Why we should battle through the political jargon and continue to engage with politics

(Photo: Unsplash/Martin Foskett)

Be honest, how excited are you about the Government's proposal as part of the Internal Market Bill to breach the Northern Ireland protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement? Does it make you angry? Are you overcome with joy? Did you struggle to get to the end of the sentence without falling asleep?

If you live on the island of Ireland, you will know that it matters to you... but for the rest of us, is this kind of stuff just political jargon, Westminster Village detail, nothing that immediately impacts the lives of those seeking to get their businesses running again and settling their children back to school?

A cabinet minister really did tell the Commons that the government was planning the break international law, albeit in a 'specific and limited way'. I'm not going to pretend to be neutral on this, it's an absolute outrage. But is this just one of the issues causing ripples in the political world, which will ultimately impact us all as the Brexit transition period runs out at the end of the year; but about which many people are simply unaware or uninspired, largely due to the way in which these matters are presented and debated?

Maybe you believe that Brexit got done last December and you're just a bit fed up of it all. Thank goodness for the aliens on Venus, something different in the news to get worried about!

If you are reading this – and have got this far – the chances are that you are fairly politically engaged already. And you may be as frustrated as me about this issue, or you may feel that actually Parliament is sovereign and we should be free to make our own domestic laws whether or not they breach international law.

Or you might disagree (it is allowed) – but either way this is the kind of thing that will determine Britain's future in the world ... and yet I am not convinced that most people really care that much. This is not because they don't care about their country or their family, but because they've got things in their lives that are just a bit more immediate ... and people who are involved in politics speak such tedious, exclusive jargon, get far too keen and obsessive, and then fight bitterly amongst ourselves. It turns normal people off.

Add to this the toxicity of the so-called culture wars, where people on opposing sides take pleasure in insulting one another or simply deeming each other's views to be irrelevant. And then of course the media gleefully takes all of this up and presents it in wild and lurid fashion to sell papers and generate clickbait.

And so I don't blame you if you are tempted to simply delete Twitter (if you bothered in the first place), turn off the news, and get on with your life.

But – sorry – Christians are encouraged to engage with society and not withdraw. Jeremiah 29:7 exhorts us to: "Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare, you will find your welfare."

Jesus was the ultimate engager: God came to earth as a man to "preach good news to the poor... to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour," (Luke 4:18-19) and ultimately to give his life in exchange for ours. He asks us to join with him in building his kingdom on earth, and this includes engaging with the way in which we are governed.

So, if you are reading this as a reasonably engaged member of society, concerned about what is happening in our country but feeling excluded from the angry and elaborate arguments raging around you, how can you translate your awareness and your anger into action?

Many Christians are involved with lobby groups and charities. They write to their MPs and seek to hold us to account for our actions, which is a valuable means of engagement. Please keep doing that, but here is another idea.

On Twitter, a few hundred journalists write about the debates being held by a few thousand activists, which influences the decisions of a few dozen politicians. You can challenge the discussion by participating. Now Twitter is not for the faint hearted, but the salt and light of a few hundred Christians getting involved, graciously and intelligently, has the potential to have a really positive influence.

But before rolling up your sleeves and hitting the keyboard, I would suggest the following:

Firstly, pray. This is always a good starting point for a Christian! Pray for wisdom about where and how to engage; and remember that our leaders need a lot of prayer as they make key decisions about our futures. As Paul exhorts Timothy: "I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness." (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

Secondly, check your facts. It is all too easy to pile into a debate without checking the veracity of the story generating the outrage. A Google search or a look at a website like fullfact.org may be invaluable.

Thirdly, aim always to be gracious and not vicious, provocative but polite. Tone is vital on Twitter. There is a great deal of vitriol and anger, which can cause real hurt, and we need also to be aware of the stereotypical and bogus caricatures that people often have of Christians. Remember the humanity of those you are debating.

Finally, stay alert to the debates taking place, even if the jargon and the tenor of the discussion makes you recoil. Politicians like me need to be more aware of how we are heard, but as our country and our world experiences huge challenges, our national discourse is crying out for an injection of sensible and prayerful engagement.

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

Views and opinions published in Christian Today are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.