Who’s ever heard of a politician explicitly campaigning for less love, truth, justice and freedom? A manifesto that called for hate and injustice, advocated the end of freedom, and unashamedly lied would be an unorthodox (but perhaps not entirely unheard of) strategy for electoral success.
The Evangelical Alliance’s work around the election is focused around the four themes of love, truth, justice and freedom. It’s based on the conviction that our society would be better if we saw more of these in our politics and public life. We’re asking Christians to think about ‘what kind of society’ they want as they approach voting in June, and to ask candidates what they will do in different policy areas to contribute to the UK becoming a better place.
But are the four themes open to the charge of being so broad and platitudinous that they lose meaning? To use a phrase I thought was in common usage (until my colleagues looked puzzled), are they nothing more than motherhood and apple pie? Motherhood and apple pie being two things that are very hard to disagree with, motherhood is a good thing and everyone wants a slice of apple pie.
The four themes were chosen not only because they are deeply rooted in Christian belief, but also because they are good for all of society. We consider it the role of Christians to put their faith into practice at the ballot box. Politics is not some separate realm where we detach our beliefs from action. To this end we want to help Christians examine what they believe, use these beliefs to look at what parties and candidates are proposing and decide how their pledges will aid or restrict greater goodness across all of society.
It’s hard to disagree with love, truth, justice and freedom, everyone wants more of them – a bit like motherhood and apple pie. But if you talk about apple pie for long enough eventually you have to ask whose apples you’re cooking with.
Our society has taken the fruit that has grown from centuries of Christian heritage and investment in public life and decided it can do without the roots that have nourished it down the years. As a society we want to have our fruit (probably an apple) and eat it.
Whenever Christians claim that values which enrich public life stem from Christian teaching there is a chorus of dissent from the usual suspects. This week the British Humanist Association responded to the Church of England’s pastoral letter on the election by saying:
“The public today overwhelmingly recognise that sound virtues and ethics are not the preserve of the religious nor ‘spring’ from Christianity. That is just a self-aggrandising lie, and an insult to the majority of the British people who have non-religious beliefs and values and contribute enormously to British life as they have for generations.”
If the British Humanist Association is correct in its assertion that much of the public see virtues and ethics as not springing from Christianity, is that something we should grudgingly accept because it is better than abandoning them all together, or challenge as missing the point?
Love, freedom, justice and truth are revolutionary ideas that have transformed society down the centuries. Love that turns the other cheek and goes the extra mile, that loves in places others walk away from, love that stems from the outrageous love we have received from Christ. Freedom that does not ignore the need for order and justice which serves those who need it most.
And truth. Truth is still a revolutionary idea today. It is a revolution that is needed because without it we cannot trust the people that represent us, and the public institutions that govern our country. We’ve heard too much about fake news and post-truth, we need people of integrity and speakers of truth in positions of authority in the UK.
Call us optimists, call us naïve, or call us simplistic if you like. We’d rather say that we’re offering a hopeful vision of what kind of society we want. And at this election we’ve got the chance to challenge candidates and parties about what they will do to see these simple but revolutionary ideas become the norm in the UK.