So here we are facing a snap General Election just two years after the last General Election and one year after Brexit. How should a local church respond to an election? Here are some thoughts
1. We serve a higher King and a greater purpose. Pastors, elders and church members will have their own political views and feel passionate about them. Don’t be embarrassed by that, we live here in the real world just as much as anyone else. We will have a vote on June 8th. However, although we will be passionate about particular political issues, we should be even more passionate about the Gospel. Don’t get so locked into election politics that you make that the dividing line. If our church is known as being a place for Conservative or Labour supporters, Brexiteers or Remainers, then we have put a barrier, a stumbling block up that is not the Cross.
2. Which brings me on to the second point. Don’t make assumptions about what people are thinking and how they are feeling. Last year when the Referendum result came in, we had many people in our church and immediate community who were devastated by it. The temptation was to go into a Sunday service with a funeral atmosphere. However that would have been confusing to others. Just a short walk away from our building, the political mood was different. UKIP and Brexit posters dominated and people were in celebratory mood. Similarly, when it comes to the General Election, our building is in Warley constituency, solid Labour but the bordering constituency, Edgbaston will be one of the Conservatives’ top targets. Even when a constituency is predominantly one party or the other, it doesn’t mean that people who live there will uniformally share the same views. However, people tend to be polite. It’s still not the done thing to argue about politics and so, if one view is pushed strongly and with conviction, others are likely to stay silent and acquiesce. We can assume that a group is in agreement when we speak first and speak passionately. Take time to listen to others, give them the chance to explain their position. Give them freedom to tell you what they believe without fear of rejection. Find out why they hold the views they do. Because…
3. Our political views come with prejudices. We make tribal assumptions against those we disagree with. People may well support particular parties or policies out of selfish reasons. They may also hold their views out of strong convictions for what they believe to be right, fair and just.
4. I strongly believe that church leaders should not be in the business of telling members how to vote or even whether to vote. That’s because each party has its weaknesses and strengths. It’s also because Christians hold genuinely different views about economics, foreign affairs and social policy. They do so not because some are unloving or less obedient to God’s word but because they disagree about how best to show compassion and act in obedience. However I do think that we can and should challenge each other about our motives and priorities. We will be tempted to vote out of selfish motives over the next few weeks. Politicians will design their messages to appeal to our baser instincts. At times, emotions will be stoked up at the expense of wisdom. At those times we will need to call each other back to God’s Word and to his wisdom.
5. Keep perspective throughout. Some big things are at stake in this election. Don’t downplay that. These include the type of Brexit settlement we will negotiate, the future of a variety of public services, how we treat immigrants and assylum seekers and even possibly the survival of some of our political movements. These things are important but not of greatest importance. On June 9th, many things may have changed but one thing will remain. God will still be sovereign and the Gospel will be our only hope.