Just in case anyone wasn’t paying attention to Twitter yesterday, Christians in Politics – which is the umbrella group of Christians on the Left, the Conservative Christian Fellowship and the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum and backed by the Bible Society – has launched a potentially significant campaign entitled Show Up. Its purpose is to encourage positive Christian engagement in the run-up to, and beyond, the 2015 General Election. It ‘s not short of significant partners either, with the likes of the Church of England, Salvation Army, Evangelical Alliance, Christian Aid, Tearfund, Open Doors and plenty more giving their support to it. This ought to make it a key focal point of engagement for Christians in the run-up to May.
So what’s the big idea? What does the ‘positive engagement’ that Show Up is promoting look like?
What Show Up comes down to is saying make sure you vote in May but don’t ignore politics for the other four years, 11 months and 20 days before the general election after that. Christians really should be getting stuck in somewhere, whether it be at a local community or national level, and bringing God’s kingdom values with them.
Is this a sufficiently big idea that will catch people’s imaginations? Well, for the regular readers of this blog, it’s probably not going to make much difference. The fact that you’re reading this right now suggests that you care about politics already. The issue is not with convincing the sort of person who already takes an interest in these matters, but the hordes of Christians who (sadly) have no idea that Archbishop Cranmer is blogging despite having been burnt to death in 1556. Winning over the disengaged is a much tougher job.
Christians in Politics have released a video to accompany the launch and you can make up your own mind if it’s going to inspire a new generation of Christians to get their boots dirty it the muddy field of politics:
There is something paradoxical in the attitude of many Christians to political engagement. Whether they are consciously aware of it or not, Christians are more political than your average member of the public. They are far more likely to vote, give money to charity, campaign on specific issues, demonstrate compassion through action and have an awareness of injustice and inequality on a global level. At the same time, most are just as disillusioned with, and frankly apathetic towards, the political system in this country as anyone else. To have anything to do with party politics is highly irregular and best avoided.
Somewhere down the line, churches lost sight of the fact that the Conservatives, Labour and LibDems can all find strong Christian ties to their formation. At times in the past, Christians have been the driving force behind party politics. William Wilberforce is well regarded as a great Christian who dedicated his life to destroying the slave trade. But he could only achieve this because he was an active participant in the political process, often supporting the Tories but more often collaborating with the Whigs.
Wilberforce had a God-given vision, and when we see Christian movements come to life and bring about change it is invariably down to the vision that inspires them. One that is happening right now is the foodbank movement: an unintended consequence for those who are volunteering is that they are becoming more politically aware and vocal. They understand that without political involvement they can only do so much to change the situation that is causing so many people to show up at their doors. This exposure to the realities of poverty will most likely draw far more Christians into politics than any sermons or videos.
The Show Up campaign is just beginning its journey. It is serving an important purpose, but it needs to sell a vision that will capture the imagination if it is to make a significant difference. Something like this:
In Krish Kandiah’s Just Politics, written for the 2010 election, Andy Flannagan, one of the directors of Christians in Politics and also Director of Christians on the Left, set out his vision for how young Christians would be engaging in politics in 2020. Its rousing message provides the sort of inspiration that our churches need to hear:
Youth work in churches is missional. Young people are continually serving their communities. They understand that this is a vital part of the discipleship deal, rather than a fun summer extra. This engagement with their friends and community is breaking their hearts and forcing them to their knees. It is also highlighting where broken lives are a product of a broken society, so action is required not simply to mend individual lives but to mend the context in which they attempt to grow.
Young people are at the leading edge of an eschatological shift that has spread to the whole church. They see themselves as partners in God’s restoration and redemption of all things. They see themselves as agents of the kingdom in the here and now. At youth gatherings they are commissioned to bring heaven on earth, rather than cajoled into buying an escape ticket for heaven. They are ruthless in their desire for justice and righteousness to burst forth in schools, supermarkets, youth clubs and the internet. They refuse the old ‘either/or’ of denominational and ecclesiological boundaries in favour of ‘both/and’. They are just as comfortable lobbying a supermarket to stock fairly traded goods as they are praying for miraculous healings in the aisles of the same supermarket. They are just as comfortable speaking in the town hall as a local councillor as they are speaking in tongues in a brightly coloured prayer room.
Thus local Conservatives, Liberal Democrat and Labour branches are flooded with young Christians who always hold the kingdom above any political ideology, yet realise they need to find a common cause, to engage and debate. They are building relationships that don’t allow them to be pigeon-holed as ‘crazy people’. They are listening and learning. They are serving and giving. they are blessing new friends, surprising them with gifts of fairly traded chocolate. They are invaluable because they turn up on time for meetings and they do what they say they will do before the next meeting. People can see the evidence of ‘the yeast working through the dough’ (see Matt 13:33) because there is a renewed integrity and enthusiasm about politics. They refuse to make politics about personality, or abuse people just because they are from ‘the other side’. They campaign and make their case on the doorstep with a smile and a listening ear, This exposure to the reality of people’s lives breaks their hearts and inspires much prayer as they walk around estates and suburbs.
It is as normal for a Christian young person to be pursuing a life in politics, as it is for them to aspire to be a worship leader. This calling is being affirmed and given space to grow. People are astounded that MPs are giving away so much of their money to good causes. The days when they were claiming expenses for garden gnomes are long forgotten.
Worldwide attention is focused on Westminster because MPs are being miraculously healed in the corridors of power and legislation that ‘Speak[s] up for those who cannot speak for themselves (Prov 31:8) is being enacted.
Looking back, the twenty-somethings of the ‘roaring twenties’ realise that everything shifted when young people were encouraged to see politics as mission. When they put politics in the ‘mission’ part of their brains and hearts, they started to understand. In the same way that they would encourage, pray for, emulate, visit and support a ‘missionary’, they began to act like that towards those whose mission field was politics. It also changed when politics was presented as something exciting, countercultural and subversive, rather than the maintenance of the Establishment; just people serving people, rather than themselves.
There is little doubt that our political system is not functioning as effectively as it could or should. When there is a belief that things can be better, and a vision that Christians are able to latch on to and act upon, then things can and will be made better. We need to Show Up, but, more importantly, we need to pray that God would instil a vision of hope for our politics that will cause His people to act with purpose and passion for the sake of this country and all those who live in it.