Did the cock crow that morning?
The dilemma for the Christian is that followers of Christ are called to be of influence (as 'salt') in the world but disciples are also warned not to become tarnished or so assimilated with their secular surroundings that they lose their distinctives, and even their faith.
first published 21/03/10
Ed note: The following article relates to a Scottish Liberal Party conference. The case of Tim Farron's resignation (see discussion thread) a decade or so after the article was written again illustrates the dilemma for Christians who wish to remain true to their faith while operating in an increasingly Christian-intolerant political process.
SOME years ago I took a call very early one Sunday morning. It was unusual for my telephone to ring at that time on that day, and I answered the call quickly thinking perhaps it was a problem with a family member or something of that ilk. In fact the call was from a Christian friend (I’ll call him James) who was a leading member and official within one of the mainstream UK political parties.
The occasion of the call was during the annual conference of that particular party and James was due to speak to the assembled party leaders, officials and members later that morning. But James was in turmoil. He explained the situation of finding his Christian conscience in
conflict with a particular, but very important, part of the party’s policies and manifesto. James realised that he had a choice to make that day; he either had to speak to the gathering in terms of his Christian convictions or, alternatively toe the party line. Hence the telephone call to seek counsel and prayer. James explained – and by this time his words were punctuated by stifled tears – that if he were to speak out what he truly believed then his career and years of work (and quiet witness) within that party were finished. He was caught between a rock and a hard place. Of course it was up to him to come to the decision; and I just prayed from him over the phone and also after we had concluded the call.
He had a choice to make that day; he either had to speak to the gathering in terms of his Christian convictions or, alternatively toe the party line.
To my knowledge James is still active in the party and I never did ask him how it went. I didn't feel it was right to do that. It may have been that the Lord freed him later that morning from the situation he was anticipating; it may have been that he was able to in the immediacy of the moment to ‘square the circle’ of conflict in his conscience; it may have been that he felt the Lord telling him to "keep quiet" so as to maintain his standing and witness within the political hothouse. Of course there is also the possibility that he fell into the situation that Peter found himself when the disciple was asked to state his allegiance. I don’t know, but I never heard a cock crow three times that morning. And I’m happy to believe that no rooster did.
In the world but not off the world
However the incident powerfully illustrated the dilemma. If an individual wants to influence events in our world then they have to first get into a position of influence. But here’s the rub. To get into a position of influence it is very often necessary to sacrifice the very ideals that one is fighting to implement.
CATCH 22: To get into a position of influence it is very often necessary to sacrifice the very ideals that one is fighting to implement.
For many of us and for most of the time, the question remains as a philosophical abstract, but especially at time of a General Election (and other pivotal occasions) the issue leaps onto centre stage. And the debate on how best to bring Christian influence into the political domain will go on, and on.
It is the argument of Rev. George Hargreaves of the Christian Party that it is impossible for a Christian to work within the traditional mainstream parties and, on this premise, he believes that what our country needs is a Christian political party. However there are committed Christians who feel called to bear witness into the existing mainstream parties.
Alternatively, there are some branches of Christianity (typically the Brethren) which would believe that Christians should play no part whatsoever in secular politics.
At the other end of the spectrum of opinion, there are others from the Christian Reconstructionist / Theonomy camp which believes that God has given the Christian church a mandate to rule the nations. It's a case of 'take your pick'.
Meanwhile in the Western Isles it seems there is now a Lewisman who feels called to stand as an Independent at the forthcoming General Election.
Whichever way, there should be no place at all in the Christian's list of doctrines for the view that the political process is an alternative means of curing a society's ills. There may be some gains along the way – and the social reforms of the Shaftesburys and Wilbeforces of this world have achieved much – but Christians are essentially swimming against the tide. And Jesus and God's word tells is it will ever be so. But we can rejoice that when the polling booths close and the returns come in that the result will never deflect an Almighty God from His purposes and plans.
Along the way, we need to pray that those believers who feel called – in one form or another to the political realm – will be given the wisdom and strength that they need to keep their witness and armour bright.