Earlier in the campaign I asked whether calling for a society built on love, truth, justice and freedom was a motherhood and apple pie request, or a revolutionary idea. Since then, we have seen terrorist attacks in Manchester and London and a shift in the tone of the campaign. Not only have security issues come to the fore, but also the importance of democracy itself and the opportunity we have to influence who governs the UK.
What has struck me during this campaign is that we seem to be caught in a relativistic trap as a society which is endangering our ability to reflect positively on our achievements over many centuries and at the same time look forward to a future asking how things can be better still. We need courage to stand up and say things can and must be better.
During this election we have encouraged Christians to ask questions of candidates which promote a vision of love, truth, freedom and justice, because we believe that a society built on these pillars will be a society that is better for all. Ahead of tomorrow’s vote I want to take a quick survey around the four themes and see how they have featured in the last seven weeks.
I’m no Justin Bieber fan, and if you’d suggested his words would be my defining moment for love in the 2017 general election I’d have likely choked on my cornflakes. But on Sunday evening at the Old Trafford cricket ground in front of tens of thousands and millions more on TV he said: “God is good in the midst of darkness. God is good in the midst of the evil. God is in the midst, no matter what’s happening in the world, God is in the midst and He loves you and He’s here for you.”
Ruth Gledhill, editor of Christian Today, commented on the One Love Manchester concert which followed the bombing outside Ariana Grande’s concert in Manchester on 22 May: “The whole event was imbued with a sense of godliness, and the power of good to triumph ultimately in the face of evil.”
There are undoubtedly important security, policing and foreign policy considerations that come to the fore in the wake of these attacks, but love, joy and hands of kindness go a long way to counter hate and terror. We may not be able to solve global terrorism crises but we can love our neighbour.
You cannot fight darkness with darkness, as John’s gospel teaches: “The light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it.” And in the words of Martin Luther King Jr: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
We are called to love with extravagance, to love outrageously, to love when it may be the hardest thing to do. As Krish Kandiah commented: “Will we let love cast out fear?”
I was on a train last week when a couple of people started discussing the front page of The Times. As they discussed the political news of the day, one turned to the other and said: “But you can’t trust anything you read in the paper can you?”
Whether we are able to trust what politicians say has been one of the key features of this campaign, and the media we consume to mediate that task often makes it more difficult. The proliferation of media outlets, from large scale papers and broadcasters to influential blogs, to an individual with a tweet that goes viral, means it can be difficult to know what sources to trust.
Politicians are challenged on their record, on their previous commitments, and their promises for the future, but too often in this campaign we’ve seen a refusal to answer the questions posed, defaulting to focus group tested soundbites. We have also seen journalists catching politicians out when they don’t know what they are talking about, from Diane Abbot appearing not to have read an anti-terror report to Philip Hammond getting the budget for HS2 wrong to the tune of £2billion. These are embarrassing, and sometimes concerning, but on other occasions more akin to trying to turn the election into who can remember the most statistics – possibly not the most important quality for our future leaders?
Truth, more than accuracy in statistics, matters. Without it we will struggle to trust our politicians, and the level of trust in our public institutions – vital for our society’s health – will not recover.
Justice is a remarkably slippery term. It is often used, as Tim Keller comments, as a way of ending discussion and placing anyone seeking of arguing against you as in the wrong: “To continue to press your argument is to stand on the side of injustice, and who wants to do that?” (Generous Justice p149).
In its broadest sense justice is putting right what is wrong. Therefore people with different political persuasions and priorities will see different issues as justice issues, and of primary importance to be rectified.
One theme that has been present across this election is intergenerational injustice. From proposals to change how elderly social care is funded to the cost of university education, this has been an election campaign where the difference between generations in terms of policy offers and political engagement has come to the fore. How do we balance our responsibility as a society to care for people in later life, with the importance of caring for those at the earlier stages of life?
Over the last few decades older people have played a powerful role in elections because of their far higher turnout on election day. When they (broad sweeping statement caveat necessary) criticise a policy politicians take it seriously because it could affect their electoral fortunes. The upshot of this is that issues of intergenerational justice, the society that we are building for our children and grandchildren to grow old in, is a difficult sell to voters compared to policies that provide help and reassurance in the immediate future.
The most important aspect of freedom in any election campaign is the freedom to vote, and in doing so have a say over the future direction of our country. This has become especially prominent because of the actions of those causing terror in Manchester and London. If they had their way we would not have the freedoms we enjoy, and that the election goes ahead is an essential stand against the threat they pose and fear they try to spread.
We live in a plural society where we live together with our differences and we differ not just in appearance or cultural background but in worldview. A vital part of our freedom is being able to promote a vision based on our worldview and for Christians this finds its most important expression in the freedom to share our faith with other people and tell of the difference that Jesus makes to our lives. It must also mean the freedom to live out our faith and promote ideas and policies that grow out of it that we believe are good for all of society.
We have incredible freedoms in the UK to speak about Jesus, but sometimes in politics it seems to be hard to live transformed by his grace and into his image. When politicians are committed to their faith they are parodied, and subject to inquisitions that would not be tolerated of people with any other world view. The freedom for Christians to live out their beliefs in public life is something we will have to work for, it means having courage to stand up and be counted in public life. We need Christian leaders who are aware of the cost it may come with, and are committed to follow Jesus into challenging places, even if that is in the glare of the media spotlight or the crucible of the parliamentary debating chamber.
A society built on love, truth, justice and freedom will not come from the result of a single election result. It will come when men and women committed to following Jesus stand up and give voice to a vision for society to flourish. We must have hope that just as God has transformed our lives, He can transform our world.
Our actions in response to that vision may start with a cross on a sheet in a polling station, but they carry on as we step out into society and take responsibility for seeing the kind of society we want come about.