Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Religion and Politics

Gordon Brown described it as "probably the worst-kept secret of recent years", he was talking of course about the announcement that the General Election will take place on Thursday May 6th.

If you were hoping for church to be a politics free zone, then for this Sunday at least, I am sorry to disappoint you.

This general election is one of the most important elections for many years, and it takes place at a very difficult period in our nation’s history. It is hard to think of a time when the standing of politicians has been at a lower ebb, especially after the expenses scandals. For the first time, politicians have dropped below journalists in terms of levels of public trust. 73% of the public think that politicians will not tell the truth, as opposed to 70% of journalists!

In addition Britain is only now slowly emerging from one of the worst recessions in living memory, and the country is facing unprecedented levels of national debt of £848.5 billion (that is 60% of National Gross Domestic Product), or to put it another way £24,508.12 per person in the UK.

Listening to the debates on radio and TV, and talking to people, it is clear that many people are uncertain about who to vote for in this forth coming election – myself included. We face the real possibility that we may end up with a hung parliament, which means our votes are more important than ever. And so today, I want to think about some of the issues we should consider when thinking about who to vote for in these elections which are due to take place in just over two weeks time.

But before I do that, I want to address a question that is often raised, is it right for politics and religion to mix? There may even be some people here today, who might feel that what I am discussing today is an inappropriate subject for church. So should politics and religion mix? Well the simple answer is yes! The Bible is clear that as Christians we have a strong social role to play in the world, and therefore we must be interested in politics. The Gospel and politics are inseparable. Jesus had a clear agenda in his first recorded sermon, in which he defined his mission as: preaching good news to the poor, proclaiming freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and release for the oppressed (Luke 4:18) – it is hard to think of a more political agenda than that. And ultimately Jesus went to the cross on a political charge. Politics is about everyday life and that is exactly the domain that the Gospel moves in. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “I am puzzled about which Bible people are reading when they say religion and politics don’t mix. If we as Christians want to be involved in the mission of Jesus in the world, then we will necessarily stray into the world of politics – it is unavoidable. So much of our everyday life and experience is massively impacted by politics. The fact that it affects us is why we can’t avoid it. But the fact that it affects others means we have a duty not to ignore it. This is why Bishops in Wales issued the following statement: “For Christians, voting at the time of elections is not only a privilege but a duty and we write to urge you to take this responsibility seriously.”

But what about elections, how should we vote and for whom? Well first of all, don’t worry I am not going to tell you who to vote for – that is something you must decide for yourself, but there are some issues that as Christians I believe it is important we consider when it comes to deciding who we want to vote for in the elections. This inevitably means we are going to have to do some homework.

In a general election there is always a question about whether we are voting for the candidate who we feel would make the best constituency MP, or the party that they represent. For those of us who live in the Walsall South Constituency, this is a particularly relevant question, as Bruce George, who has represented Walsall South since 1974, has just retired and in a few weeks time we will be getting a new MP. At a general election I think it is important that we look not just at what a candidate would be like on local issues, but consider the wider issues as well. For example many people there is a temptation to vote for the party that will best serve their own interests, but as Christians we need to focus on gospel values and consider the common good. How will the policies of the different parties meet the needs of the world and bring about a more just society?

This is just one of a number of important questions we need to consider, for example how would the different policies of the parties affect the weak and vulnerable in our society? What sort of society do they want to build, and how do those aims tie in with God’s aims. We need to consider what their views are on key issues such as the economy. How do they plan to deal with our current economic crisis? With public expenditure inevitably set to be reduced painfully in the next few years, how will it impact the most vulnerable people in our society? Other issues include child poverty, family life, marriage, the sanctity of life, freedom of speech and freedom of faith.

The overriding principle is that we place our cross on the voting paper in the same Spirit that Jesus carried and placed his cross deep in the earth, listening to his Father, in prayer, selflessly for those who were poor, and commending himself and those around to God.

This means that certain parties or individuals cannot be voted for. Parties who adopt policies that are racist – for example the BNP, that divide people against each other, and do not take into account the poorest in society cannot and should not be supported by Christians.

All of us are called as Christians to join in the debates taking place now on the nature of our society and what really matters. I hope that you will take the opportunity to attend the hustings that are being arranged, to meet and hear the candidates standing for election. In the Walsall South constituency the hustings are taking place on the Friday 23rd April at 7pm in Palfrey Community Centre and Wednesday 28th April at 8pm at St Mary’s The Mount on Glebe Street.

Finally we need to pray for all those who will be elected to represent us in Parliament. Paul writes “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour.” (1 Tim 2:1-3). Whether the party you vote for wins the election or not, we need to pray for all those in positions of leadership and authority, especially our Government as we face some very tough times ahead. We need to pray that God will give them wisdom and grace in all the decisions they make, and that through the decisions they make, it will help build a better society and better world for all God’s people.

Let us pray:

Lord of all,
rich and poor, young and old, the helpless and the helper,
we pray for those who are standing for election
and for all who will be voting in these challenging times.
Give them wisdom, insight and moral courage to act as you desire.
Guide their decisions, Lord, whether or not they acknowledge your guiding hand upon them.
As we receive news of policies made, actions taken,
may your eyes be ours as we read the press,
may your ears be ours as we hear the news,
may your reactions be ours as we process our thoughts.
Thank you Lord that we do have a role in decision making, when we bring our intercessions to you, whose government is perfect and without end.

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