I was very disappointed not to be able to attend the Faith + Justice conference in Oxford hosted jointly by Jubilee+ and Nexus two weeks ago. Jubilee+ is a team set up by UK Newfrontiers with the aim of equipping churches to engage more effectively with our communities and particularly to help them increase their capacity to serve the poor. Nexus is part of Emmanuel Church in Oxford and like Jubilee+ wants to equip and motivate churches to engage with big issues in the world around us.
What made the Faith + Justice conference so special is that these groups on behalf of the churches they work with gathered together so many people from the world of politics to talk about and discuss what it means to be a Christian working in the political arena and how Christians at all levels can engage effectively with politics.
Jubilee+ on their blog entry reviewing the conference made reference to comments from the two MPs who spoke:
“As a Christian politician I have felt unwelcome in churches during difficult votes.” That was the first statement of the day that really challenged me – but it certainly wasn’t the last. It was spoken by Conservative MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, Nicola Blackwood, who addressed us first.
She spoke about how we don’t seem to have worked out how our faith influences the way we make decisions in politics and, generally, we respond in a rather secular way. We need to be more mature and sophisticated. How many of us, for example, engage with our local politicians on all the issues – not just the ones that we have strong opinions about, the ones that we may disagree with them on? Giving examples of how her colleagues get endless angry mail on issues such as the same-sex marriage debate, she challenged us to stop and think about what impression we are giving them of Christians. “How about inviting your local MP to your church to be interviewed?” she asked. Nicola said she felt that there is a gap of authority for the Church at the moment – while we may have regained some ground we need to stand and lead.
After lunch our keynote speaker was Labour’s Shadow Minister for Employment, the Rt Hon Stephen Timms. He told us that “Christians are uniquely placed to bring hope into politics”. Having been in politics for around 20 years, he was able to share stories about a real recognition among politicians of the role of churches in society. He cited John Harris of The Guardian, who has found that when you see churches such as Frontline, based in Liverpool, responding to social emergencies so enthusiastically, it is hard to be sceptical.
Stephen challenged us, saying: “Far too often Christians have vacated the political playing field and then complained about the result” and adding, “In every community we need people of faith worshipping but also being active.”
It’s very positive to see the way these two organisations are looking to encourage churches to think politically. In particular Emmanuel Church in Oxford has made a brave step to fund Nexus and put its resources into promoting an important aspect of Christian faith in a way that very few other churches would.
I’m hoping there will be a Faith + Justice conference again next year. After the success of this year’s there deserves to be. Hopefully I won’t miss out again.