Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Those Who Show Up ... Politics is far too important to be left to politicians

This month’s Presbyterian Herald magazine has an article in it written by a politically interested blogger! [If you’re not one of the 13,000 subscribers, you can download a PDF copy of the full issue for £1.]

I’ve reproduced my election-themed article below along with some extra comments that aren’t constrained by the word count that fits on a printed page.

As I see it … Politics is far too important to be left to politicians.

Walking into a polling station, collecting a ballot paper, and making a mark with the pencil tied to the desk is one way you can live out your faith and make a difference.

Christians are spread right across the political spectrum. While they may agree on creeds, their notions on what a fair economy, justice, welfare and equality look like differ wildly. There is ‘no one size fits all’ party or set of policies that all of Christendom can adopt.

Christian supporters will be on both sides of the same-sex marriage and Irish President age referendums on 22nd May, in some cases coming to very different conclusions about how to apply biblical principles and the example of Jesus.

As a cohort, politicians have lost a lot of respect through expenses scandals, cash for access, and ‘yah-boo’ politics of weekly question times that ridicule opponents rather than championing good policies. Politics can look dirty and unappealing.

But these are not reasons for people of faith to step away from politics.

Fewer and fewer people are bothering to vote across the island of Ireland. The turnout for European, Dáil, Westminster, Northern Ireland Assembly, local government elections and recent referendums is declining.

At most recent constituency elections in Ireland, more people stayed at home and didn’t vote than put a cross or a 1 in the box for the candidate who topped the poll and won the seat.

If everyone who didn’t show up to vote was assumed to have cast their vote for ‘None of the Above’ then nearly every poll on the island would be won by disinterest and disengagement.

The Bible doesn’t call us to disengage from the world. We’re to be salt and light.
“We need Elijahs shouting from the desert, as well as Obadiahs working in the palace. Both are crucial.”

This is how Portadown–born Andy Flannagan phrases it in his new book Those Who Show Up (published by Muddy Pearl). He reasons that Christians need not limit themselves to faith-based vehicles but should consider becoming directly involved in decision-making processes.

Since the book of Acts, Christians have been stepping forward in society to campaign for change: slavery, cancelling debt, standing up for those with no rights or no voice.

Long before UK Prime Minister David Cameron used the phrase ‘Big Society’, churches and Christians knew that they played an important role in wider society: volunteering in foodbanks and homework clubs, feeding the homeless, running international meeting points and helping prison visitors. Christians also choose to invest in secular organisations and initiatives that serve people.

Yet while individuals working at a grassroots level can make a huge difference to their communities, the framework of legislation and tone of government is set by a small number of people that we are invited to elect to represent us.

Not voting, leaves the decision to other people. It abdicates our responsibility to wrestle with competing policies and the difficult evaluation of personalities and parties about whom we’ll never totally agree or support.

Not voting is taking your hands off the steering wheel and hoping that someone else will navigate the bends in the road.

And who are these politicians? They’re people like us. A surprising number carry Christian faith with them onto the campaign trail and into the voting lobbies of their parliaments. Their approach to issues is infused with faith.

Andy Flannagan argues that more Christians need to follow the example of Joseph, Daniel, Esther and Mordecai who governed wisely in alien lands. Who better to stand up against oppression? Who better to speak up at difficult moments knowing that your primary allegiance is not to an earthly flag or kingdom?
“Showing up is not just about voting. It’s not just about making a mark on a ballot paper, but leaving your mark on society.” (Andy Flannagan)

Could you make a difference in the often mundane work of your local community association or residents group? Could you become involved with a political party and shape its policies and activities at a local level?

And in the meantime while you consider how to apply your faith to the decision-making processes, can you vote in May and start to leave your mark on society?

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I’ve found Those Who Stand Up a very challenging when read in the context of Northern Ireland politics.

Andy Flannagan heads up Christians on the Left (a Labour-leaning group) and co-directs the cross-spectrum Christians in Politics organisation along with his Tory and Lib Dem counterparts. While he doesn’t mention UKIP or the Greens – nor Plaid Cymru or the SNP – somehow the Great Britain political scene feels much cleaner and less messy than the politics where I’m living.

I find it difficult enough to find a candidate or a party to vote for in some elections never mind select a party with which to more wholeheartedly align. [Full disclosure – I spoiled my ballot paper on one occasion and would do so again.] A party would need to line up with enough of my convictions and importantly not run contrary to other convictions that I deem more important than others.

And that’s before processing the historical and cultural baggage that comes with Northern Irish political parties: unionist, nationalist, or other.

Difficult to get my mind around …

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