A plea to my Christian friends: kingdom before politics

As I noted here, I am often surprised when church leaders refuse to identify their politics. It has always felt to me like an attempt to compartmentalise life such that Christ appears not to be Lord over our political decisions.

Some try to counteract this appearance, no doubt sincerely, by discussing political ‘issues’ without identifying which party they will support. This can be done well but often leads to vague discussion that doesn’t press too far down any given line in order to maintain the veneer of impartiality. When issues are discussed such that clear conclusions can be drawn, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how the writer will be voting. This then begs the question why they don’t just admit it?

In the worst cases, this attempt at Christian impartiality smacks of a high view of oneself and not a little sanctimony: I couldn’t possibly voice my view on whom I shall be voting for because it might just cause hordes of church members to follow suit and it wouldn’t be right to lead them to vote for a particular party just because I say so. It either speaks to great arrogance or very poorly of your teaching programme if you think your members hang on your every word and will vote the way you do simply because you expressed an opinion.

Whilst we should all avoid pronouncements such as ‘God says to vote for…’, ‘if you don’t vote for X then you haven’t understood scripture’ or ‘the Christian way to vote is…’ (each of those sentences inevitably ends in a lie), there is a world of difference between doing that and voicing your opinion as a church leader. Nobody should pressure anyone to vote a given way, but there is a world of difference between forcing your church members to vote with you (or making life unpleasant and uncomfortable if they don’t share your views) and simply acknowledging you will be voting a particular way.

One needn’t be a genius to figure out which way I am going to vote. I haven’t overtly said so, but it wouldn’t be hard to figure it out. I don’t expect the rest of my church to vote en masse for my preferred candidate simply because they know how I’m voting. Our members are big enough and independent enough to make up their own minds. I am not so conceited to believe my opinions carry much weight. In fact, I spend my life telling people my opinions mean nothing and they should only listen to me inasmuch as what I say faithfully represents God’s Word (the same applies to them too). So nobody cares who I’m voting for because they know it is an opinion I hold, not a mandate from God himself.

Nonetheless, the Word is clear about where our unity lies:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 12:12f:

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.13 For in one Spirit we were all baptised into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

Our unity does not lie in things political, but in Christ. We are made one body in Christ. We are joined together in him.

So however you vote today, remember to ‘maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond peace’ (Ephesians 4:3). This means putting the kingdom before our politics. We will have Christian brothers and sisters who voted Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem, Green, UKIP and potentially others. However much we disagree with their politics, let us disagree well. Good disagreement surely begins with remembering that we are one in Christ Jesus.

This doesn’t mean we cannot share our politics. It doesn’t mean we cannot discuss whom we voted for and why. It just means we are called to a unity that is higher and greater than political differences. We may vote different ways but on Sunday we will still come together and drink the same cup and remember the same death of Jesus. We will affirm our unity together as citizens of God’s kingdom despite whether we sit next to a UKIP, Green, Liberal Democrat, Labour or Conservative voter.

We can choose to fall out because, for the next five years, our government isn’t whom we prefer. Or, we can choose to remember that we are members of a better kingdom with a king to whom we all willingly submit. Let us talk, discuss, even debate our politics, but when we have, let us love one another as Christ has loved us and let us unite around his table as joyful, unified citizens of his kingdom.

4 comments

  1. Stephen – have you considered the possibility that it is the other way round. In my case, I wouldn’t say I’m secretive about political opinions but when writing and speaking publically I’m not just dealing with people who know me in context. So I doubt people will vote for party x because I say so. But I do think that some people I want to speak to about the Gospel or pastorally might find politics a barrier to that. I could say that we risk being arrogant if we think that our personalities and gifts can overcome those barriers once they are put up. So, maybe you know leaders who have different reasons but I’ve always heard the argument in terms of no stumbling block except the Gospel. Secondly I think there’s still a deeply rooted convention that our vote is between us and the ballot box. It’s a secret ballot and so equally I don’t expect to know how my friends and how church members are voting either. There is at times a level of authoritarianism in our society that demands to know all sorts of things it does not need to know. Thirdly, there have been times when I have not decided that I would definitely vote a particular way or indeed vote at all until quite late in the day. I made my final decision about Brexit on the day at the polling station. Fourthly, as I’ve suggested in my faithroots articles we are a long way out from thinking through a lot of these ethical issues properly and Biblically. So my aim in them has been to say “Let’s go back a stage. Forget the particular parties for the moment and think about your presuppositions.” Now, I think with a bit more time I’d probably like to follow through some of those presuppositions into the specific choices and decisions that people make. Fifthly because in many of our communities the party you vote for is not so much about the particular policies or even philosophy put forward in the manifesto or about the abilities of the leaders. Rather it is tribal and runs deeper than that. So if we headline with our voting intention then people are reacting to us emotionally not just intellectually. I don’t think there’s a hard and fast rule on whether you should say how you are voting. I would say “Think about your own context and what will best glorify God” There should be permission here. All I ask is that we don’t think the worst of each others’ motives. I agree with your conclusion that the primary issue is the Gospel.

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    1. I don’t think the worst of your motives, bro. I’m sure (as I noted) you’re very sincere about the position you take. I also agree with you that (a) we shouldn’t ‘headline’ with our politics (which I’ve not suggested we should) and (b) that there is permission here – I don’t think you *must* tell us your political affiliation (or non-affiliation as the case may be – which is a kind of affiliation of its own). Examining presuppositions is great and helping people think through choices is fine too. No issue with any of that.

      But it does seem that if we’re going to talk about politics, if we’re trying to help people form conclusions, then we have to press down lines far enough that conclusions can be drawn. Inevitably our disposition will come out or we will make such vague conclusions as to not be terribly valuable. That still doesn’t mean you necessarily have to say ‘…and thus I will vote for X’ (you will notice I haven’t done that anywhere), but it wouldn’t take much thought to figure out who X is for me.

      I just think we can often presume people think far more highly of our opinions than they really do. We can often think things are more of a stumbling block to the gospel than they are. Not many people refuse to be treated by a doctor or go to lessons by tutors who happen to support a party not of their liking. It strikes me as many people who may be put off because you dared to utter whom you voted for (without insisting they should follow suit) you’ll find folk put off because you seem closed off about it. I’m not sure the ‘it might put people off’ argument works when (a) we are supposed to be submitting all of our lives to the Lord, which includes our politics, (b) we are supposed to be sharing all of our lives with others, which presumably includes our politics, (c) we are asking people to open up to us about their deep-rooted sin and we expect them to do that when we are coy about how we vote, and (d) we surely mirror the gospel far better when we can say Tory, Lab, Lib, UKIP all sit together in our church, one in Christ, rather than ‘we keep our politics quiet in case we upset each other’.

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  2. Stephen, 1. You did make an assumption about why people don’t state their vote and accuse them of arrogance though ! 2. I think if you read my response and your follow up response together it might be striking that our nuanced positions are much closer than we might initially assume. For example in the more detailed follow up I would be saying my understanding of what the Bible says means I think this is the best way of doing x and that y is completely ruled out. Personally though I’d rather have the time to do that outside of elections -and that’s when we have done here. 3. There’s a wider discussion to be had about what it means to live our lives together and submitting all to the Lord I think!

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  3. Dave, you are inferring that position. My straight up observation (not assumption) is that ‘it has always felt to me like an attempt to compartmentalise life’. Nothing to do with arrogance here. I go on to note, immediately after my personal observation, that many sincerely try to counteract that appearance by discussing issues without aligning themselves. Again, no comment of arrogance and a clear view that some are sincerely trying to do what they think is helpful. I then note, ‘IN THE WORST CASES [emphasis added] this attempt at Christian impartiality smacks of a high view of oneself and not a little sanctimony’. Unless you class yourself as one of the worst cases, I’m not sure why you take issue with this (unless you’re denying that anyone exists who takes this stance because they’re being arrogant!)

    I at no point said people MUST identify whom they are voting for. Your third point, for example, is a wider discussion but I would argue is pertinent here. If we are closed off about m/any area of our life, how can we expect people to open up to us about the much more sensitive area of their personal sin? Certainly if we daren’t open up about less sensitive areas than that, for fear we might offend or lead people unhelpfully, what hope of confessing sin? Living life together, aren’t these things going to come out at least a little bit?

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