We had a group come to speak to our local churches recently who work in the political arena and help equip Christians to engage in that sphere. They had lots of helpful resources and info and gave a good presentation which many, myself included, found extremely helpful.
BUT . . . I was left feeling uneasy. And I think it was because their approach, helpful though it was (and this is only my perception – it may be wrong), was basically defensive. Most of the presentation concerned issues or areas we should be protecting (and we should) and what we can do about it (and we should). But it felt like the Christian’s primary approach to the political world was negative, shaped by what we’re against. And our action it seemed was to protest, lobby, and write to our MPs about all our concerns.
Now, don’t mishear me. I’m not saying they’re wrong or that we shouldn’t do any of that stuff. I think we should do all of that stuff. But I would have loved to hear them encouraging us as Christians to be positively and constructively involved in the world around us (and perhaps its unfair to expect one organisation to cover all the bases). I’m not talking about Christians going into politics necessarily (though of course they may if they feel so called). I’m really more concerned about the way in which we can most fruitfully work in the public square with the authorities God has set in place for the flourishing of our local communities.
Our leaders (local and national) hopefully are doing the jobs they’re doing because they want to see local communities thrive. So do we. And presumably our local leaders want to encourage and support those groups which work fruitfully toward that end (that’s hopefully us right?). So our political leaders might be more favourably disposed toward us (and therefore to listening to our concerns) if they know we’re concerned, like them, to help people where we are, and to know that we’re behind them, supporting them, in all the ways they are seeking to do the same. We surely want to spend more time working with, rather than working against, local civic leaders wherever possible (and I know that’s easier in some places than others).
So, to give a few examples, things like foodbanks, CAP centres, night shelters, street pastors, support groups, conservation projects, and aid/relief efforts all serve to improve lives. Where these are done well local leaders will (hopefully) take notice, and they should be pleased with the groups that serve the well-being of the community. If positive relationships can then also be established with local leaders (inviting them to various events/services/lunches etc etc.) then they’re far more likely to listen to us when we voice a concern; it demonstrates a desire to bless and love our communities, not just protect our own turf.
Think of it this way. If you in any sort of position of leadership, and you have someone working for you who only collars you to complain, there comes a point when you (rightly or wrongly) begin to ignore and dismiss that person – ‘that’s just them; they’re always moaning.’ If, however, you have a co-worker who you know has your back, is on your side, and works for the team – if that person comes with a concern you’ll be far more likely to take it seriously and act upon it. The same will likely be true for our local leaders. If our political engagement amounts to little more than protest and angry complaint our voice will become quickly dismissed and ignored. But if our public engagement is first and foremost positive, both in terms of our public support for our leaders, and our positive work for our communities as we offer public support to our leaders and work hard to help our communities thrive, then our local governors are far more likely to be favourably disposed towards our work and our concerns.