This last week, Junior Doctors have been on Strike over pay and conditions. This is against a backdrop of significant and increasing industrial unrest not seen in the UK since the 1970s and early 80s. We’ve seen teachers, train drivers, bus drivers postmen and nurses take or consider industrial action. More strikes and other forms of action are expected over the summer.
I suspect that views will differ sharply and passionately among my readership, particularly over strikes. Our decisions will be influenced by our political views, by relationships (both with those deciding to strike and those affected by strikes) and by our personal experiences.
To what extent though should our views on strikes be influenced and shaped by our Christian faith? And if our faith should have some influence then to what extent can and should pastors/church leaders speak publicly on issues. Even more pertinently, should a church member go to their pastor and ask for their advice on a matter like this?
I suspect that this is an area where many of us would be cautious about pastors having a stated, public position, or even offering one to one advise. This reflects attitudes to politics and voting. We would not presume to tell our congregations how to vote. Does strike action fall into the same category. However, not only do we see it as an obvious, open and shut case that pastors shouldn’t seek to influence the voting habits of church members, many Christians would go further and argue that pastors should not disclose their political views at all. Now, I’m personally of the view that pastors and elders can disclose their personal leanings. However, I’m convinced that this isn’t always wise and that it might be best to stay publicly neutral on party politics. I’ll explain why another time. However, I don’t think this means we should be silent on political issues generally -otherwise we would be silent on many ethical issues. I think it is possible to speak about these things without being tribal towards the left or right or a specific party.
We have views and we share them on these issues because we want Christians to see that Christ is lord of all. If Jesus is Lord of all my life and the rightful king over the whole of creation then we want to think about how he is or isn’t obeyed and glorified in every sphere of life. We cannot compartmentalise specific decisions and think “this has nothing to do with my faith.
A Christian will/or should be thinking Biblically and about how to honour Christ and the Gospel when making decisions about work decisions, promotions, relationships, marriage, health care etc. In each of those decisions, I would hope that we would be praying, considering everything we know about God’s Word and listening to the advice of others. Therefore, I would include our views on strike action, whether to support and whether to participate to be shaped in the same way.
Therefore, I believe that God’s Word will be able to help us in these kinds of decisions. I do not mean that there will be specific proof texts but rather that we will build our views on what the whole counsel of God says. However, those decisions may be a little more complex and situational dependent than we may sometimes assume.
When deciding whether or not to strike, a Christian needs to consider the following principles arising from Scripture.
- Will my decision glorify God and honour the Gospel?
- Will my decision cause harm or suffering?
- Will my decision enable me to stand against injustice?
- Will my decision be responsible in terms of enabling me to best provide for my family?
- Will my decision give me greater opportunities to witness for Christ?
With all that in mind, I would argue that pastors/elders can share their views on strike action both in general and particular examples. Whether or not it is wise for them to do so may vary from context to context and they will need to run through a similar set of questions before speaking. Will their expressed view help pastorally? Will it win an audience for the Gospel or restrict opportunities to witness? Will it bring glory to Christ or distract from him?
Pastors/elders/church leaders should be teaching and discipling the church to help them make wise decisions based on the questions above. We should be using the opportunity that such issues present to challenge people about the underlying heart matters affecting disputes and controversy.