Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mixing God and politics (bit of a grumble)

Time for a bit of a winge (you were warned). Now that the labour leadership election is hotting up, I'm starting to hear quite a lot about it on Twitter, email, etc., probably reflecting the fact that a lot of the Anglican clergy are a bit left-leaning. Nothing wrong with that, I hasten to add, but I still want to renew my plea to Christian leaders to keep their political allegiances to themselves.

Why? It's not because politics and religion don't mix - they do. Christians ought to speak out about the big social issues of the day, and stand up to politicians when policy is wrong. The Church of England has a long and glorious tradition of irritating the heck out of Government by making the point that God does have a lot to say about politics. This, by and large, is a healthy thing (as long as we get our facts right, otherwise it's a bit embarrassing). Nor is my problem with Christians in general getting involved in politics. Party politics is an integral part of the democratic system, and anyone who wants to get in there and make a difference needs to join a party.

What makes me twitchy is when I hear people who are known publicly as Christian leaders - clergy, pastors, etc - promoting their political loyalties. And that's the nub of this: of course ministers should have political opinions, but should they have political allegiances? I would really prefer them not to, for two reasons:
One - it creates a clash of loyalties. It's very difficult to take that courageous stance against the government if you happen to be a member of their party. You could end up in a position where you have a prophetic critical witness one day, and the next day you go very quiet because your lot have got in. This is very seedy.

The second reason is what it does to your witness. The church is called to reach out to everybody, without exception (see previous post, and loads of posts before that). As ministers, we are the public face of that mission. I don't really see how I can really reach out to everyone if I'm simultaneously saying "vote David" or "vote Lib Dem", or whoever else. Doesn't that send out the signal that the gospel is only for the people who vote the way I do? I think it does. Just saying.

2 comments:

Stuart said...

I agree and have come to a similar conclusion myself, so all in all, it didn't seem that much of a winge to me.

Andii said...

I agree that the danger of losing an audience unnecessarily because they throw out the baby with the bathwater of ones political interpretation is a real one. On the other hand I think that losing the chance to show how Christian convictions con relate or even translate into political approaches is actually a chance to -well- witness to the gospel.

However, holding the tension between those two things is not an easy job. I'd rather that when speaking about matters political, Christians with representative credentials and kudos spoke with a little more modesty about their political conclusions. In specific: recognising that Christians of good faith may come to different positions because they may differ about priorities; speak of which core Christian convictions point them towards what principles in public life and policy.

In that sense I do agree that we should be wary of saying 'Vote for David...'. I'd rather we took an attitude of saying: these are gospel priorities as I see them; look at candidates and ask which best seem to be able to translate as many of those into public fact as possible.

Most of all, I think this all means that we should be opening up space/time in our congregations to consider 'public theology' as an ongoing matter of Christian formation.