We’re now fully into the second half of this coalition’ government’s term in office and they’ve been very keen to tell us how they’ve been getting on through their ‘warts and all’ mid-term self-assessment. It’s impossible to assume that such a review is spin free, but overall it has been welcome to see even if it hasn’t told us anything new. Transparency is of vital importance if governments expect to build the electorate’s confidence in the way they run things in office. All governments fall short on this matter and I doubt this will ever cease to be the case, so any small steps should be cautiously welcomed, even if as in this instance they are of minimal value and predominantly a publicity exercise.
David Cameron and Nick Clegg have also been telling us what they’re planning to do in the next two-and-a-half years. They’ve used the opportunity to publicly renew their commitment to stick together as a chance to focus on their priorities as a coalition.
Back in November, knowing this was likely to come up in the new year, I thought it would be interesting to do some research and find out what Christians view as the issues that are a priority to them at this stage in the life of this parliament. If you had the chance to analyse recent headlines relating to Christians and politics, I’m confident that you’d find top issue in the news would be gay marriage. It’s been such a dominant item over the last year that to those on the outside it could easily give the impression that is pretty much all Christians care about. I’ve never believed this to be the case, but to test my hypothesis I put a message out on Twitter asking Christians to tell me what was the political issue they are currently most concerned about. I received 75 replies which is not enough to give a reliable analysis of what the Christian population at large thinks, but it does give an indication of what a larger survey might look like. Here is the breakdown of responses:
Certainly gay marriage was mentioned, but as you can see, it’s a long way from the top. What has heartened me most from these figures is that traditional Biblical themes such as caring for the poor and vulnerable, strong communities and managing money carefully are of far more importance than issues to do with sexuality. I’m not saying that these aren’t important, but the results of this (limited) survey are closer to the themes that Jesus talks about in the gospels. It also suggests that Christians are worth paying attention to when it comes to politics, because the emphasis of many of these priorities is not of a selfish nature. It’s wanting the best for all of us. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but to me it shows how the Christian faith greatly influences our outlook on life. A relationship with God does change our hearts for the better.
Tim Montgomerie, joint founder of the Conservative Christian Fellowship and editor of Conservative Home website wrote an article at the end of December setting out twelve policies he believes would appeal to Christians:
- A big emphasis on family, education and work as the conception of social justice.
- A commitment to the 0.7% development target and redirection of aid monies to the poorest nations of the world.
- Freedoms for church and other faith schools to grow or establish.
- Protection of children from internet porn and other forms of sexualisation and commercialisation.
- Enhancement of the tax reliefs that help churches to serve their communities.
- Appointment of more non-Anglicans to the House of Lords to recognise Britain’s denominational and religious breadth.
- A focus on hospice care and reassurance that existing laws on assisted dying and euthanasia will be maintained.
- Reassurance that there will be no further liberalisation of Sunday trading laws.
- Introduction of an offer of independent counselling for women considering an abortion.
- The introduction of a tax allowance for married couples with dependent children or relatives.
- A big effort to assure Christians that their liberties will be protected in an age when there are real and perceived conflicts between equalities laws and some traditionalist beliefs – especially towards gay people.
- A determination to put religious freedom at the heart of foreign policy.
There is some overlap between these two lists, with Montgomerie adding some other sensible themes. In his article he talks about the need for the Conservative party to reach out to Christian voters through such policies to gain their support. The same could be said for any other political party. I think though that he misses one important aspect of appealing to Christian voters. Most of these points he raises won’t just benefit Christians and other faith groups. I honestly believe that Christians are on the whole less self-centred than the average person. Christians want to be able to live out their faith without interference from the state, but the majority don’t want any sort of special privileges over other groups. If parties want to court the Christian vote then they need to focus on what is best for our society, rather than throwing out superficial platitudes to faith groups which is the current tendency. What is of importance to Christians more often than not is good for all of us, but unfortunately that message appears to get lost in our political spheres, so perhaps if parties want to increase credibility amongst Christians they should begin by listening to them and taking their views seriously. As we head down the long road to the next general election it would be wise for all of our political parties to bear this in mind.
Many thanks to everyone who responded to this survey.