Benedict Rogers is a human rights activist, a former Parliamentary Candidate, and is Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission.
Recently I was contacted by someone from The Christian Party, asking for suggestions for candidates to stand for Parliament. It got me thinking, not about potential candidates but about the existence of a “Christian party”. And I concluded that, as a Christian, I am very deeply and profoundly opposed to such a party, and somewhat disturbed by its existence.
I don’t wish to pick a political fight with my fellow Christians, nor do I intend to sink into the kind of partisan politics in which we engage normally with other mainstream parties, but I simply wish to set out five reasons why, as a Christian, I passionately oppose The Christian Party.
First, I would like to encourage more Christians to engage with politics through the mainstream political parties. If we do wish to see the values in which we believe advanced in government and public life, the way to do it is through the political parties that have a realistic chance of power. Christians should be involved where it matters, at the heart of our political system, not on the sidelines.
Second, what on earth is a “Christian party”? While there are clear values around which Christians of all denominations can unite, I find it hard to see a specific “Christian” policy on a wide range of aspects of government. What is a Christian transport policy? What is a Christian agriculture policy? Indeed, even in areas such as economics, education, health, the environment, foreign affairs, defence, international development, welfare and home affairs, what is a “Christian” manifesto? There are broad values which should guide our thinking on these matters, but there always has been, and always will be, plenty of room for debate and disagreement over how those values translate into detailed policy. To suggest that one party’s policies are any more “Christian” than another’s is dangerous.
Third, do we actually want to be electing to Parliament more “Christians” per se, or simply better MPs? To put it another way, there are plenty of Christians who would do a lousy job at representing their constituents or legislating for the country. There are, of course, some very fine Christians who are also excellent, dedicated, hard-working, intelligent, thoughtful and effective MPs currently, and we should encourage them and encourage more like them to stand. But there are also plenty of excellent MPs who are not Christians. The point is, it is possible to be a good MP without being a Christian, and it is also possible to be a Christian and be a very poor MP. It is possible for an MP who is not a Christian to share many Christian values, and work to advance them, and equally possible for a so-called ‘Christian’ to be rather poor at living up to Christian values. So while of course Christians will want to encourage fellow Christians to engage in politics, we should also be considering how we improve the quality of representation in Parliament altogether. Faced with a choice between a capable candidate who shares similar values with me, even if he or she does not attach a religious label, and simply a ‘Christian’ candidate, as a Christian I would choose capability over labelling.
Fourth, I fear that groups such as The Christian Party risk giving Christians a bad name. I would like Christians, and the values we hold, to be taken seriously. Yet there is a risk that The Christian Party inadvertently portrays Christians as a fringe bunch of cranks and grumblers, or to use the Prime Minister’s well-known description of another minor party, “fruitcakes”. That is not the image I wish to have. Christians should present a message of hope, compassion, joy and, yes, love, but some fringe groups risk sounding angry and hateful. Pope Francis has done a huge amount in less than a year to change this perception, and to gain a hearing once again for Christians in public discourse. Let’s not let a few cranks spoil that.
Finally, I spend a significant part of my time advocating for freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of conscience, for all, and particularly speaking on behalf of religious minorities in theocratic states. I am therefore not in favour of any Christian attempt to introduce theocracy into politics here. Our faith, if we have one, should inform our values and therefore our politics, and there should not be an artificial separation between the sacred and secular, because we believe in a God who created the world and cares for all his creation. We believe every human being is made “imago Dei”, “in the image of God”, and therefore the dignity of every human being is of paramount importance. But recognising dignity means also respecting difference, and that means ensuring that there is room for Christians in all mainstream political parties, working together on shared values but agreeing to differ on detailed policy. That strikes me as a much better way forward than establishing a fringe and somewhat meaningless “Christian party”.