Is there any point in trying to get your cause on the political agenda during an election?
Some people would say no. They might argue that an issue such as Christian persecution, the one I’m working to highlight as part of my work with the charity Open Doors, simply isn’t going to get the traction that the NHS, the economy, immigration or Brexit demand.
But while this may be true, general elections are vital times when organisations such as Open Doors can prepare the ground for years to come; it’s an excellent opportunity to get manifesto commitments in place and to ensure candidates know about your cause. And it’s easier to persuade someone to join your cause when they’re an election candidate than when they’re a member of parliament – they’re much more likely to take an interest if they need your vote!
On 16 May, Open Doors launched its campaign to encourage as many people as possible to contact their general election candidates. So far, 1,336 people have contacted their candidates to ask them, if elected, to champion the rights of persecuted Christians – if you haven’t got around to it yet, visit the Open Doors website to contact your candidates.
Because of the commitment of so many people to the cause of the persecuted Church, we’ve had a great response. Candidates of all major political parties in over 50 different constituencies across the UK have responded positively. Many candidates have signed the One Million Voices of Hope petition, calling for the right to equal citizenship, dignified living conditions and a prominent role in reconciling and rebuilding society for Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. A great number have also committed to championing the creation of a faith forum in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to advise ministers on the situation in the Middle East. Some have also agreed to join parliament’s all party group on freedom of religion or belief if they are elected on 8 June.
It just goes to show what can come from a snap election. Many of the candidates, including a number that we have never had the opportunity to work with before, are saying they want to speak up for the persecuted Church in parliament.
The success of the 2017 general election candidates’ campaign demonstrates that the power really is in the hands of constituents. When constituents get together and tell their candidates what matters to them, those with influence are often willing to get on board. Many politicians support our causes – they just can’t get involved unless they’re told about them! And that’s exactly what so many Open Doors supporters have done during this election campaign.
But next week is when the real work begins. As the giddy heights of being elected pass into the daily grind of constituency work, we can’t let MPs forget the commitments they have made. While many politicians can be unsure about how to approach the Middle East and the issue of the worldwide persecution of Christians, Open Doors has provided them with a number of actions they can take. The implementation of a faith forum to advise the Foreign and Commonwealth Office isn’t a big thing – but it would make a tangible difference to the lives of countless Christians in the Middle East.
The advocacy team at Open Doors will be working to hold MPs to their commitments, and to push the new government to make these requests a reality. So please write to your MP about the persecuted Church. Please tweet about these issues. Please pass the One Million Voices of Hope petition around your church. Because, yes, general election campaigns set the agenda but the months and years that follow are crucial for seeing that agenda implemented.
For the next five years, let’s be what the American activist Jim Wallis has referred to as ‘prophetic interrogators’: let’s relentlessly engage with our representatives, asking them to do all they can to bring about change and let’s speak prophetically into the situation in the Middle East and beyond by offering politicians solutions which can bring about real transformation.
Dr Matthew Rees is Advocacy Officer at Open Doors UK.