Politics today is experiencing an earthquake.
From Brexit to Trump and even the Assembly in Northern Ireland. We live in increasingly uncertain and contentious times. The EU referendum campaign and the 2017 Presidential election showed that politics is increasingly defined by polarisation not peace. Politicians are often defined by what they are against, rather than what they are for.
The social and cultural fault lines which were exposed during the US election have been seen, in part, to mirror the Brexit campaign. This is reflective of a wider phenomenon – a shift away from respectful and mature conversation, in return for contentious and unpeaceful campaigning. In Northern Ireland, (at the time of writing) we are currently 281 days into the absence of government with a deal appearing elusive. In these times of uncertainty where do Christians place themselves? How do we respond to this new era of politics?
As someone who studied politics, but is also a Christian, I often wonder where faith and politics can intersect.
At times, this creates a conflict, but I believe that it is important for Christians to engage with and strive for better politics and debate. The danger of the poor debate is apathy. But as Christians, we are presented in 2 Corinthians 5 with a deeply political image of people who carry out the mission of another kingdom. We are called to engage and approach politics and debate from a place of peace and confidence in God.
What does this look like?
We should respect the democratic process that saw Donald Trump become President; even if we disagree, it is important to be respectful and accepting of the result and process. As Christians, we often talk about dignity, and this should be present when talking about our political representatives or opponents. Donald Trump was born with inherent dignity, value and worth in the eyes of Jesus. This, however, should not stand in the way of critiquing or criticising leaders when necessary – after all, John the Baptist stood up to Herod. We should however, conduct ourselves in a respectful and dignified way.
In Northern Ireland, we are no strangers to identity politics. In fact, it defines how we are governed. However, the 2017 Presidential election is just one facet of an ever-changing political landscape, where identity and nationalism are of high importance. This was clear with the resurgence of English Nationalism during the EU referendum and calls to “make America great again” in the US election. What we are witnessing is discontent with a political system that for too long has failed to represent ordinary people.
As identity and politics become more synonymous, it is important for us to remember where our identity lies. We are first and foremost citizens of Christ’s Kingdom and should avoid being defined by our nationality. However, this is not a reason to disengage with politics. As Christians, we are told not to become ‘so well-adjusted to our culture that we fit into it without even thinking’ (Romans 12:2). The right to critique or oppose is the cornerstone of democracy but let us do this in a way which doesn’t conform to current polarising debate.
What can we do? Firstly, we can vote! We have been afforded a democratic right to choose the people who will steward our nation, so it is important that we exercise this right to engage with politics in a meaningful and appropriate way. Secondly, we should engage in a respectful manner. This will show what it means to cross the divide and value one another as a neighbour. Frustration with politics should magnify our intent to get involved and advocate for leaders who will lead well. Finally, we can pray. In Timothy 1 and 2 we are called to pray for our leaders. In the case of Northern Ireland, we should pray for leaders to take risks to restore power and to steward their role well. No matter our political persuasion it is important to pray for those in positions of power, that they will use their role for the good of many and not for personal gain.
So, in a world of Trump, Brexit and fake news let us participate, pray and encourage.