I was talking with the St Paul’s Boys School, Christian Union, on Sunday afternoon. They are a great bunch of young people and I always come away from our encounters filled with hope for the church. They are deeply concerned for our world, its environment and its people and use their faith to inform their thinking and action, as I said these encounters and encouraging and hope filled.
For many people, including some Christians, politics and religion must be kept apart. As well as it being the unwritten rule of a fight free night down the boozer. Because people argue, politics deals with our outward human relationships and religion deals the relationship of our spirit to God, both deeply personal. Yet, I believe the bible makes no such distinction, but portrays the Way of God as permeating and some would say governing, every aspect of our life. If politics is the agreement of people to be controlled by others then we have been involved in politics since the third chapter of Genesis, here God tells Eve “Your husband… shall rule over you.” (3:16) The first two chapters offer us a vision of some kind of bliss, humans are given permission to rule over the earth by God as co-workers under his direction, but not other humans, however, it all comes crashing down when Eve eats of the forbidden fruit. Oh dear, it’s always the woman’s fault!
Democracy by contrast, had a slightly more problematic birth, not everybody was keen to extend the franchise as it was though this would undermine God’s authority and place into human hands that which properly belonged to God. The Lord’s Spiritual (Anglican diocesan bishops) weren’t too happy with the Great Reform Act, a few smashed episcopal palace windows and the odd overturned episcopal coach caused a reluctant, but inevitable episcopal rethink! However, the pressure to change came much earlier when William Tindale, who was no democrat, (see his book “The Obedience of a Christian man”) and his followers translated the bible into the vernacular. Pressure to extend the franchise to the humblest man was an unintended, but logical, consequence of this translation. If people were now competent to decide for themselves their eternal salvation, as this new evangelical theology asserted – (justification by faith alone), then they were competent to judge who should be involved in the formation of the nations laws. What ever our history, the extension of the franchise was hard fought, it is our duty to vote, see you in the polling station.
Psephologists and political historians will be chewing over the finer details of Thursday’s General Election for many years to come. There will be countless PhD’s devoted to the minutiae of the election and there will be any number of surprises as the results come filtering in. Some big names will be decapitated politically, and constitutionally – depending on the result – we could well find ourselves in uncharted waters. I love elections and am a bit of a political geek. It was a great joy to discover that my first wife’s father was an MP and he used to take me onto the terrace of the House of Commons for the odd social libation. Once the great Frank Dobson MP was on the terrace and he lifted his drink to a passing tourist boat and shouted out “And it’s all free!”
I suspect Jesus would strongly encourage us to vote, to make a difference, to exercise our democratic right to choose a government. To elect people to govern us who will strive to make our society fairer, more inclusive and more generous. A society too, that educates it’s children properly, that looks after the sick and respects the elderly. Immigration is a hot topic this election and UKIP is predicted to return some MP’s to the Commons. Keeping people out of this country is basically a way of saying that they’re not welcome. Or to put it another way that there is no room in the inn. Next time you head out for a Chinese meal, have a Polish builder fix your fence, see a Filipino nanny playing with children in the park, have your teeth fixed by an Indian dentist or your car repaired by an Australian mechanic give thanks for the very many gifts and skills that have entered this country. How we treat others counts. It marks us out. It differentiates us. As Matthew reminds us “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me”. These are strong and inspiring words to guide us. Our new MP’s could do a lot worse than have them on their desks.
With every blessing,