Should Christian leaders get involved in politics?

I recently posted a link on my Facebook page to a video featuring Ann Widdecombe at a Brexit Party rally and did so because I strongly agreed with what she said and wanted to share this with those who follow me, but it elicited the following response:

The leaders of the Baptist, Methodist, and United Reformed Churches have released the following statement on a ‘No Deal’ Brexit:

As Church leaders, we have chosen not to make political statements around Brexit. Members of the Churches we represent have in good conscience come to different conclusions; some voted remain and others voted to leave.

At present the risks that flow from an unplanned ‘No Deal’ Brexit endanger the poorest families in our nation and therefore we feel compelled to speak up.

As Christians we are called to demand justice for the millions locked in poverty. A No Deal Brexit risks tightening poverty’s grip on families up and down the country.

Over the past decade, our Churches have witnessed and responded to the slowly rising tide of hunger in the UK. A No Deal Brexit risks restricting the nation’s supply of food and increasing prices. This, alongside further cuts to benefits on Monday 8 April, could have grave consequences for many in our communities.

Many charities are warning us that food supplies to the most vulnerable are most at risk: hospitals, prisons and those reliant on surplus or donated food. Supplies of essential medicines are likely to be disrupted. Again the most vulnerable will be the least able to cope with this.

We urge that all possible efforts continue to be made to avoid an unplanned No Deal Brexit given the consequences for the most vulnerable in our society. Should the decision, or indecision, of political leaders, together with a lack of preparation, expose the poorest to these risks, it will be the responsibility of Government to ensure these families are protected.

We continue to pray for our politicians and for all who are experiencing poverty.”

It got me thinking about a question that has frequently been asked over the years “Should Christian leaders get involved in politics?” I confess my own posting could be construed as political, not that I was endorsing a particular politician or political party but was promoting ideas that are supported by some political parties but not by most of them. I feel part of my calling is to reflect on the world around me and wake people up to what is happening, for if not me then who? I also realize there is a danger of alienating the very people I need to reach and for it to be a distraction for Christian ministry. For that reason, when I do speak to Christians I urge caution and yet recognize there comes a time to speak.

When I became a Christians in my teens I was politically minded and could be classed as “far left”. I was dissuaded from doing so by my early mentors who argued that political involvement was a distraction not befitting for a Christian. Ironically these were not just conservative theologically but also politically, even though they did not admit to it. I later discovered those who were liberal theologically were often anti conservative politically and were less shy in saying so. I tended to adopt the position I was advised to take until much later on in my life, although I do not currently support any party. I do however voice strong views about certain issues that stir me and where politicians often take sides: Brexit, Trump, Islam, globalism, individual liberty and the LBGT agenda, to name but six, and this may bring me into conflict with fellow Christians.

A number of things hit me when I read the this letter that was signed by leaders of various mainstream denominations. I first felt their statement “we have chosen not to make political statements around Brexit” to be somewhat disingenuous as it seemed to me they were doing that very thing that would stop Brexit happening, but then read further and noted their prefix “unplanned”. I confess to being surprised at first at their primary reason for being anti “no deal” Brexit which was because if the UK left the EU without a deal, the poor would unduly suffer. I am not convinced this is so but recognize if that were the case it could be a good reason for taking that position and I recognise too the importance of planning. But I did feel given these leaders feelings on the matter, they should have spoken out when the negotiations were taking place and more pertinently when the government declared they would not be making contingency plans for a no deal Brexit? It is evident to me that the deal that was negotiated did not deliver on the EU Referendum result and since the EU were not prepared to agree for a different deal there is no other option but to leave without a deal.

As I have often observed Brexit (along with Trump) are two subjects that have sharply divided Christian leaders. Some believe that the EU is inherently evil and needs to be exited forthwith, and some believe quite the opposite. A sad result of this divide is that they do not come together or unite in much needed intercessory prayer for the nation. One then has to ask the question if it might have been better to have come to a neutral position and focus on more “Christian” matters. My response would be, while we should not be forcing people to support this or that candidate / party or insist on a particular view of what should happen next on a subject like Brexit, and should always to go back to the old adage contained in the meme, yet we cannot ignore our responsibilities as earthly citizens and can’t ignore political involvement. We are called to love our neighbour and it may mean engaging in the culture wars and in political participation. It may not only right to speak out but imperative providing it is coupled with grace and wisdom as well as humility we don’t know it all. We do so, not because we put our trust in man (our confidemce must only be in God) but we care for humanity and want what is best for our fellow man.

The old story of dire consequences when Christians did NOT speak out against evil as Hitler rose to power in 1930’s Germany is a salutary one. More recently, if Mark Taylor (the man who prophesied Trump would be President) is to be believed when he says the churches in USA could have fought the culture wars and won if they weren’t bought off with the 501c3 bribe that gave them tax exemption in exchange for not speaking out against wickedness when it could be construed as political, then we find history repeating itself as it generally does. The Hebrew prophets were quite clear when speaking unpalatable truth to power and often paid the price. One such was Jeremiah, who could be seen as political when he spoke about the issue of the day – the threat of Babylon to Judah. His unpopular counsel was to yield and we note the consequences when that was not followed. My point is, the church is meant to be a prophetic voice and requires speaking on the issues of the day when it touches on areas to do with truth, righteousness and justice. While I was first inclined to disagree with the writers of the letter quoted above, as I reflect more I see they raise valid concerns. On a subject like Brexit, matters such as the way we deal with the poor may be just as important as my theology on national sovereignty.

While I conclude some political involvement may be appropriate for a Christian leader providing certain checks and balances are applied, I believe their primary focus has to be to serve God and the people that God puts in their path, and that has to include practically doing good works and preaching the Word and when it comes to politicians, even the bad ones, we are called to pray for them.

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