If you live in the UK, it can hardly have escaped your notice that there’s a general election coming up. As usual, all the parties are lining up to explain why their plan is the best for the country (or, more often, why everyone else’s plan is the worst).
Committed, reasonable, Bible-believing Christians can be found working in, standing for election in and voting for all the main parties, and many of the smaller ones, too. Unlike the US, we don’t have a system in which the two main parties are so polarised on moral issues that most Christians would feel drawn to one side over the other.
For us, politics is not so much about who is going to pursue our idea of ‘the good’, but how they are going to achieve the things which they (and we) have already decided are good.
All the parties seem to want a strong economy (supported by booming industry and invention), world-class education and healthcare, 100% employment, 0% poverty and a nation full of happy, committed citizens going about their business in a peaceable way.
Scratch below the surface and we’d no doubt find they also wanted a world-renowned film industry; success in the Olympics, the football World Cup and the Eurovision song contest; Nobel prizes for science and literature…and probably world peace, too.
In short, we pretty much all have the same vision of what success looks like – it’s just how we get there that we’re quibbling over.
The Westminster 2010 Declaration, launched on Easter Sunday by an illustrious group of signatories from across the spectrum of Christian denominations and party affiliations, is an attempt to communicate to the parties that while their desired ends may all be perfectly acceptable, the means to achieving those ends are not. There are some issues on which Christians will not compromise our stance, even if you have a good goal in mind.
Human life, marriage and freedom of conscience are the issues they picked. There are many more things which the Bible teaches and which no doubt could have been chosen, but in a world where Christians are often known more for their disunity than for their love, perhaps keeping it simple and basic was the most effective way to create unity.
That said, it’s a challenging document. Signatories are not simply saying ‘we think these things are important’ or even ‘we’re committed to worrying/ praying/talking about these issues’, but something much more real and active:
As UK citizens we affirm our Christian commitment both to exercise social responsibility in working for the common good and also to be subject to all governing authorities and obey them except when they require us to act unjustly.
Each section contains a commitment to participate in some way in protecting the vulnerable, supporting marriage and ensuring justice and fairness in our laws. How many of the signatories can actually be counted on to even remember this in six months’ time, let alone act on it?
How many will even be able to say they have kept to the first line: “We commit ourselves to worship, honour and obey God”? It’s a tall order, and one of which my life, even just today, would fall far short.
It’s a goal worth shooting for, but I’m going to think long and hard before signing it, because a declaration signed by millions of people who never follow through is worth far less than one signed by just a few thousand deeply committed individuals, living out their faith with active devotion in these areas.
We all want God’s will to be done on earth, but appending my name to a pledge I can’t hope to live up to will not achieve that end.