I have recently been asked to explain who I am voting for in the UK general election in May and why, particularly within the context of my Christian faith. It was an interesting excercise to undertake, especially following a tweet I saw recently bemoaning how some Christians appear to talk more passionately about their political allegiances than about Christ. For me, however, the two are very closely intertwined. My faith in Christ and my reading of scripture have a massive influence on my political thinking.
Now, a quick word of comfort for you before you stop reading right now. This will not be one of those “12 reasons why Jesus was a socialist” or “Party X is the only one a true follower of Christ should vote for – and here’s why” pieces. There are far too many of those on the internet and I actually believe they’re all wrong, anyway. Jesus didn’t have a political principle in mind when he taught and he wasn’t minded to form the Galileean Labour Party either. He concentrated on bringing his father’s kingdom to Earth and on his ultimate sacrifice to save us from our own selfish natures.
What this is, though, is an explanation on why the way I have responded to Jesus’ teachings and sacrifice have largely shaped the way I think politically. Politics covers every area of our lives, as, if you have one, does a religious belief, so it’s almost impossible for one not to influence the other. When your faith is based around the most amazing grace imaginable, given by a perfect God to an undeserving world, you want to apply that to how you think the whole world should operate as well.
Grace is a wonderful concept which we sing about so much; Amazing Grace, Outrageous Grace, the triumphs of his grace, he rules the world with truth and grace; it is an integral part of our worship and the reason so many of us are drawn to God. However, it is all too easy to accept that grace for ourselves, but not to extend it to others. We only want to see welfare paid to the right kind of people, let the right sort of immigrants into our country, want to see the right sort of governments in other countries… that isn’t grace. In Matthew 25 Jesus didn’t talk about only feeding the hungry if they had a job, only welcoming strangers if they had the right skills. If we wish to reflect Jesus in our lives then we need to reflect his grace as well. It isn’t a licence to act as a doormat, letting everybody walk all over you and fleece you for every penny, but it is a call to open ourselves up to helping everybody in need. Everybody, whether we think they deserve it or not. Victimising the vulnerable for the ills in society or the economy, cutting their financial lifelines because “we’re all in this together” is not the way, in my opinion.
It’s not Jesus’ way.
Jesus healed the centurion’s servant because the centurion had faith that he could, not because the servant deserved to live. He healed the paralysed man on the mat because of the faith of his friends who lowered him through the roof, not because the man was too good a man to be in that situation. Jesus died on the cross because God loved the world so much that he sent his only son so that we wouldn’t die, but have live forever; he didn’t do it because we deserved it. He did it because we didn’t.
Jesus also, famously, told a rich man that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. This wasn’t because having money was a bad thing, but because of the relationship we can develop with money when we have it. Our society is centred around the capitalist ideal of wealth creation, but it is the creation of wealth for the sake of having money and being prosperous. Unfortunately, this means that money is the new god, desired and worshipped by so many that they lose sight of the one true God. The pursuit of material wealth for its own sake can be all consuming and leads to those with money storing it all up and not allowing the “trickle down” part of “trickle down economics”. So we all have to be aspirational; we aspire to a better job so we can get a bigger house or better car or more exciting holidays; satisfaction with your position is simply not acceptable. We even get politicians nowadays speaking out against those who don’t aspire to better themselves, at least in the way they deem to be acceptable.
As I said, having money itself is not a bad thing, but how you deal with it is important. We will always have the rich and the poor, but the rich need to realise that they have a responsibility to ensure that the poor are looked after. So, fair wages that people can actually live on, proper welfare, universal healthcare, fair taxation for all with the better off and corporations paying their fair share have all got to form a part of a fair economy which reflects the way the early Church shared their own money and the way Jesus taught us to support each other. In my opinion,anyway.
The way we treat our environment is important as well. Genesis tells us that God gave us dominion over the rest of the Earth, but this is not him giving us carte blanche to use all of the planet’s resources for our own ends without worrying about the consequences. When you are left in charge of something you have a duty of care, a responsibility to look after it. That is exactly what we haven’t been doing and are still not doing. We are poisoning the air that we breathe, polluting the waters we drink, shattering the earth beneath our feet and mistreating the animals we live alongside. To be somebody who stands up for the environment somehow leads to accusation of “tree-hugging” or putting plants ahead of people. The fact is that it is important that we look after the planet, partly because it’s the only one we have and partly because God has charged us with doing so.
So yes, I am very much on the left of the political spectrum. Yes, I am an environmentalist, politically. Yes, I am anti-capitalist. That’s all because of how I have taken the teachings of Jesus to heart. I also fully accept that, although I disagree with them, there are those on the right who have come to their conclusions also through reasons of faith. I cannot reconcile right-wing, capitalist or neo-liberal politics with Christianity myself, though. So I vote for left-wing parties in elections. I am now the member of a left-wing party and campaign for them because I believe that I am campaigning on issues compatible with my faith and that is why I am so passionate about them. No party will ever fully encompass my personal beliefs, but that’s because human beings are flawed and we will always be wrong about some things. All I can do is do what I think is right. That’s all any of us can do.