Last Monday I found myself with a crowd of church leaders and parliamentarians from around the country listening to a group of MPs sharing stories of how Jesus has changed their lives. Having become so accustomed to seeing politicians playing party political games, it was incredibly refreshing to hear honest and personal talk that has nothing to do with point scoring and everything to do with honouring God's name.
Gary Streeter (Con), David Burrowes (Con), Tim Farron (Lib Dem), Stephen Timms (Lab) and Fiona Bruce (Con) displayed a great deal of unity as they took part in the Launch of Christians in Politics at Westminster. This umbrella organisation, which is owned by the Conservative Christian Fellowship, Christians on the Left and the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum, seeks to be an all-party non-denominational platform for Christians involved – or seeking to get involved – in politics and public life. This was the event to set out the vision, but what stood out most of all were these personal journeys of faith that had led five individuals to give their lives to God by serving Him as MPs.
David Burrowes cited his time at university, where he became increasingly aware of the need for Christians to be the decision makers in places of authority, which resulted in him taking an active role in the Student Union and also cofounding the Conservative Christian Fellowship. Tim Farron, whose talk was underpinned by a great deal of theology, recalled the time when as a boy he watched Cathy Come Home , the powerful 1960s television drama about homelessness. He knew at that point that his calling was to devote his life to seeking justice and serving others.
Perhaps the most remarkable account was Fiona Bruce's. She had been establishing her own community law firm when she was shocked to find God telling her to become an MP, despite having no great political inclinations. As she began to step out in faith, she found herself in greater places of influence than she would otherwise have been in. She talked about her anti-trafficking and slavery work that has resulted in the Modern Slavery Bill and her fight to tighten the law on gender-selective abortion.
This need for Christians to bring the values of God's kingdom into everyday politics, that genuinely impact our nation, was a recurring theme. During the question and answer session there was talk from both those attending and the panel of a need to nurture a generation of Godly young people who are committed to changing this nation through the structures of power that are in place. As this was discussed a significant hindrance became clear – there is a lack of Christian role models in this arena for young people to look up to.
How many of our churches with young people are encouraging them to enter into politics or business taking with them integrity, a confidence in their faith and a yearning to seek justice for all? When I talk to young Christians I often hear their hopes of becoming worship leaders, youth workers or being involved in social action. They see those who have gone before them and have been inspired as a result. Jesus told his followers to go and make disciples, but he also had plenty to say about seeking justice and mercy and serving the poor. Churches and charities have a key role to play, but if politics is avoided because of the perception that it is a dirty place where it is impossible to stay true to your faith and beliefs, then Christians will be left shouting from the wings as big decisions are made that affect us all. Where are those seeking to emulate the great Biblical heroes; the Josephs, Nehemiahs and Daniels who will influence the course of history?
Mark Scott, Christians in Politics communications manager had this to say when I asked him to explain what he hopes it will achieve:
"Our desire is to serve the community by raising up future leaders who will be the decision makers. These will be men and women who take up positions of authority and use those positions to influence the sources of injustice rather than just the outcomes. We see getting on the pitch as being just as invaluable as commentating from the side lines. That's why we will do what we can to support Christians as they enter the sometimes messy world of party politics and equip them with the tools they need to help them navigate with integrity and purpose. We also seek to build bridges across party lines between Christians and organizations. In so doing we seek to create a culture within politics that puts God's kingdom before tribalism."
This is a vision with so much potential, but it will only come about if churches and church leaders are willing to open their eyes and take hold of it. If we fail to deliver, the Church will have disregarded one of its key duties and all of our society will suffer as a result.