Mark Fairweather Tall
Faith and Politics
Comedian Sandi Toksvig recently quit her role as presenter of the BBC Radio 4’s topical comedy gameshow, ‘The News Quiz.’ She explained her decision in this way: “I have made jokes over and over again about politics and, do you know, this election I’ve had enough. And I have decided that instead of making jokes about it, I need to participate.”
And reflecting on this, I echo the same sentiment, “I need to participate.” I don’t mean that I wish to do as she has done and set up a new political party. However, I do believe that as a Christian I have a responsibility to participate in the politics of our nation – I need to participate. Let me explain some more.
One of the most often quoted portions of Scripture at election time is Romans 13:1-7where Paul says: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (v1 ESV) Paul is clear that the governing authorities are established by God and that we should voluntarily submit ourselves to them. To rebel against them is to rebel against God – a stark warning.
The fundamental principle of government is to bring order to community for the good of all. It is a God ordained role… In Genesis 1 we read that God created order when the earth was formless and empty. God created the conditions for people to survive and thrive. When He made human beings we read that: “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Genesis 1:28
So we see that God made people to be blessed and fruitful. He told them to rule and as the numbers of people have multiplied, this works out practically through government. In other words the governing authorities are there to increase the well-being, fruitfulness and blessing of all its citizens. This is a God-ordained role and we should therefore submit to the governing authorities, or to put it another way, seek to be good citizens.
How might we go about doing this?
1) We should give thanks to God for the privilege of democracy. We live at a time of cynicism and disappointment aimed at politics and politicians, leading people to disengage with the democratic process. However, although we might moan at times about the state of the health service, the benefit systems, an increasing pension age and so on and so on, there are millions throughout the world who would love to have access to the things that we do. We should balance our criticism with giving thanks to God and being appreciative of what we do have. This can encourage us to engage with politics and the governing authorities.
2) We should pray for our leaders. Another passage of Scripture often quoted at election time is from Paul’s first letter to Timothy: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions…” 1 Timothy 2:1-2a. Maybe I speak only for myself, but perhaps we need to pray more for our leaders. It shouldn’t be something that only happens on a five-year cycle but regularly throughout the year.
3) We should take responsibility. If the role of government is about organising society in a better way for all, this is clearly a point at which Christians should say, “I need to participate.” Time and again, over many years, we see that Christians have played a vital role in this. Today, whether it is through Foodbanks, debt advice, counselling, housing the homeless, providing meals, youth and children’s activities, parent and toddler groups and so on and so on, Christians provide a huge amount that benefits society. In taking part in this, we have the privilege of sharing in the work of Christ who came that people might have life in all its fullness. The church is established by God as well as the governing authorities. We can work together for the betterment of society. We need to take responsibility.
4) We should hold the government to account. Voting is one way in which we do this. The Evangelical Alliance recently carried out a survey of more than 2000 evangelical Christians. They found that 80% said that they were certain to vote – around double that of the national average. This is, perhaps, recognition of the belief that we have a responsibility to vote in order to express a Christian viewpoint.
It is interesting to note that the number of people who are members of the six most popular political parties is 562,800. The number of Christians in membership of churches across the country is 5,436,497. These figures show that Christians have the opportunity to make a difference. However, there is more to this than simply holding the government to account once every five years. Through such things as engaging with our local MPs, signing petitions and joining campaigns, we can make a difference in between elections as well.
5) We remember that the governing authorities are God’s servants. In the Romans 13 passage Paul says this about the authorities: “For he is God’s servant for your good.” V4. Clearly, God is the ultimate authority. This is important because there are times when governing authorities are so unjust they deliberately supress and harm citizens. For example, the persecuted church may be forbidden to meet together to praise God. The result of this is that while we voluntarily submit to the authorities when they are seeking increased fruitfulness and blessings for their citizens, things may change when they stop doing this.
When Jesus was asked the question about whether he should pay taxes he said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s”. But he also made it clear there is another area of submission when he said we should “give to God what is God’s.” And when the two come into conflict our greater responsibility is to God. That is why when Peter was told by the 1st century equivalent of MPs and Councillors, the High Priest and his associates: “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” His response was: “We must obey God rather than men!” Acts 5:28-29.
The authority of God is greater than the authority of government.
These reflections challenge me to reconsider how I engage with politics and mean that I know I should participate. There are times when I should be more thankful and more prayerful. I need to keep engaging with the political system outside of election time, doing my bit to help better the society which I am a part of. Ultimately, though, I remember that my loyalty and supreme authority is to one who is both in this world and beyond it. Praise God!