When you look at the state of politics both in the UK and the States it’s easy to see why so many people think they have the answer.
The story goes a little like this: once upon a time, countries and their politicians respected God. They looked to him for leadership and sought to do what he wanted. But then the bad times came and people turned away, took their own advice and evicted God from public life. Along came the heroes, no longer on white horses but dressed in white suits. They offered salvation for our nation if only we would turn back from God and do as they say. Okay, maybe not… Martin Bell didn’t call the nation back to God but he was a crusader for truth. Except a curious thing has happened. The louder people shout and the more right they become convinced they are, the less they are respected and listened to. Of course those who agree are affirmed in their position and grateful that someone is standing up for what they believe. And their opponents are provoked into even more incendiary responses, which for Christians of a certain ilk reinforce the idea that they must be on the right track – persecution is after all to be expected for a defender of the true faith.
But the true faith becomes a more and more marginal concern. To maximise the political return it focuses on issues that rally the already faithful and pitches battles across a chasm that only ever grows wider.
While truth may have become a dubious commodity for those enfranchised with the vote in recent years, authenticity has become the Holy Grail. ‘Surely the truth is authentic’, I hear heckled from the back. Not when those standing for the truth are shown not to live it. It’s why Boris Johnson swearing at Ken Livingstone in a lift defines his appeal. But when a Christian leader who led campaigns against immorality and opposed gay rights is discovered to have bought drugs and sexual favours from a male escort, a legion of Christians in their twenties turn and walk away.
Boris is authentic. Ted Haggard was not.
Those politicians, who in a fairy tale earlier age looked to God, turn out, when we put down our tinted glasses, to have called on Him to bless their vision for the world. And the ways they have gone about pursuing their vision owe more to the lobby tactics of Enron than the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Os Guinness, whose forefather brought social change through the barrels of a brewery, spoke about this challenge in an interview with the Evangelical Alliance recently. He spoke of the need for Europe to learn from America’s culture war because “the millennial generation is defecting from the faith in droves, the principle reason is the ugliness of the Christian right.”
The answer is not to walk away, to turn from the examples of Christian engagement in the world of politics which disgust and drag the church into disrepute. But to return, with humility and grace, to speak and act on issues of morality and justice – which are surely two sides of the same coin – because the kingdom of God transcends the divides of left and right.