Opportunity amid the politics
Politicians on all sides want to hear from us as the General Election approaches. What should we be saying? By Robin Lane
A political marathon
The General Election is still some weeks away, yet politicians have already been campaigning for months. Knowing the date of the election well in advance, all the main parties started campaigning early and have made numerous policy announcements.
When many people in this country are tired of politics, this extended campaigning risks them becoming so weary of it by the day of the election that they will decide not to vote. And that risk is made greater by the increased number of influential political parties. There will be more manifestos to read and a more difficult choice to make.
Yet the UK is a country that faces many serious problems. So the way that it will be governed for the next five years is a very important matter.
A troubled society
Society in general in the UK has been troubled by much bad news in recent months. Reports of systematic sexual exploitation of young people over many years in Rotherham, Oxford, Sheffield and Rochdale, have revealed repeated failures by police and social workers. This problem is now known to be so widespread that the Prime Minister has proposed new laws to stop people covering it up.
Then there are the shocking revelations that have emerged in recent years about the abuse of elderly people in care homes – a problem that has prompted some families to resort to the use of hidden cameras in order to discover the real standard of care that their elderly relatives receive.
Then again there is the culture of covering-up poor practices that has been revealed at another NHS hospital this month, leading to the unnecessary deaths of a number of babies and one mother. Yet whistleblowers in the NHS still face long-term abuse and adversity; such that those who have reported problems find themselves unable to recommend that others do the same. The culture of covering-up mistakes continues in the NHS.
Large banks have reported paying massive fines for wrongdoing. Yet huge bonuses are still being paid to staff. Bankers have even resorted to calling them ‘allowances’ rather than ‘bonuses’ to get round EU legislation. The culture of greed in our banks has not changed, despite it being recognised as a cause of the financial crash.
Another recent report has revealed an increase in racial abuse at football matches. The culture of racial abuse at football grounds still exists despite years of having rules against it. And so the list of major problems goes on. There are cover-ups in police forces; the trafficking of people into slavery, an increase in drug-taking, etc. Residents in the UK live in a deeply troubled society.
How to respond?
So we face the question of how to respond to all these problems. Do we try to ignore all this bad news – perhaps turning to another TV channel or browsing a different website? Do we just complain about what is happening and wonder what the country is coming to? Do we sink into despair about it, or consider moving abroad? Or do we think that new government legislation is the answer; that we just need to get the right political party into government?
Christ calls us to be ‘salt and light’ in the world. We should make a difference by the way we live – the things we do. But we can also seek to have influence through the wisdom of God, which tells us that laws cannot change culture. The Bible teaches that no-one can be saved even by God’s law, because it was weakened by our sinful nature. The only one who can really change people, and hence change the culture, is God himself. Consequently, we know that the drive by recent governments to change society in the UK through new legislation, will simply not work.
Opportunity to witness
As we head into the main stage of the General Election campaign, we have a rare opportunity to communicate with politicians in this country. It is one of those brief periods of time when politicians pay more attention to the views of the people, because they want to win our votes.
So we can look for opportunities to explain to them that more legislation is not the answer. We need more encouragement of the work being done by Christians in communities around this country; work like that of the Trussell Trust in running food banks, and Street Pastors in helping vulnerable people in city centres, and Christians Against Poverty in helping people to work their way out of debt. We also need support for very many local church activities for young and old alike.
We need appropriate policies and appropriate distribution of the country’s resources in order to support and grow these activities. Instead we have been given over-complex legislation that has left many Christians confused about what they can say and do in the workplace, or in pubic, without falling foul of new laws against discrimination and hatred.
We do need to be careful not to claim too much for our own behaviour, when we discuss these matters with politicians. There have been two recent embarrassments over statements about Payday loan companies and the payment of a ‘living wage’. Nevertheless, we should be courageous and speak up. We should not be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, because it is the power of God for the salvation of all those who believe. It is God’s life-changing power for good.
Robin Lane is a member of Ashford Baptist Church (Kent) and one of its team of lay preachers
Love Your Neighbour - Think, Pray, Vote: The Joint Public Issues Team of our Baptist Union, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church has prepared election resources to help Christians and others reflecting on the issues and deciding how to vote