Showing up beyond the election
Growing numbers of Christians are becoming more politically active, writes Alison Hill. Could you join them?
The General Election seems like a distant memory. We might be tempted to feel like we have ‘done’ politics now and so can forget all about it until 2020, potentially saving a brief spark of interest for the upcoming EU Referendum – political engagement was last year’s business.
2015 was indeed a busy year for political engagement, but this was not just about the General Election, particularly within the Church. The SHOW UP campaign brought together more than 35 organisations and church networks to encourage Christians to engage with politics not just in the run up to the election but beyond it as well.
A poll conducted after the election found that 70 per cent of those questioned said that they were more likely to get involved in politics as a result of the campaign. The remaining 30 per cent who said they were neither more nor less likely to get involved was mainly made up of people already politically active.
This has led to a growing movement of Christians eager for a deeper political engagement than turning up to a polling station every so often. Many have joined political parties or have got more involved in their local communities. One respondent in the SHOW UP campaign survey said that as a result of the campaign they had joined a party and got involved locally, adding 'I’d been an armchair commentator for way too long and it really prompted me to action… I want to make a difference to my neighbourhood, area and country and show Christians care enough to be involved in politics'.
The SHOW UP Weekend
One place for exploring Christian political engagement beyond the election was the SHOW UP Weekend in November 2015. Over 120 Christians from all over the UK, from all sides of the political spectrum, and at all levels of political activity came together to explore what showing up in politics after the General Election would look like. Speakers included theologians, political commentators, church leaders and current MPs Gary Streeter and Stephen Timms. There was plenty of opportunity for discussion and sharing of ideas, with a great sense of unity which transcended party divisions.
Sharon Jones, from Six Ways Erdington Baptist Church, described it as “a wonderful confluence of Christians worshipping together… who all showed such love and respect for each other with everyone’s guiding thoughts how we might each play a part in improving our country and supporting each other in doing so, no matter what party we are aligned to.”
The excitement about where the weekend might lead was palpable: several people joined political parties or committed to becoming more active members. Some took this one step further, with one delegate tweeting the evening she returned home that she would be standing as a candidate for the local council elections in May.
This momentum is continuing into 2016 and it’s not too late to join in. Jesus calls us to be salt and light in the world which means Christians need to be getting involved in every part of society, including politics.
Being part of the change you seek
If you feel like you don’t know much about politics, reading newspapers, watching the news, logging onto both national and local news sites can be helpful for getting you informed. Keep up with the work of the Joint Public Issues Team, the Joint Methodist, Baptist and United Reform Church group which seeks to enable their churches to engage with society and the issues of the day, and community-based campaigning movements such as Citizens UK.
Pray about what you see, and think about your views on the issues: what do you think should be done about them? Reflect on what you yourself are passionate about and look at what different parties say about the issue: What do they see as the problem? What do they propose as a solution? What would you do if you had the chance? Consider writing to your MP about issues which concern you.
However, recognise that you yourself could be a part of the change you seek. Get involved in your local community to see what the problems which need addressing are and campaign to address them. You could become a school governor, join a neighbourhood association, or take part in a community organising project.
Another important way to get involved is to join a political party. Since the election, party membership has risen markedly: Labour has increased by 187,000 members in the last eight months, almost doubling the size of the party, while the Liberal Democrats saw a massive surge in the immediate aftermath of the General Election, with 10,000 new members within a week.
There is no such thing as a perfect party, so don’t expect to find one which you completely agree with. Instead, find one which you ideologically resonate with, or which you think has the best plan overall for a better and fairer society. If you are able to join a party which you agree with on the whole, you will be better placed to have a say on policies which you think could be better. It is from within the political system that we are able to make more of a difference and be influencers of culture, following the Biblical examples of Joseph, Esther and Daniel.
Sharon described coming away from the SHOW UP Weekend empowered and grateful: 'I’m also more assured now that no matter what party is in power, as long as there is an army of God’s people in it, there is hope for our country.
'My prayer is that more Christians will engage with politics at all levels. It is the only way to see the politics that we don’t like mollified.'
With such a vision, let us continue to show up beyond the election.
Alison lives in South-West London and works as an Intern at Christians in Politics