God loves a Tory

Inspiration for this post

Last week’s Theos report on the voting habits of christians, catholics and those of other faiths seemed to prompt a bit of comment. I haven’t witnessed a hornet’s nest, more the recognition of some uncomfortable truths. The headline that got the most attention was that the Church of England remains the Tory party at prayer.

From my perspective, the most interesting aspect was about the variability in nonconformist churches. I’ve written before a little about my political views and how they relate to my faith, but I want to take an alternative look at here.

Background to my thinking

To those who would claim that christianity is inherently apolitical, I would recommend reading through the New Testament after some reading literature about Roman culture in the first centuries BC & AD, playing a game of “spot the counter imperial rhetoric”.

To give something of an order of priorities, to me as a christian, Christ comes first. How we understand the person, teachings, life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth are paramount. We may use a variety of tools (variously coming the umbrella term ‘theology’, though some are identifiable by other names such as history or philosophy) to understand him, but this is the way to approach questions of faith and God. To drive straight at these topics without going via Jesus is like trying to walk through a brick wall while ignoring the door. This task is not individualistic, but is to be undertaken as a community, an ekklesia, a church. That is not to be corporatist, either; we each have our own responsibility, just as I have my particular duties within my company. I am not my company and could not possibly fulfill all its duties. I need the help of my colleagues.

Out of this understanding comes a revised worldview. This, to my understanding, is the sort of thing Paul refers to in Romans 12 where he speaks of the renewal of the mind. This worldview expresses itself a variety of ways. Amongst the many colours, shades, shapes and flavours this manifests itself, politics is one them. To try to remove politics from the worldview strikes me as artificial. It says “I will let this thing called christianity inform and potentially change my views on A, B and C, but not X, Y and Z”.

From this revised mindset we can then ask what kind of politics this entails. I have given a sketch of what this mindset looks like before. To summarise, I find the position I am in can broadly be described as left-wing. This statement must be understood carefully. I would not claim that christianity is inherently left wing or right wing. These are terms that came into our language from the French Revolution. To apply them retrospectively to Jesus and his early followers is anachronistic. What I do is find my worldview based on my best understanding of the relevant issues involved and then look at who my nearest neighbours are.

From political views to party politics

Of course, not everyone agrees with me. That much seems clear from the Theos report. But there is a factor missing here, which is the link between political views and political parties. While I describe myself as left-wing and have views on various topics that could be described similarly, it does not follow that that means I should wholly and unequivocally support a particular political party.

This was epitomised last week during a Twitter exchange with the organisation, Christians on the Left (formerly the Christian Socialists). I stated that I could not become a member because they are affiliated to the Labour party. Some take the view that it is better to be a part of a party with whom you disagree so that you can attempt to change it, others like that is idealistic and foolhardy, preferring to stand on your own principles rather than kowtow to the whims of the party leaders and whatever manifesto their spin doctors have produced. You won’t be surprised to read that I fall into the latter group. I will not be a member of a political party nor be a member of an organisation that has a close affiliation with a political party.

That doesn’t mean I abstain from voting for people who members of political parties. As I went some way to explaining before the referendum on the alternative vote system I am also a pragmatist and have voted tactically in the past. This has led, in the past, to me voting for Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and independent candidates, at one election or another. Ideally, I would like to be able to vote for individual local representatives, based on their own policies and ideas as well as to vote for cabinet members who, having met a requirement for suitable experience (e.g. an education secretary who has worked in a school or a health secretary who has worked as a doctor or a nurse). That’s my kind of idealism, but I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime.

For now, I settle with trying to make the best of bad system. Though it may surprise some, I bite my tongue a lot when it comes to political matters. No more so than in the office where I am surrounded by conservatives (indeed Conservatives) who views sicken me. But this is not the place to moan about my workmates.

The main point

So, with that slightly lengthy preamble over, what of the title of this piece? If I find the values of individualism and greed which lie at the heart of what it means to be a right-winger to be an anathema to my christian beliefs, why am I happy to worship alongside conservatives?

It is because of the order of things referred to above. First and foremost, the ecclesiology I hold to is one of inclusiveness and unity. We are to be one Church abiding in Jesus Christ. Everything else comes second. We may disagree about some of the consequences of what it means to be a christian, but so long as we are looking at the same Jesus, then we can stand side by side.

It is because of this that I am happy to worship alongside conservatives, creationists, homophobes, misogynists and any other type of person who holds views contrary to me own. Yes, I think they are all wrong and would dearly love them to think through their views, but that should not be an obstacle to fellowship. Yes, it may cause difficulties and make us all assess what the tone should be that we use when univocally declare the gospel of the coming of kingdom of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, but that doesn’t mean we should stay silent on the matter until we agree on every secondary or tertiary matter.

Unity in the Church (including cooperation and shared fellowship between churches) is something I have, in recent months, come to prioritise more than I have done before.

To look at it the other way round, imagine if churches were not welcoming to those who disagreed with one or two points of emphasis. We would end up shutting people out. The first people I want in churches are sinners, a category in which I include myself. Just as I may view conservatives as the “weaker brother” I know they probably view me similarly, thinking that my left-wing ideas of caring for people are immature or naive.

If we are to understand that the CofE leadership is broadly liberal, then having a conservative membership may actually speak to the leadership’s credit. If they have fostered an environment where any and all feel welcome, then that is something to be commended. I might not agree with someone’s voting patterns, and I am glad I live in a country where I can say so. OK, the Tories may have just pushed through a gagging law preventing religious organisations and other charities from criticising their policies, which is rather worrying. However, as that was not part of their manifesto or the coalition agreement, those who voted for the Tories last time cannot really be held responsible for the passing of such a draconian measure.

We can have our discussions over party politics, over matters of socio-economic policy and I think it’s fine in the short term for us to disagree over how the gospel impacts those. But when it comes to church, let us put aside those differences and worship the risen and living God together.

11 responses to “God loves a Tory

  1. Good stuff. And I agree with you. We can be united on the core stuff but have differing opinions on secondary issues.

    See my own blg today about research on how young wd start to hate the other.

    • It gets particularly thorny when deciding what is and isn’t a “core” issue. Have known people who take a Ken Ham approach to Genesis and insist that one must be a creationist to be a christian. Others, who take a more creedal approach, wonder about my reticence to affirm the virgin birth.

      The issue of ‘other’ was raised a few years ago with my nieces, as we drove past a mosque. They made angry faces and said that “Baddie God” lived there. This was quite shocking to hear from the mouths of a 7 & 8 year old, as it certainly wasn’t anything directly picked up at school or church. It seemed to be a bad inference from a number of sources.

  2. One tiny thing – your first link (Theos report) seems to go through to a “tunnel of love in Ukraine” which, unless Theos have massively rebranded, might be mistaken.

    I agree that Christianity is not “apolitical” – as you rightly point out Christianity shapes everything including how you do politics. (See Nick Spencer “Freedom and Order” about the influence of the Bible on British politics, I wrote a brief review on my blog recently). I also agree that Christianity is not inherently left/right wing. I think one can be a Christian Conservative or Labour supporter in all good conscience.

    I’m not sure I agree that “individualism and greed” is at the heart of being a Conservative. Although I’m not a Conservative, I know a number of Christians who vote Conservative in good conscience without thinking that they are voting for individualism and greed.

    In general I feel like politics and Christian public engagement is a massively complicated area where Christians can legitimately disagree and I feel like people often go too far when characterising people on the ‘other side’, so to speak. (It probably doesn’t help that I have a few friends who think the Tories are essentially Evil Incarnate and don’t hold back their views.)

    “It is because of this that I am happy to worship alongside conservatives, creationists, homophobes, misogynists and any other type of person who holds views contrary to me own”

    I’m agree with you on church unity – I think where the rubber hits the road on unity is actually having to get along with people we genuinely disagree with (rather than a kind of pseudo-disagreement about something insignificant). However, I would take issue with labelling people using pejorative terms like “misogynist” and “homophobic”: to take one example, I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve called me ‘homophobic’ or ‘bigoted’, just for holding to a traditional Biblical ethic on sexuality. It really doesn’t help dialogue or express unity. Especially when I would vigorously deny the charge that the traditional Christian position on sexuality is homophobic.

    In general I like the tone of your post, I hope this isn’t straining a gnat and swallowing a camel 🙂

    • Link corrected.

      With individualism and greed, I would stand by this comment, though maybe with an extra qualification. That is, these are values which lie at the heart of capitalism – a system which I work in as an accountant. So while someone may try to shun these values as a response to a christian ethic, I think to then endorse capitalism is an example of cognitive dissonance. Another example of this comes from a Conservative MP who is outspoken in his christian belief and who very helpfully supports the food bank which my father helps run; yet the same MP is a junior minister in the DWP and has consistently voted in line with government policy to restrict social security and has thereby contributed to the increased need for the food bank. Interestingly, the neighbouring constituency is represented by an equally outspoken christian MP, representing the Labour party.

      As for homophobia/misogyny, that was a touch of rhetoric on my part, rather than analysis. I’ve witnessed intolerance on both sides in these matters. One was an instance where someone came out as gay and was accepted by an overwhelming majority of their church, which was quite evangelical in their approach. But two people kicked up a fuss and made my friend feel unwelcome, ultimately driving them away not only from that local church but from christianity altogether. That is what I would refer to as “homophobia”.

      On the flip side, another friend of mine, an anglican, was sponsored by their diocese to study theology with the aim of ultimately going for ordination. But because they held to a “traditional” view which they described in a similar way that you do, they were barred from ordained.

      Though we may be singing off the same hymn sheet with regards to unity, I would phrase the key question as: how can we be tolerant of the intolerant?

  3. “these are values which lie at the heart of capitalism – a system which I work in as an accountant. So while someone may try to shun these values as a response to a christian ethic, I think to then endorse capitalism is an example of cognitive dissonance.”

    I do wonder, though, whether individualism and greed – and particularly greed – lie at the heart of capitalism because they are problems of the human heart. I think that capitalism could work if people weren’t selfish and greedy – just like any other political system. And any alternative will have a different set of problems, simply because we are human.

    I also think there are different ways of looking at what’s best for the country. I don’t think the welfare state, for example, is “the” Christian way of helping the poor. Certainly in the past churches and Christians would have been more intimately involved.

    I feel like people often assume “capitalism is bad” or “socialism is good”, or any number of alternatives without realising that nothing will deal with the root of the problem (not saying that’s you, by the way). – Ultimately no change will happen without God changing hearts.

    “how can we be tolerant of the intolerant?”

    Yes, I think that’s a good question, and not an easy one to answer. Don Carson wrote a book a year or two ago called “The Intolerance of Tolerance”, where he talks about the old definition of tolerance vs. the new. The new tolerance is basically conformism – you’re not allowed to believe something which society finds unacceptable. And sadly there are Christian examples of intolerance (which is a shame, because I think tolerance really sprang from a Christian worldview).

  4. It is a sad to see so many commentators use the words Capitalist and Capitalism without bothering to check 1st. the meaning of The Word and the purpose it was created to serve and 2nd. the person who gave us The Word, .

    The Answer to the 2nd Part is .. The Word ws created my Mr. Karl Marx an obscure foreign ‘philospher’ of sorts, who was attempting to describe the workings and social mechanism of the inhabitants of that very strange country he saw out of the window from his seat in the British Library. For Christians Jesus is the Word and the Word is with Him. For Socialist for 100 years The Word has been with Marx. Personaly I have to say that Jesus or the prophet ‘Issa ibn Maryam’ as our brother Moslems pronounce the name (Issa son-of Mary)
    has a better understanding of the workings of humanity than does Mr. Marx, so it is The Word according to Jesus (Issa) that guides a good conservative and the good Moslem and the Word according to Marx that guides our lost brethren and other pagan peoples. We Conservatives and our brother Mohamedans can help guide these lost socialist souls back to the one true path and up into the sunlit uplands of a Conservative world.

  5. I’m interested in your approaches to a) party politics and b) the church – why is it that you’re happy to worship alongside people with whom you vehemently disagree on theological issues, and yet not be in a party when you may strongly disagree with some of the people? This seems to me to be a slight contradiction – even more so given that you do vote.

    Both activities have core objectives, a) to change society, and b) to worship etc. Sometimes we just have to join with people in pursuit of broadly shared objectives.

    • I can see how one could see my position as being self-contradictory and I fear I won’t have sufficient time or space in this reply, typed up during my lunch break, to fully answer that point.

      As I see it, one can choose to be loyal to ideas or to parties, but not to both. One may choose to compromise, by saying “I will join the Liberal Democrats, even though I don’t agree with their policy on schools.” But policies change all the time, as they should, in response to events and situations in the real world. But behind these policies should be the ideas, the principles, which ought to be unchanging. I am not convinced that any mainstream political party has such firm principles. You state that their core objective is to change society. That is true, up to a point. Their primary objective, though, is the obtaining of power. So long as the rhetoric we hear is about who had power before, who has power now and who hopes to have power in the future, there is no sense of politicians being public servants.

      When it came to the vote on the alternative vote system, I sided with the Lib Dems; when it comes to an EU referendum, I side with the Conservatives; on the current plan to ban smoking in cars with children in, I side with Labour. I feel standing by the issues is more important than loyalty to the party, as the party line is apt to change with the tides of popular opinion.

      As for the Church, it shouldn’t need to change its principles. Yes, we may get things wrong at times and need to refocus (as in the Reformation), but if we build our house on the rock of Jesus’ teachings (c.f. Matthew 7) and the declaration that he is the Messiah (c.f. Matthew 16) then we won’t need to keep rewriting a manifesto.

  6. Marx or no Marx, Capitalism is simply the name given to the economic system of the free Market. Profitability and the interests of owners and share-holders are paramount. Thus an increasingly privatised NHS endangers lives on many fronts from cutting corners. Structurally to succeed, it depends on ruthless competition.
    I too am close to Christians who do not see any contradiction between their politics and their faith. I tend to feel that deeper reflection on the consequences of their economics would surely cause a re-think. But then there are still the presumably well-informed ones who are still Christian Tories. I guess just like our theologies. our politics are informed by our life experiences, individual personalities and perspectives so we can persuade and discuss and agree to differ – most of the time. But what about when issues arise that are very serious like threatening fascism [which I consider to be very real], policies directly causing death and suicide – or genocide ? It is harder then to be so tolerant and may be qrong as well ???

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