As soon as a General Election is announced, church leaders start asking what they can and should do during the campaign. There are two reasons for this. One is a desire to do good for the local community. The other is to help Christians have a voice.
One suggestion often made is that churches could host hustings for the candidates. I won’t be getting involved in hosting one myself. Here’s why.
I am a firm believer that Christians should engage in public life, this is one area where what we believe affects how we live. Watch out for a few articles about “public theology” over the next few weeks, I think we can and should do this without being party political.
But holding a hustings feels in effect like we are doing the politicians’ job for them. They have all the resources they need to communicate with people about their ideas and seek their support, money, party members, publications, broadcasting opportunities, social media etc. Why should we be using our time , precious Gospel preaching time to facilitate more communication from them?
I think there is a tendency at times for Government, Local Authorities and politicians to treat churches and charities as an extension of their work. They like to make lists of voluntary activities and gather data. Every so often I’m asked in quite bossy terms to fill in forms about what we do. When I ask why, I’m told that it is so they can make sure there’s a good share of resources and so they can point people to the right groups. The problem with that is that we are quite capable of communicating about what we offer and the local authority aren’ t in the habit of providing funding – nor do we ask them for it.
At the same time, we are increasingly made aware that whilst we are expected to do things for the community, our beliefs are not welcome. This General Election Campaign has already seen one party leader interrogated over his views about Bible teaching and one candidate has had to withdraw from the election. The message is clear, churches can run food banks, ESOL classes, youth clubs etc but if you believe what the Bible teaches, your input is not welcome in public life.
In that context, it is worth remembering that first, our primary responsibility as churches is to preach the Gospel and secondly Christians are already engaged in their communities, not to please politicians and not to get attention but because that is what they do. So there is a question of priorities here . What’s the best use of our time? I can’t help thinking that organising a hustings isn’t.