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How should Christians do politics?

Author: Mark Harris, 17 June 2024

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Christian approaches to political engagement often fall into one of two camps: ‘distinctive’ or ‘engaged’. 

The ‘distinctives’ tend to be pessimistic about politics and say that the Church should stick to its priorities of evangelism and discipleship for eternity, rather than wasting energy in social action and politics in the present. But the Bible nowhere presents the Christian with such an either/or choice. Instead, it calls the Christian both to teach the gospel and love their neighbour. 

The creation mandate of Genesis 1.26–28 to look after the earth still stands alongside Jesus’ great commission to his followers in Matthew 28.19 to make disciples of all nations. Paul commands the Galatian church to do good to all people, beginning with those in the Church. And when Paul summarises the purpose of the Bible in 2 Timothy 3.15–16, he writes that it is to make us wise for salvation in Christ Jesus and to equip the Christian for every good work. All this stewarding the earth, loving neighbour, doing good to all people cannot avoid involvement in politics.

The ‘engaged’ on the other hand happily get immersed in politics but can often lose their Christian ‘distinctives’ in the process, accommodating to the prevailing culture in politics to keep a seat at the table and thereby losing the ability to offer anything distinctively ‘Christian’ in politics. Others argue that ‘we can’t impose our Christian morality on other people’. However, politics consists of a plurality of worldviews all seeking to promote a vision of the good human life. We must not forget that the foundational values of Western politics, such as freedom, justice, equality and dignity all come from the Bible, and we cannot take for granted that this will remain so in the future. Of course, wisdom is required in not simplistically cutting and pasting morality for Christians onto wider society, but if God has described in the Bible what the good human life looks like, why would we not want to offer this true and good vision for the good of all?

The Bible instead calls the Christian to ‘distinctive engagement’ in politics, where we get thoroughly engaged in politics, but with all the distinctive wisdom of the Bible. William Wilberforce was a great example of this. Throughout his lifetime as a Christian, he was at the forefront both of promoting the preaching of the gospel and teaching of the Bible to the world through the foundation and promotion of organisations such as the Church Mission Society and Bible Society. He also gave his political life to campaign for the abolition of the slave trade and slavery in the British Empire, a campaign which for him and many others was founded on the Bible’s teaching that all people are created equal in the image of God. 

What might ‘distinctive engagement’ in politics look like for Christians today? It will mean church leaders teaching their congregations the Bible’s dual call to preach the gospel and love our neighbour. It will mean all Christians prayerfully considering how they vote in local and national elections and whether they can join a political party to be a further influence for good. It might mean serving in the local community as a school governor or councillor. It might mean seeking to serve God and people in our national politics through election as an MP, working in government or supporting Christian organisations which promote policies for the common good across all areas of life. 

Many Christians have been elected as MPs in recent years and are already seeking to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in politics, supported by organisations such as Christians in Parliament and Christians in Politics.

Revd Mark Harris is Senior Parliamentary Officer for Bible Society and supports the work of the Christians in Parliament All-Party Parliamentary Group when Parliament is sitting.

Revd Mark Harris is Senior Parliamentary Officer for Bible Society and supports the work of the Christians in Parliament All-Party Parliamentary Group when Parliament is sitting.

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