A strange way to open an article about Christians and politics, maybe, but it must be said.
I have a bad track record when it comes to this subject. ‘Bad’ is actually a bit of an understatement. I might be said to be an opinionated chap: annoying for some, no doubt, but God has seemingly not given up on me. When it comes to politics (and several other things) it's like I've been through one of those old washing mills. He’s taught me some of what it means to be gentle and tender-hearted, to avoid foolish controversies, to rejoice always, to walk as Christ walked. That’s not to say I’m perfect; I’m most definitely not. I’m just a sinner saved by grace. Just five years ago, however, I behaved like a total jerk around the time of the last UK General Election. (See here, and here, and here.) And I’m genuinely sorry for that.
If you knew me at the time and I hurt you, or annoyed you, if I seemed judgemental or arrogant or short-tempered with you, I’m sorry. I can only ask for your forgiveness. As I’ll go on to say in this piece: I should have tempered that zeal with the awareness that I’m an alien here. What happens politically still matters hugely, but it also matters very little - all at the same time. I suppose I hadn’t really digested that. (Or maybe I was desperately trying to undigest it?)
I don’t want to turn the blog into a confessional but in order to proceed with even a semblance of integrity, I literally need to confess - to you the reader - that I got this politics thing badly wrong in the past, that this came at a cost, that I idolised it and abused it, and that I’m sorry. Of course I might well be getting it wrong now. But by the grace of God (as well as some painful trial & error), I’ve learned a few lessons about the Christian’s relationship with politics. They’re not perfect; they’re not necessarily straightforward. But perhaps they’ll prove helpful as we walk this difficult path, together, fraught as it is with hard choices.
 Remember: The Poor Exist (make sure your vote reflects this)
As you consider which party to vote for, keep in mind God’s bias towards the poor. Much has been written and spoken about this by far more qualified persons than me, but it bears repeating. There have been some valid cautions issued concerning the ‘social Gospel’ but we should ignore this for the moment. Let’s just heed the thundering witness of God through the Scriptures: that “pure and undefiled” religion is defined by Him as one that visits the needy in their affliction [James 1:27]; that Paul’s apostolic charge - the very thing he was “eager” to fulfil - was to “remember the poor” [Gal 2:10]; that the Holy Law of God commands care and compassion for foreigners [Exo 22:21, 23:9], to “open wide your hand” to the needy and the poor [Deut 15:11]; that Jesus sought out the impoverished and the destitute, because after all, “those who are well have no need of a physician” [Mark 2:17].
Several studies have suggested that the more seriously one takes the Bible the more attention one is likely to pay to this mandate, to care for the poor and to campaign for the helpless. Ignore for now whether this sounds ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’. (We’ll address those terms later.) Focus for the moment on what the God of all creation demands of His people - and in this, He would ask us to be a compassionate and observant people. We should find it difficult to support a party whose policies do not fall in line with this heavenly priority.
 Remember: God Exists (don’t reduce the Gospel to charity alone)
Sharing God’s bias towards the poor is a good and even holy task - but it’s fair to say that it isn’t made too difficult for us. That’s not to say that it’s an easy vocation; it’s not. Championing the cause of the vulnerable can be tiring, unrewarding work; a job sometimes made more arduous by the machinations of government. No one can deny that. But... it’s still fair to suggest that of all the Church’s vocations, charitable work for “the least of these” is among the least offensive, the least hindered, the least embarrassing and the least disliked.
We’d do well to remember, then, that God exists. He’s not a fairytale, He’s not some big bearded guy in the sky, and He’s not a charity. This God who raised the True Man from the dead is also the Holy One - He created everything, and He’s coming back, not to create a charitable political party but to marry heaven to earth with justice & love, and establish a Kingdom that will never crumble.
The Church has rightly taken up the gauntlet of social justice in recent years. But to reduce the Gospel to this cause or to neglect any other Godly priority would be a massive mistake. After all, there are other things to consider as we prepare to cast our vote, other priorities that God would have us share and cherish and act upon. And I know it’ll make me sound like some foaming bigot or a puritanical nutcase to list them, but we must. We must mention that the deaths of countless innocent children in the womb is a travesty. We must not trample upon the way in which God designed man for woman so as to reflect the beauty of His Son’s marriage to the Church, all because of huge cultural pressure. It’s not even as if these are ‘competing’ priorities - the various aspects of God’s will are totally unified. We can advocate for the weak & vulnerable even as we expect the government to protect the proclamation of the Gospel in public (for example). The Church is as much a prophet as it is a wounded healer. And the prophet’s task is not always the most socially acceptable or commendable. We won’t get any medals, that’s for sure, but it’s still important.
The danger here, therefore, is that we simply forget. Sure, there’ll be some who will wildly disagree with my ‘ecclesiology’ or my ‘missiology’ or indeed my ‘theology of sexuality’. I’m not interested in them. I’m talking to you. I know that you care about all these things but sometimes struggle - as we all do - to keep them balanced. As we approach the election it’s not bad to have a passion for one thing more than another. But again: don’t forget. When considering who to lend your support to, don’t work as if God is just interested in one thing. Think and vote as if this crazy Holy God exists. We will inevitably have to make a difficult and imperfect decision. That’s ok; God knows that.
We don’t work to see Christ in government; we work so that the government sees Christ.
All of Him. In all of His compassion and love, as well as in His holiness and offensiveness, acting as His indignant prophets and wounded healers. So by all means let’s prize the charitable causes. But let’s champion those crazy ‘conservative’ ones too, because in doing so, we proclaim the whole counsel of God to government.
 Remember: Sin Exists (exercise discernment; look for the True King)
Most political platforms trade on optimism: the guarantee of work & bread; the large-scale redistribution of wealth; the undoing of an oppressive political or social class; the dismantling of an ancient patriarchy; the end of global poverty; the introduction of an Age of Reason; the promise of genuine social equality, etc. The political enterprise employs hope as its foundation. Every political ideology and every political party comes bearing ‘Good News’. A promise of restitution and rectification. The content of that message will vary, as might the intended beneficiaries. But it is the same across the board. If it weren’t so, politics would be as interesting and as important as fixing one’s boiler. The political process is so constructed because, like everything else in the created order, it is keenly aware that something’s wrong. As Paul says - we groan in hope (Rom 8). The politician therefore starts her journey from the same place as an evangelist: ‘something is wrong; this isn’t right; things are broken’.
It all gets a bit awkward, however, when we find that Jesus said the following: “The poor you will always have with you” [Matt 26:11]. Some have used this as a justification for ‘streamlining’ their approach to charity. That is both heinous and mistaken. Jesus is actually quoting the Torah - specifically, Deut 15:4-5. Instead of being an excuse for indifference, the statement was actually designed to inspire the Israelite to do more for the poor, not less. That said - we should still be able to see how this saying of Jesus could stick in the throat. Once again the politician trades on hope; the Labour Party even concludes its manifesto with the promise that their policies will “bring hope” to the nation. The Conservative Party offers a “better future” for you & your family. The Liberal Democrats pledge to deliver “opportunity” and “prosperity” for every single person in the UK. The Green Party say they want to realise a “culture of hope” and an “honest government” - a world in which we’re all getting by “pretty comfortably”. All of these promises ride the wave of more long-standing pledges, that we can “save the planet”, or “make poverty history” etc.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Jesus’ words might not be welcome: “The poor you will always have with you”. No, he’s not disapproving of working for those less fortunate. There’s no merit in that reading. And no, he’s not saying that poverty will literally always exist. The Word of God dances with the promise that sickness and death and weeping will eventually be no more (Rev 21). So why on earth is he saying this, then? Isn’t it career suicide for the so-called ‘Good Teacher’? Doesn’t he know that Gandhi and Mother Teresa and all those other Icons of Morality would disapprove? What is Jesus doing?!
Quite simply, Jesus is forcing us to remember that sin exists.
We will not save the planet and we will not make poverty history. We will not bring about world peace and we will not wipe out violence or discrimination. We will not enjoy a ‘culture of hope’, nor will a political party ‘bring hope’ to this nation. All of this is hubris - a mere “striving after wind” [Ecc 1:14]. Why? Because this time of suffering and disorder is not ‘accidental’. It’s not as if God one day woke to a world in ruins and tasked humanity with making everything ok again. To the contrary - we’re told that creation has been subjected to futility [Rom 8]. We’re told that we are to suffer “a little while”, only afterwards to enjoy the restoration of all things [1 Pet 5:10]. We’re told that there isn’t a single person who is righteous, that human beings are “swift to shed blood”, that we haven’t a clue about “the way of peace”, and that we’re given over to “bitterness” [Rom 3:11-18].
As Christians preparing to cast our vote, we must strive to hold several truths in tension. It is right (as we argued above) to fight for a government that is maximally concerned for the poor & vulnerable. And yet - at the same - we must exercise discernment. We cannot afford to get swept up in utopian rhetoric. No party can make things right; no politician can correct the futility of creation. Even the best political initiatives will eventually crumble into history. All kings will cast their crowns - save one, the True King, who will return to make all things new. Until then, He charges us with completing the good works prepared for us in the annals of eternity [Eph 2:10].
 Remember: Jesus Owns You (check your treasure)
Paul elsewhere describes how we are not our own, but rather belong to Christ, for he bought and ransomed us at such a great cost to himself [1 Cor 6:19-20]. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians we read how we are in fact citizens of heaven. We not only don’t belong to ourselves, but we don’t even truly belong here. This should leave no room for nationalism, nor for jingoism or an unbridled patriotism. Our passports were issued on the Holy Hill, in the Great City of our God; the perfection of beauty. In the words of the Psalmist: “Remember Mount Zion, where you have dwelt” [Ps 74:2].
We’re here, but not here.
We’re British, but not British.
We’re indigenous, but we’re also foreign.
We’re subject to the law, but bow to Christ alone.
However - if all that is actually true, why do we speak as if the here & now is all that matters? Why do our Facebook + Twitter posts betray a passionate zeal for our chosen party, as if the safety of this country literally depends on their election to government? Why do we publicly denigrate & demean those currently in office, as if we had never read (or simply don’t care about) Col 3:12-17 or Rom 13:1-7? Put simply: why does it seem like we pay fealty, not to Christ, but to a man-made soapbox?
Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” [Matt 6:21]. Check your treasure during this election. Keep checking it, for sin stands at the door ready to tempt and consume [Gen 4:7]. All right, fine - yes, I’m aware how pious this all must sound. But I say it because it’s true. Trust me, I know - I stumbled over this hurdle many, many times (as highlighted in the introduction above). It’s far too easy to convince oneself that this fleeting political drama is the be-all and end-all, or even that it’s a positively righteous task. Getting involved in politics is important - but it’s not that important. Our passport bears a foreign stamp. Let’s strive, therefore, to show the world that our treasure is indeed found in that ‘far-away country’! (For more on this theme, take a look at this snippet from Piper.)
 Remember: Jesus Annoyed Everyone (reject the culture wars)
If you ever feel like ruining your afternoon try searching Google for two different results: first search for “Jesus was a liberal”; next, search for “Jesus was a conservative”. It’s all fairly obnoxious, huh? (And in the name of all that’s good & pure, please - don’t look at the videos!!) As nasty as those search results might be, they confront us with something worth addressing. I’m talking about the so-called ‘culture wars’ - the long-standing conflict between conservatives and liberals, the bitter struggle for a nation’s identity. This may be more pronounced over the pond than here in the UK, but it holds an increasing amount of traction. Even a cursory glance at the news reveals a plethora of articles dedicated to this very subject: at The New Republic - America Will Never Move Beyond the Culture Wars; at the BBC - The ‘Culture War’ of Gay Conversion Therapy; at the Australian Financial Review - World War 1 Turns Into a Culture War; at RedState - The Culture War Goes to Church; and finally, over at The Guardian - Gay Marriage Is Ready to be Legal, The Culture War Is Far From Over.
We must be crystal clear here: whilst it might be good to campaign for a specific cause associated with a ‘Culture War’ (e.g. opposing abortion; the importance of marriage; the role of the family etc), the concept in itself is heinous and we should have nothing to do with it. Why? Partly because of what we said above about our heavenly citizenship: we’re not asked to fight for a ‘nation’s identity’ (whatever that means); that’s not at all what Jesus bought us for. Also partly because the ‘culture wars’ are concerned with power, control and dominance: this has nothing to do with the God whose strength is made perfect in weakness. However, the main reason why we should reject this notion of a conflict between conservatism + liberalism (and perhaps the dichotomy itself) is that Jesus annoyed absolutely everyone. The left-leaning individual will become furious upon discovering that Jesus said stuff like “whoever does not believe is condemned already” [John 3:18], whereas the right-leaning man should probably be frustrated & challenged by him because he prioritised the poor as well as passive resistance. There’s certainly no way one could seriously pledge allegiance to this Jesus one moment, only to advocate an unyielding brand of capitalism the next.
So if you’re wondering what the Christian’s place in politics should be, reflect on Jesus’ example. The one discipled in the way of Christ will likely annoy liberal & conservative alike. Followers of the Way do not easily fit one political label - after all, ours is a Gospel that challenges the authorities, that fights against the spiritual forces in the heavenly places [Eph 6:12]. It never conforms - it always confronts!
 Remember: Jesus Is Lord Over The State, Not A Lord Of The State
(run from ‘Christian politics’)
In 1934 a group of confessing pastors and theologians composed ‘the Barmen Declaration’, a confession of faith that emerged within the context of the Third Reich. Although its authors did not mention Hitler by name, the Church’s relationship with the State was one of their primary interests. The horrors of the Nazi administration had only just began to reveal themselves, but the capitulation of the German Church was becoming increasingly obvious, as was the surrendering of its Christ-given mission & identity. The Barmen Declaration makes for both dramatic and tragic reading. Among its many memorable articles, we should highlight 8.27: “We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes and plans”.
Praise God - we don’t currently suffer anything like what these pastors endured. They were forced to witness the Reichskirche submit itself to Nazi interests. They had to watch as YHWH’s name was erased from Protestant Churches and as the sacraments of Jesus were withheld from non-Aryans. All because Christian identity was folded within a prevailing political one. Again, we should be thankful that we don’t suffer any of this today. But that doesn’t mean the ‘germ’ of such an approach has vanished. For example, we see that it’s still around when former-BNP leader Nick Griffin, having been invited on a Christian TV show, declares that he is actually a Christian, all for political gain; when UKIP leader Nigel Farage declares to the European parliament that “we must stand up for Judeo-Christian values”; and when the far-right group Britain First suggests that they are “keeping Britain Christian”.
I once had an older gentlemen in Church tell me - quite matter of fact - that “a vote against UKIP is a vote against God”. A tribalistic and peculiar suggestion but also one that smuggles the same minute germ so virulently opposed by the Confessing Church. When Christian identity is folded into a prevailing political one, when the interests of God Almighty are combined with man-made ideology, and when the ministry of the Lord is used to serve the priorities of a worldly lord - that’s when the wraith of the Reichskirche can be most keenly sensed. In the words of the Barmen Declaration, it is human arrogance that places the Word of the Lord in the service of arbitrarily chosen purposes and plans. For Jesus will force all kings, all powers and all principalities to cast their crowns at his feet. They will bow before him, either willingly or by subjection. He will not ‘compete’ for that, and he will not ‘cooperate’ for that. For He is the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings already. He does not require our help.
This is so much more a problem for the conservative Christian (although liberals are vulnerable too). It is too easily thought that because a party fights for whatever social agenda - be it gay marriage or whatever - this means they are the ‘Christian party’. They are not; they merely share a point of interest, quite possibly for political gain. Christians: run from Christian politics. Whilst it’s more than possible for a party to accomplish things in keeping with the Kingdom, be wary of any party that sets themselves up (in whatever fashion) as a Kingdom Party. Hitler did it explicitly and in the process massacred the Gospel. More modern groups are more subtle but no less mistaken.
 Remember: You’re A New Creation (so act like it)
You’re interested in politics, yes? I assume so. Why else would you be reading this. Let me also assume that you have - at some point during this election season - discussed your convictions or thoughts. Let me ask you another question.
What form did that discussion take?
We spoke above about how it’s strange to speak about the subject as if the country depended upon our interests coming to pass, as if God isn’t Sovereign and in full knowledge of who will ask the Queen’s permission to form a government next month, or as if the scriptures don’t require you to speak respectfully about those in authority. But now let’s consider how we should speak to one another. What kind of conversations we should be having. What form our political debates should take. What memory our friends or opponents should take away with them.
I shouldn’t need to tell you by now how badly I got this wrong in the past. And I shouldn’t need to lay this on too thick. If you’re a Christian with a desire to glorify Jesus in all that you do, I should only need to ask one question: what is the fruit of the Spirit? That last political debate on Facebook or that heated discussion over dinner, did you exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, or self-control? [Gal 5:22] Were you tenderhearted & forgiving, just as God has forgiven you? [Eph 4:32] Were you humble and meek, patient and eager for unity? [Col 3:12-14]
Take it from someone who has gotten this badly, badly wrong - there is no excuse here. You can’t preach biblical values like social justice or holiness in society, only then to deny your union with Christ with your tongue (or fingertips). If you find that you can’t ‘do’ politics in keeping with these biblical commands, then perhaps you shouldn’t be ‘doing’ politics at all.
 Remember: You’re Not On Your Own (it’s not Just Your burden)
Believe it or not, we aren’t the first humans to have existed. Plus - and I know this will come as a real shock, but - ours isn’t even the first generation of believers. We have (in the words of Scripture) a great cloud of witnesses, the Church triumphant, egging us on - encouraging us on toward the goal, bestowing to us their own lessons learned through the annals of history. You don’t have to do this alone. There really isn’t anything new under the sun. The Church has dealt with political issues for thousands of years, sometimes badly and sometimes well. There are mistakes on record to learn from as well as virtues to be imitated.
Also - and this one will really knock you for six - there are other Christians alive and kicking about. The Church militant is full of wise and experienced people, encouraging you to get involved in the political system. They too have made mistakes and learned from them. God has only recently taught them what to do, and what not to do, and they’re more than willing to talk to you about it.
This point is a short one - I’d simply encourage us to open our eyes. There are resources out there, both ancient and modern. Plus, the Scriptures tell us that if anyone lacks wisdom, we must only ask God, “who gives generously to all without reproach” [James 1:5]. There really isn’t any reason to be morose and downhearted. We have 2000 years of historical involvement with politics to learn from; we’ve got numerous men & women who are already skilled in the political arena; and we have a God, who gives wisdom freely, who delights in equipping us for the task.
We were never meant to be lone rangers. Thank God.
 Remember: You’ve Got An Amazing Sun-Tan
That we live in an advanced 21st Century society, replete not just with technological marvels & means of comfort but also with numerous political privileges, is absolutely amazing. We seriously don’t know how good we’ve got it, either from the perspective of history or simply in the light of global poverty.
By the grace of God - you (yes you) have a wonderful sun tan. You bear the marks of his common grace. He has shined on you the privileges of democracy. For you not to exercise those privileges -or worse, to not be ‘bothered’ about the political comfort he has afforded you with - is criminal. You can exercise that comfort for others, for good, for His Kingdom purposes. You could prove to be His sovereign means, just like Wilberforce or MLK.
So yes, you do indeed have an amazing tan. Good for you.
Now do something about it.
And rest a little, yeah? God isn’t going to be surprised by any election result or referenda. He has already sovereignly decided what will and won't come to pass. So take some time to rest in his providence. For, in the words of the Heidelberg Catechism, God “upholds heaven and earth and all creatures, and so governs them that fruitful and barren years, indeed all things, come to us not by chance but by His Fatherly hand” [27.A].