Editorial: Party leaders do God
Maybe I wasn’t paying attention, but I don’t remember Easter messages being a thing that UK politicians do. Since Alastair Campbell used the statement to stop Tony Blair talking about his faith, ‘We don’t do God’ has become the expected stance of leading politicians.
Easter messages are what we get from Church leaders, not party leaders. And yet, this April there was widespread media coverage of Easter messages from the leaders of the parties traditionally considered the big three in UK politics. Theresa May mentioned her vicarage upbringing, saying that it taught her ‘values of compassion, community, citizenship. The sense of obligation we have to one another.’ She said that we all share these values, whatever our faith, if any.
Jeremy Corbyn’s Easter message was not so widely reported. A Google search for Mrs May’s message throws up 6,580 pages; for Mr Corbyn’s you get 431. He did not claim any personal connection to the faith but, unlike Mrs May, he did mention Jesus, citing his ‘example of love and sacrifice, and the Easter message of redemption and peace’. The values that Mr Corbyn saw in Christianity were ‘justice, peace and reconciliation’.
The message that sounded least like a party leader’s, and most like a Church leader’s, was Tim Farron’s. He not only talked about ‘celebrating Jesus’ death for all humankind’, but added: ‘The resurrection means that this death wasn’t in vain – it’s the ultimate vindication which brings forgiveness.’ Search results on Google: 255.
I don’t believe there were Easter messages from Nicola Sturgeon or any other major UK party leaders. But considering the above – and remembering also how openly Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party, talked to Reform about his Christian faith in September 2016 – it does rather feel as if God is back. Appropriately enough when we’re talking about Easter messages.
However, as we go to pick up our ballot-crossing pencils again (already), the crucial question facing Christians is not: ‘Which leader says the best things about Christianity?’ The crucial question must be something like: ‘Which government will bring our country and our world closer to what Jesus meant when he talked of the Kingdom of God?’
Who will prosper the lives of all people? Who will protect vulnerable members of our society? Who will tell the truth? Who will promote the dignity of all those who are made in the image of God? Who will foster understanding between people who are divided from one another?
To quote the Joint Public Issues Team of the United Reformed, Methodist and Baptist Churches and the Church of Scotland: ‘This is a time for Christians to think beyond the immediate events of the election campaign and to determine to stand for truth, justice, peace and wellbeing.’ There is, of course, more to that than putting the right cross in the right box, but that would certainly be a good start.
This article was published in the June 2017 edition of Reform