Occasionally people have a go at labelling my political leanings. Fascinatingly, I’ve been identified as “left-wing” on a few occasions recently. Now, whilst I try to stay clear of party political endorsements on Faithroots, I do touch on matters of public policy including economics, freedom of speech, etc. You may draw your own conclusions on where I sit on the political spectrum. The specific issue that has led to people labelling me as a bit of a leftie has been race and immigration.
My personal take is that it is best for pastors to stay out of party and partisan politics. As a pastor I refrained from telling people who I voted for in elections and I did not state at the time which way I would vote in the referendum. Others take a different view and are happy to talk about their party leanings and their position on the EU, Scottish Independence etc. For me, it’s not that I naively expect people to follow my lead just because I’m their pastor, it’s that I don’t want political tribalism to become a distraction from the work of the Gospel, both in terms of the care of the flock and evangelism. In some places, you will find that people don’t care much beyond dinner party conversation about your political history, however in other places it really does matter. For example, in Bearwood there were people literally not talking to their parents over Brexit!
It is also worth remembering that our political views can change over time and that the position of political parties changes over time. You may have supported the Conservative Party in the late 1980s supporting their position on low taxes, a nuclear deterrent and increasingly the prison population but changed your mind on those things since and so voted differently. Equally, supporting Labour at the 1997 General Election meant something very different to voting for Jeremy Corbyn in 2017 and 2019.
However, I don’t believe that this means we should be a-political, silent on matters that touch on politics. Why? Well, there are two reasons for this. First of all, because what we believe affects how we live and that includes all aspects of life. Discipleship is worked out in our attitudes towards the poor, the immigrant, our families, the victims of crime, the environment, what kids get taught and how they get taught in school etc.
The second reason is this. I want people to hear God’s Word clearly. One helpful way of doing this is making sure that there is transparency about what I personally think so that when you hear me saying something, you can see whether or not it is affected a little by the worldviews that provide my lens on life. You can also see when God’s Word is at work disagreeing with me. So, it is a surprise when we hear someone saying something, not because it goes with their natural political leanings but because God’s word has clearly convicted them on the matter.
It is fascinating then, that we often see race and what is termed “social justice” as left/right matter. It’s assumed that if you are centre right then you’ll be sceptical of the prevalence of (especially systemic/institutional) racism in society and anti-immigration. Ironically, our current Prime Minister in his Mayoral incarnation was much more relaxed about illegal immigration than many of his fellow Conservatives and supported an amnesty for asylum seekers.
However, a concern to see the sin and idolatry of racism confronted, to see a society that welcomes and loves the foreigner in their midst should not be seen as the preserve of socialists. Nor should Christians who encourage the church to address issues of racism within be immediately accused of racism -whether or not they are. This is not a matter of left-right politics. It is a matter of looking at what the Bible says. Read Paul’s letters to the Ephesians, Galatians and Romans and it becomes clear that the Gospel leaves no room for ethnic pride, prejudice or hostility.
How we treat people from different ethnic groups is not party political issue. It is an implication of what we believe about the Gospel.