The Problem with Christian Parties

Posted on April 18, 2012 at 11:20 am,

Here in Coventry, a group called the Christian Movement for Great Britain are standing several candidates in the local elections. Their policy platform includes traditionally Christian stances like opposing abortion and promoting ethical banking. But it also includes policies like the end of wheel-clamping. Add in the Christian Party and the Christian Peoples’ Alliance (who are fighting an increasing number of elections) and you’ve got three different UK political parties claiming to represent Christianity at the ballot box. Which leads me to wonder what’s the point.

There are several different things a political party can be about. Single issue parties (like the pro-life party) exist primarily to bring attention to a particular political issue. They stand candidates and campaign to raise awareness, and bring the issue to the attention of the public. If, like Dr Richard Taylor of Kidderminster Health Concern, they get elected to office, then they concentrate on that issue and vote on unrelated issues as if they were independents. But even a quick look at these Christian parties’ websites and manifestos makes it clear that they are not single-issue parties.

Some parties exist primarily to gain power (nowadays, this is probably the case with both the Conservatives and Labour). What ideology they have is either flexible – easily changed to match public opinion in swing seats – or hidden away. This is clearly not the case for these parties either, as between them they have had a small handful of local councillors elected.

Then there are parties that exist to represent a group that is marginalised within the political mainstream, or which have a unique status within national life. Plaid Cymru has its origins as a party representing Welsh speakers, whilst New Zealand’s Maori party represent a group with unique status in that nation. Whilst this could be the thinking behind these parties, it would indicate that they are out of touch with reality. Christians are, statistically speaking, far more likely to be involved in mainstream political parties than our non-Christian neighbours. Whilst many Christians do feel that their faith has been marginalised in this country, we are nowhere near the point of needing a separate political party to speak up for us – the time and effort invested in these parties would be better spent helping Christians involved in secular parties to be more effective and influential. And, in any case, none of these parties have a political platform that majors on the kind of concerns usually expressed by such parties.

Finally, there are parties there to advocate a particular ideology or set of principles. The Greens are a great example of this. Growing from a single-issue party (albeit an issue that directly affects most other issues), there is now a clear set of political beliefs that drive Green policies (and we have policies for almost everything), as set out in the party’s philosophical basis.

This last purpose is presumably how the various Christian parties see themselves. Which is something I find worrying. If you’ve been following my series blogging through Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible, then you’ll be well aware that Christians can easily take opposite viewpoints on a wide variety of political issues. And that both sides can honestly believe that their side of the issue is more consistent with the Bible. There are few, if any, political issues on which you can say that a particular policy is unquestionably the Christian view. Which leads to the question of just what these parties are standing for. Yes, some parts of their policy platforms (e.g. being pro-life) are issues that would generally be considered Christian positions. But others (the wheel-clamping thing, or policies on the NHS – the Christian Party wants to privatise it, the Christian Movement for Great Britain wants to go back to a more nationalised system) look like they are trying to co-opt God’s (or at least the church’s) blessing for policies where both the Bible and Christian tradition are either silent or ambiguous.

These parties are, for the most part, not taken seriously. Their main impact is to keep their members from engaging in secular parties where they could potentially have a genuine influence. But if they ever were taken seriously, then they could be a real problem for Christians involved in more mainstream politics. If the public and the media associated their policies with the Christian faith, then any Christian who expresses a different view to them would be seen as having a conflict between their faith and their politics. Even if their faith played a big role in the position they take. Furthermore, by representing Christianity as a political ideology, these parties risk placing an unnecessary stumbling block in the way of people becoming Christians. If somebody sees Christianity as, in part, a political ideology which they don’t share, then that’s going to give them a negative view of our faith before they even think about looking into it.

In summary, the reasons for these parties to exist in the first place seem somewhat spurious, and their main effect seems to be to divert Christians from engaging more constructively in the political process. But if they were ever to be taken seriously as the political voice of Christianity, then they would make life more difficult for Christians involved in secular parties. In such circumstances, they would also make it more difficult some for people to come to Christ.

Finally, I’d have no problem with such groups existing if their names didn’t suggest that they spoke for all Christians. Groups like the Christian Socialist Movement (a faction within the Labour Party) are a group of political Christians whose politics can be described as socialist (with the caveat that – being part of the Labour party – the word socialist is a less accurate description of them than it used to be) are not a problem at all. They don’t cause any confusion between the gospel message and their brand of politics. And they certainly aren’t a stumbling block in the way of people coming to Christ. In fact, such groups can probably break down barriers to salvation, as people who share a similar brand of politics will be aware that their politics would not conflict with Christian belief.

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