Posts Tagged ‘Declaration of Christian Conscience’

General Election called, and the Westminster 2010 declaration

April 6, 2010

In case you missed it, the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has just called a General Election for the 6th May. David Cameron is probably right to say that this is one of the most important elections of our generation in terms of deciding the future direction of our government. So I’d encourage everyone to vote, and to consider carefully who they vote for. If you haven’t registered to vote yet, you can download a form from http://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk and then post it in to the address on your form. They need to be received on or before the 20th April, so you have just under two weeks to register.

Some Christians I know are a bit ambivalent about whether Christians should get involved in politics. Shouldn’t we be more concerned with the Kingdom of God than the kings of this age? To be sure, I agree that the two aren’t the same, but I think Christians should take an interest in politics and, if they have it, should exercise their right to vote. The New Testament calls on us to pray for those in authority, that they may do their jobs well and justly – and in praying for good and just rulers, are we not also bound in a democracy to do what we can to vote for those who will be good and just rulers?

Lutz Pohle, in a book on the interpretation of Romans 13 in 20th-century Germany (Die Christen und Der Staat Nach Römer 13: Eine typologische Untersuchung der neueren deutschsprachigen Schriftauslegung [Mainz: Matthias-Grünewald-Verlag, 1985]), suggests some reasons why Christians should view politics as significant, even if the significance is ultimately temporary and limited:

The government is significant because it can affect the witness of the Christian in the world, and their ability to share their faith: “it can permit and make possible, even promote it, or it can attack it, hinder it and suppress it.” (p.11)

Second, Jesus’ “Render to Caesar” saying (Mark 12:17) recognizes a place for legitimate political/earthly power, which is in itself not irreducibly and in principle opposed to the Word of God (p.12). However relative and limited the good that can be achieved by governments, it is still good and as such an object of interest to the Christians.

One need not, then, accuse Christians who seek to promote the good by involvement in politics of confusing the Kingdom of God with the kingdoms of this age, nor of being “Neo-Constantinians” or “theocrats” (though such ideologies do certainly exist!). Equally, since we are dealing with the murky and temporary world of politics, with relative goods and shades of grey, one need not agree with every single policy of a party or candidate in order to vote for them – it is permissible to vote for the “lesser of two (or three, or four…) evils”.

With that in mind, I’d like to commend something I’ve signed called the “Westminster 2010 Declaration of Christian Conscience”, which calls on all parliamentary candidates (and so, all of our next MPs) to ‘respect, uphold and protect the right of Christians to hold and express Christian beliefs and act according to Christian conscience’. This is something that is going to become increasingly important for Christians in many professions – doctors and nurses and other medical staff who are concerned about abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide; teachers and school staff who face aggressive secularization of state schools, and many others who are concerned about the possibility of laws being passed which will require them to act against their conscience.  

This isn’t just special pleading by Christians. It isn’t about making Britain a “Christian nation”. It’s not partisan or denominational either. It’s about highlighting some important areas of concern to Christians, and, perhaps, opening up discussion on where exactly conscience and religious freedom fit into the competing hierarchy of “rights” which UK and EU law have established. Or, better yet, on whether these “rights” are a good or possible basis for law and justice in a pluralist society (They’re not – but that’s a topic for another post!).

But the declaration also pledges that its signatories will themselves refuse to act in unjust or immoral ways, even if commanded to by law. So there is an issue of civil disobedience. I don’t think this is wrong for Christians when the law calls upon them to do things that are wrong (cf. Acts 5:29) and that calls to civil obedience (e.g. in Romans 13:1-7) do not rule this option out. But consider it carefully before signing it, because it is a big deal.

Hopefully, this will make an impact on the candidates who are elected. And hopefully, our prayers for good and just rulers will be answered, whatever the results of the general election.