that the gospel works.
In summary, Christians, like all people should vote how they wish, and in the Mayoral elections that may mean voting for the Christian People’s Alliance, but as someone passionately committed to seeing more Christians engaging in politics, and making a difference in the political sphere, it is not the route that I would advocate. I would suggest joining one of the mainstream parties, which ever one comes closest to you views. I would suggest getting involved, putting in the hard work, and seeing how, we can not only speak what we believe, but live it and see others changed by how we live and what we support. For more information I’d recommend the Christians in Politics website.