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Whose responsibility?

Britain is becoming increasingly secular which means that public policy and legislation sometimes fly in the face of Christian beliefs and values. Legislation on same-sex marriage and Sunday trading both upset conservative Christians, as has a more inclusive approach to other faiths in religious education.

Their response is sadly too often to blame the politicians for this, including the Christian MPs and Peers. There is a significant number of Christian MPs on both sides of the House. The 26 Bishops in the Lords are joined by a considerable number of lay Christian Peers. So why are they not stopping these laws and policies? There are three reasons.

The first is obvious – they are a minority and even if they all agreed they would still be outvoted. Second, they don’t always agree and speak up for traditional Christian positions. Some of them voted for same-sex marriage because they thought that equal treatment of same-sex couples was right. The Sunday Trading Bill was Government policy and was whipped. To vote against it would most likely have meant losing the party whip. Whilst on a big issue of conscience they might be willing to do that and risk losing their seat, this was not such an issue. Many people already worked on Sundays in hospitals, public transport and the emergency services. Nor were all Christians boycotting Sunday shopping.

The third reason is that those MPs were not seriously supported by the Christian public. They will tell you that some of the nastiest letters they receive are from Christian constituents. I have seen some of these letters sent to committed Christian MPs and they are outrageous. The sad truth is that there is still a tendency for conservative Christians to think politics is a dirty business and want nothing to do with it until the politicians do something they believe to be wrong. Then it is too late. It seems that those who think like this have failed to understand Jesus’ teaching about his disciples being salt and light and rendering to “Caesar what is Caesar’s”. Nor have they taken seriously what St Paul said about submitting to the governing authorities in Romans 13 and St Peter said in his first letter (2: 13-17). Indeed, it is arguable that if Jesus’ disciples vacate the public square it is not surprising that others have steered the nation in the wrong direction. As the Christian MP Edmund Burke is reputed to have said “all it takes for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing”

A common excuse from active Christians is that they are too busy with church responsibilities to involve themselves in politics. The doors of Geneva’s churches in Calvin’s time were locked on Sunday night and stayed locked until the following Sunday because the place of God’s people was in the world seeking to be salt and light for God’s glory. Even if we have time-consuming responsibilities caring for our children or frail relatives; we can still read or listen to the news and pray for those elected to govern us. They are not all liars and hypocrites as those nasty letters declare. Who’s responsible? We all are and if we don’t like what is happening to our nation it is time we recognised this and took appropriate action.

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