Christianity & Politics - Members Article
A reflection by CSM Memeber Edward Jacobs
Whenever I tell anyone of my interest and involvement in politics, it is often the case that I get a somewhat weird look back, with images conjured up of deceit, greed, back room deals and lies.
To those who do however, I remind them of the Make Poverty History Campaign, widely regarded as one of the most inspirational and successful movements of our time.
It was a campaign which saw millions around the world marching or wearing wrist bands together, united in crying out for those for whom poverty has silenced their voices. And it played a crucial role in persuading world leaders at Gleneagles to commit to doubling aid to Africa and eliminating the debts of the poorest countries around the world.
And as a Christian, it was a campaign in which those of faith played a leading role, based as it was on a call for social justice not for ourselves but for others. Through political action, Christians were able to pursue the belief that binds us all, that when we see people suffering, crying or despairing we will not walk on by. We will cross the road and offer our hand, a hand of Christian friendship, love, compassion and fellowship. As we are told in Proverbs 29:7:
"The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern."
As a Christian therefore, I see politics not as the pursuit of power, but as an opportunity. An opportunity to pursue god’s word and the values that bind Christians around the world as our political leaders address the despair and injustices we all too often see.
The challenges we face
Around the world almost 9 million children die before their 5th birthday every year, many of which from diseases which we in the west can treat such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria.
Across the UK, it is thought that roughly 20% of the population live in poverty in one form or another, including 2 million pensioners and, according to Save the Children, 3.9 million children, of which 1.7 million are living in the most severe forms of poverty. And let us be clear, these are not just numbers. These are millions of real people, suffering, struggling to make ends meet from one day to another.
In a report on poverty in the UK published by the Citizens Advice Bureau in 2008, one parent said:
"I struggle to feed and clothe my children. I feel so bad because they never get any treats or days out. It just breaks my heart and I don’t know how long I can keep strong for them."
And another concluded:
"Even with the benefits I receive I find it hard to pay the bills and I cannot afford proper uniform or shoes for my son, so he gets picked on at school."
According to the Open Doors organisations an estimated 100 million Christians around the world face persecution, denied the right to freely and openly express their faith and love for god, by regimes that misconceive the LORDS word as a threat to their authority, rather than a source of hope and love. To take just one example, last year, 33 year old mother of three, Ri Hyon Ok was publicly executed by the North Korean Government for distributing the bible.
It is estimated that throughout our lives, one in four of us will at some point suffer from a mental health problem such as anxiety, stress or depression. Together with seeking recovery from the problems they face, sufferers also face the fight against a society which all too often brushes off their difficulties as not being a real illness.
In May for example, the columnist, Janet Street Porter dismissed depression as being a “trendy illness”. Responding however, Tony Blair’s former Director of Communications, Alistair Campbell, himself a sufferer of depression wrote of the condition:
“At its worst, it is like an invisible dark force that first approaches, then envelops, then appears to fill every waking thought. You can escape via sleep, but you wake and find your eyes won’t open, you lack the energy to brush teeth, shave, speak, think anything other than thoughts of emptiness and despair.
“When it’s bad, my partner Fiona says it is like living with somebody from a different planet. When you get into that mode it’s very dangerous and corrosive. People ask, “what’s wrong?” and you don’t really know. “What triggered it?” and you can’t answer that either. One thing you do know, there is no way you would wish to have it.
“Once you’ve had it, there are few worse experiences than knowing that dark cloud is coming back.”
And according to research by the Mental Health Foundation, 11% of people in the UK often feel lonely; 37% of us have a close friend or family member that we think is very lonely; 30% would be embarrassed to admit to feeling lonely and 42% felt depressed because they were lonely. And in March this year, the NSPCC reported that there had been a 60% increase in the number of lonely children being counselled by ChildLine over the past five years. In its press release, the NSPCC quotes what 8 year old Jessica told the help line:
“My mum died three weeks ago and I really missed her today, because I’ve broken my arm and want mum to hold my hand. I feel lonely.”
As someone who has an interest in politics, it is common to hear our political leaders, when faced with such despair, telling us to have hope. All too often however, do we not put our hope in mankind? That it will be mankind that will somehow change? That it is mankind that will find solutions to the despair we face? But is it not that same mankind that so often is the source of our despair?
As a Christian, I say that it is only our hope in god and in his word that is true and genuine. It is only by putting our trust in him that we can understand that what IS does not need to be what WILL BE.
As we pray and work to provide comfort to those who despair, to those who feel lonely, to those who’s mental ill health is misunderstood and to those living in poverty, let us remind them and ourselves of the inspiration of Isaiah 40:31 in which we are told:
“those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
In a world of such frequent despair, a world in which hurt and injustice too often dominate our headlines, let us work towards a world in which what matters is not the size of our bank accounts, the titles we have or the weapons we hold, but our ability to open our hearts to God, our ability to have hope in his word, our ability to understand his love and care, and our ability to unlock the talents and abilities of everyone, irrespective of their backgrounds.
Psalm 82:3-4 tells us:
"Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked."
Let that be our rallying call. A call that we will not walk on by and watch other’s suffer. That we will engage with political action to pursue the values and beliefs that bind Christians around the world, namely, love, compassion, friendship and fellowship. Let us speak up for those who are not heard but need a voice, spreading the hope that the LORDs word brings, a hope that gives us strength. Because the blunt truth is if we don’t, who else will?