Christians shouldn't just be another predictable lobby group

(Photo: Unsplash/NikMacMillan)

Domestic abuse is an appalling and colossal problem across our nation. The reality of home not being a refuge but somewhere you need a refuge from is unthinkable for most of us. But for many vulnerable men, women and children in our communities it is an everyday reality.

In the year ending March 2019, an estimated 2.4 million adults were victims of domestic violence. Almost one in three women between 16 and 59 will experience domestic abuse in their life time.

We have become all the more conscious of it during lockdown. In April, the charity Refuge reported a 700% increase in calls to its helpline in a single day. As the shocking figures have grown so has the need to remind ourselves that behind each is an individual life, a family, a home. People trapped with their tormentors; living in fear of the people who should love them the most. It is utterly heart-breaking.

Given five minutes to think about it, pretty much any decent person would become distressed and outraged. So many people robbed of their lives and their voices by manipulation and abuse. For those who courageously speak out, often at great risk to themselves, they are faced with a justice system that time and time again lets them down. Their stories dismissed as 'a domestic row', or horrific abuse written off as 'rough sex'.

As Christians we follow a God who treasures life, who created, loves and protects it. Not only that, but he is a God who is passionate about justice. A God who, when he came to earth, spent his time with those rejected and uncared for by society. A God who calls his people to be like him, to care for the vulnerable. 'He upholds the widow and the fatherless' (Psalm 146v9) – the most helpless in society in Biblical times – and we are to 'bring justice to the fatherless and plead the widow's cause' (Isaiah 1v17). We have all the more reason to care for these people, to speak up for them.

This week in Parliament has seen the return of the Domestic Abuse Bill. A massively important bill in securing justice, safety and protection for victims of domestic abuse in a justice system that has consistently failed them.

It's a bill Christians should care passionately about. And I have indeed had hundreds of emails from Christians on the bill... but not on the main subject of the bill.

I have received hundreds of emails on two very specific amendments to the Bill - NC28 and NC29. Amendments about abortion. Amendments that have been brought to their attention by the Christian lobbying groups. I'm not surprised about this, in fact it's sadly predictable.

Don't get me wrong, it is absolutely right that people express their view to their MP – and to be clear, I would have voted against those amendments. But if you write to your MP to oppose further relaxation of abortion laws because you, as a Christian, value life and want to defend the defenceless, then why did not one single Christian write to urge me to support the victims of domestic abuse?

A look at any MP's inbox this week would give you a very narrow idea of what Christians think about defending those who are defenceless. Of the hundreds of emails I received, not one person who stated they were a Christian in their email was writing to me about the victims of domestic abuse... only about these two amendments relating to abortion, neither of which even came to a vote.

Christians are often derided as preachy moralists. Morally superior people with a black and white view of right and wrong that is utterly out of touch, who stopped listening and engaging with the reality of people's lives a long time ago. The Bible is written off as archaic and outdated; a harsh and uncompassionate book. And in many instances Christians are the ones consolidating this view rather than combatting it.

Some Christian lobbying groups shoulder part of the blame: people are governed by the contents of their inbox, an email written by someone else can be forwarded as your own with the click of a mouse. But we have a responsibility to be engaged with the issues and do our own research. If Christians are going to claim they speak in love then we must be invested in justice and protection for all, and that will take effort. More effort than many are often willing to give.

Not only is this the right thing to do, the thing we are commanded to do, but I also challenge you to think about the impact you are having on the non-Christian MP and their staff at the other end of the email if these are the only issues you get in touch about. I am a Christian who basically agreed with what those emails said and would indeed have opposed those amendments on abortion, and even I am frustrated.  So imagine how everyone else sees us?

I understand that the handful of issues that Christians tend to write to their MPs about, are those where Christian voices are in the minority. My challenge, though, is not to do less of what you are doing but to do more of other things, to take a more holistic interest in politics, to have a more holistic view of people's lives, of what it means to show love. Christians shouldn't just be another predictable lobby group; instead we should show kindness, concern and a practical love for those we write to (not just those on whose behalf we write).

Until then, the argument that we hold countercultural views because they are the most loving and the best thing for society, will sound nothing more than hollow and flat. I hope I will now receive more emails from Christians, not fewer, but that the contents will become considerably less predictable. I long for a day when I open an email that begins 'as a Christian' and addresses more than one of a handful of well-rehearsed issues. Maybe then we would stop undermining our own argument and be more likely to win the gospel a hearing.

Tim Farron is Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale and former leader of the Liberal Democrats.

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