Today’s guest post by Stephen Gray is the third in a series where writers are asked to discuss the reasons for their own political views and how they tie with their Christian faith. The first two are I’m a Christian and this is why I vote Conservative and I’m a Christian and this is why I vote Labour. The hope is that this series will facilitate an open conversation on how faith may be tied to differing political streams of thought. It builds on the findings of the recent Theos report that has analysed voting patterns of Christians, revealing some clear political divisions between some Christian groups.
Stephen lives in Coventry. He has stood as a candidate for the Green Party at both local council and Parliamentary elections. He blogs, far less often than he would like, at greenchristian.co.uk.
I’m a Christian, I vote for the Green Party, and I have done every time they’ve been on my ballot paper. There are two main reasons why I support the Greens and, whilst my faith is certainly not the only influence on my politics, both of these reasons are rooted in my theology. I’ll start with the reason you’re probably all expecting me to bring up: the environment.
The first reference to government in the Bible is Genesis 1:26, where God says “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” This is pretty clear that God put us in charge of the rest of creation. The obvious implication is that He intends us to properly steward it. Because of this, I believe that we have to at least consider environmental issues when thinking about politics.
And today we live in a world where environmental issues are a major concern. Humanity has always shaped the natural world around us, but modern technologies mean that we can have a global impact on the environment, rather than just a local one. Growing up in the 80s, things like climate change and the hole in the ozone layer were big news and convinced me that the planet we live on is actually quite fragile. To make matters worse, our society is heavily dependant on some of the technologies that cause the most damage. This means that the biggest political issues of the 21st century will inevitably be climate change and peak oil (extraction of conventional oil has, in fact, already peaked).
Regardless of your political philosophy (and there are many that are compatible with Christianity), it is impossible to come up with long-term solutions to any of the other problems our society faces unless we put dealing with these two issues at the heart of our political agenda. Sadly, however, the main parties simply haven’t done this. At best, they treat climate change as a secondary, albeit important, issue and ignore peak oil. At worst, they deny both climate change and peak oil. Regardless of whether the Greens have the right solutions, they are currently the only political party in the UK that is even asking the most important political questions of our age.
However, environmental issues aren’t the only reason I vote Green. One of the major themes of the Bible is God’s heart for the poor. So, like Lois Sparling – who wrote the Labour post in this series – I think that helping the poor should be one of the major themes of Christian engagement in politics. But, of course, the big question is how to do this in 21st Century Britain.
Since 1979, successive British governments have all believed that the neoliberal school of economics is essentially correct. This school of thought says that the state is very bad at running things, that public services would be better off being privatised – in whole, or in part. And also that if you help the rich get richer, then their wealth will “trickle down” to the poor. It claims that such a model will make everybody better off. Blair and Brown were less ardent believers than Thatcher, Major, and Cameron, but still followed the same model.
However, in that period neoliberalism hasn’t delivered what its advocates claim. Economic growth has actually been slower than it was in the 50s, 60s and 70s, when the consensus was quite different. From the 80s onwards, unemployment has consistently been higher than it was before, and those at the bottom of society have definitely become worse off in relative terms, with many being worse off in absolute terms. Meanwhile, those at the top have consistently acquired a greater share of the nation’s wealth than ever before. All this contrasts with the substantial body of evidence that inequality is strongly associated with a whole range of health and social problems.
It is, therefore, my belief that the neoliberal project has failed to build a better world for those at the bottom – the poorest amongst us, the dispossessed, and marginalised. And many of the current government’s welfare reforms appear to be doing even more harm to those at the bottom (particularly the sick and disabled). But, as with climate change and peak oil, the Greens are the only party of any significance that are proposing anything different from the neoliberal consensus (and no, the Green alternative is not Soviet style State Socialism). Labour have begun to suggest a few policies that go against the flow in the last year or so, but nothing so far that suggests they are looking for an alternative economic model.
So that’s two major reasons I consider the Green Party to be the one that is most in line with my values, but many people whose views are similar to mine don’t vote Green (except maybe in European Parliament elections). In 2010, the website Vote for Policies allowed people to find out which party’s policies were most in line with their views, and the Greens actually had the most popular policies. Why is this? The main reason is that many people think that the Greens will never win (or at least “not round here”). This is, of course, a self-fulfilling prophecy – if your natural supporters don’t vote for you, then it’s difficult to convince anybody else to do so.
But if, like me, you believe that a smaller party (whether it’s the Greens or somebody else) is the only one saying the right things about the most important issues of the day, you have two options. You can either get into a larger party and try to change it (which is easier said than done), or you can support that party, as the more votes they get, the more likely it is that their issues will be taken seriously by the other parties, the media, and ultimately the public. And the more likely it is that they can then build the necessary support to get people elected and make a direct impact.
I expect that many of my brothers and sisters in Christ will disagree with me on the issues, and that’s fine. No political party has a truly Christian position on every issue, and which party we favour often reflects which issues are dearest to our heart. Some of us will differ on the practical ways to achieve things – Neill Harvey-Smith, who wrote the Conservative article in this series, clearly disagrees with me about the best way to help the poorest in our society. Only very rarely do we disagree on the theology that leads us to care in the first place. And even then, the things we disagree about aren’t exactly first order issues. What unites us as Christians – our love of Christ – transcends our political divisions.