How should politicians talk to faith groups?

Posted on May 24, 2010 at 8:44 pm,

I’ve been wondering recently how politicians should relate to churches and other faith groups. What sparked it was a service at Coventry Cathedral this Sunday. The event was basically a get-together of several different churches in the city, and had a short slot where a leading local councillor was asked about how the city as a whole is doing, and what major things we could all pray about.

What struck me was that he was basically talking in political language, talking about how he hopes everybody in the city can get along with each other. There wasn’t really a hint in what he said or how he said it that he was talking to an audience of Christians. It reminded me of a talk I heard by Stephen Timms, a noted Christian politician, and then a minister, at the conference of a Christian debt counselling organization. Again, the speech was almost entirely a political one, with little religious content or context.

On both occasions, what was said left me somewhat uninspired and hoping for something which was explicitly Christian. They are also somewhat in contrast to how I approached specifically religious questions when I was doing hustings during the election. When asked, at a hustings hosted by a Catholic church, what inspiration I drew from the person of Jesus I basically talked about my own faith, and how the godly desire to speak up for the weak and the poor was a key factor in my decision to get into politics. And giving that answer was, in fact, my favourite moment of the campaign.

If my political involvement ultimately leads to me speaking to Christian audiences, I hope that both my content and my style are more like my answer to that hustings question than they are to what I heard from those other politicians. It seems strange to me that, even in a specifically Christian context, Christian politicians are often reluctant to put their faith to the forefront. If we are truly obeying the Biblical call to follow Christ, we should not be shy in talking about it, or in bringing specifically Christian perspectives when talking to other believers.

And whilst it’s right in a multi-cultural society that our faith should not be centre-stage when debating policy issues (as we would then never convince those of other faiths or none of our point of view), it should surely be a good idea to talk about it when engaging, as politicians, with communities from other faiths. Whilst there are clear differences between Christianity and other religions, there are certainly perspectives that we hold in common with other faiths that are not shared by those with no faith. And talking about those perspectives would surely enable our message to be heard more effectively.

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