The early Church faced a huge number of challenges as it learnt how to be a united community. It was comprised of people from social classes at opposite ends of the spectrum. In one congregation, a slave would worship alongside their owner—united as equals in Christ Jesus (see Galatians 3:28), and Scripture instructs both in how to act wisely and rightly towards the other.

We are not required to have the same opinions on issues which the Bible does not address directly, including political matters. It is worth remembering that all rulers, whether democratically elected or otherwise, are ruling on behalf of God and are accountable to him. We do not live in a theocratic society, so we are expected to learn how to live as a Christian community within in a pluralistic environment.

Individual Christians will each have different political ideas and will vote accordingly. They will join different parties. Some will stand for election for opposing parties. They all need our prayers, whether we agree with their political ideas or not.

The ability to disagree on secondary matters within a context of unity around primary matters is priceless. The media are constantly looking for spats and points of contention between different camps within political parties, as they make for good headlines. Christians are called to be humble towards each other, realising we are all sinners prone to pride. The way in which we discuss and debate political matters is more important than the outcome.

This is a distinctive that we can hopefully bring to society. As Archbishop Justin Welby says in the foreword to Those who Show Up, “Politics would be extremely dull if we all agreed on everything. There is joy in diversity, and we should not be afraid to disagree with one another, but in a way that models the reconciling love of Jesus. Good disagreement is a gift that the church can offer the world around it—and our political system could certainly do with a healthy dose of it.” 

Good disagreement is rarely fostered outside the context of good relationships. When we don’t know each other, we judge each other. We need to intentionally build relationships with those with whom we may disagree. And that takes time and effort. And humility.

Ephesians 1:10 says that ‘when the times reach their fulfilment, God will bring unity to all things in heaven and earth under Christ.’ The New Creation (Revelation 21–22) will usher in an eternal age of perfect cosmic, and societal, unity. What a beautiful hope that we have. We cannot force unity, but God is bringing it about as he works to restore and redeem the whole creation.

Until then, as C. S. Lewis notes: ‘democracy is not food, it is medicine’—it is not perfect, but necessary to manage society. Debate is part of democracy, and disagreements over ideas and policy are inherent, but they all must be understood in the context of the great, perfectly united, eternal future that God has for his people in glory.

As Christians in Politics, we are team players in our individual political tribes, but as Christians, we do owe our primary allegiance to our King.  For us, it has to be kingdom before tribe every time—not that that’s always easy to work out.

If we’re not careful we can be easily lured into believing that any difference of opinion is automatically a split or a rift. I think our media and our political campaigning, and probably our own laziness of thought as well, don’t really help that. We start to think that acceptance and agreement are the same thing. I mean, it just takes reading one news story and you can be totally forgiven for thinking that any two people—or two groups of people—who disagree on the same issue can’t also accept one another. But that’s just not the case. We can disagree and extend the arms of embrace at the same time. That’s just not the story that newspapers want to write.

Absolutely, we live in this tabloid culture where we play the man or the woman but not the ball. You know, when we’re discussing policy—whether it’s the EU or Trident, whether it’s education or law and order—we need to disagree gracefully and humbly. You know, it says in the Bible that we see only in part, and Christians need to model that. Perhaps this is a bit like a beautiful conservatory with hundreds of different coloured panes of glass. There are over 400 denominations, but maybe the Church needs to learn a bit about community from political parties. There aren’t 400 political parties. There are just a handful. And let’s face it, those in stained-glass houses probably shouldn’t throw stones.

So disagree. But disagree well. And don’t just talk. Get involved. www.christiansinpolitics.org.uk.

Not sure how to vote, visit the CARE election 2021 website for more info on candidates and manifestos.

 

Andy Flannagan is a Luton-based, Irish singer-songwriter and author who was previously a hospital doctor. His campaigning songwriting dragged him into the political arena, so he can often be found annoying MPs around Parliament.