I preached the following sermon at Evensong this evening. I found it a difficult sermon to write, and a large part of me wanted to write something very different. I tried hard to be non-partisan. Whilst writing it, I found myself hoping I would have written the same sermon had the election outcome been different. I certainly learnt a lot whilst writing it; I hope you find it helpful to read.
How could I preach this evening without talking about the general election?
And how can a preacher do that in a meaningful way without causing offence to some, or even all!? For, if God has any meaning in our daily lives, He must surely be a factor in us forming our political views. And as Christ himself will never be our prime minister, the conclusions we individually reach in determining how to vote as Christians will be as diverse as we ourselves are.
No party, be they comprised of God's people or otherwise, is God's party. In our earthly battles, God, as Joshua learns from the angel in his vision in the Old Testament, is neither for us, nor against us. Instead, we are prompted to ask ourselves, are we for God?
We would be naive indeed to believe Christ would support, or even at best - be indifferent - to all the policies of our personal party of choice. Through the prophets of the Old Testament, God shows himself to be deeply interested, and deeply critical, of the rulers of the nations. Even the great King David, who wrote the psalms, was the ancestor of Christ, and is regarded as the greatest king Israel ever had, receives rebuke and extreme criticism for his actions. No ruler, then, could claim God is on their side. They are instead called to be on God's side.
And yet... Some parties and policies are so far from God's word, that we can be sure that they are incompatible with Christianity. This week, we have commemorated the 70th anniversary of VE Day. We know that the Nazi party was unGodly. It is a judgement on the church as a whole that the German protestant church did not oppose the Nazis whilst they were in power.
Also, as part of the conditions of becoming a Lay Reader, I must declare to the Church of England that I am not a member of the BNP - I'm sure you'll be glad, and I hope you won't be surprised - to know that I am not!
We would be naive to think that no party has policies - or enacts their policies in such a way - that are incompatible with Christianity. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, once wrote an article on whether companies can sin. He argued that they could, and must be held to a moral standard. If companies can, then surely, so can our political parties; perhaps they have a greater capacity to do so, given their national and international responsibilities to all people. And, if political parties can sin; like us ourselves, surely they all do - for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
And here is where our faith in God compels us. If political parties fall short of God's standards, we have a prophetic duty to call them out; not merely in the run-up to an election, but, more importantly, afterwards. I have seen comments on Facebook and Twitter, and in the press over the past few days aimed at angry and upset Labour and LibDem supporters; telling them that they lost the election, and so should now be quiet. (We should not, by the way, fool ourselves that things would be any different under a different ruling party.)
Those comments could not be more wrong - opposition should be a loud voice when a ruler is in charge, even more so then before. This is especially true when we are speaking on behalf of Christ.
What does it mean, though, to "speak on behalf of Christ"? I am reminded of the words of Isaiah:
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
This is, I would urge, what we must hold our rulers to; a desire to build a more and more just society, to fight for the needs of the oppressed, to ensure the hungry can eat, and the homeless have homes.
Whatever you may think of our new government, these words from Isaiah are not incompatible with Conservatism. We have a Christian duty to remind and urge our government - whichever party is in power - that this is what we, as the Church - the representatives of Christ in this country - want them to do. This is how we want them to rule us.
We pray it every time we say the Lord's Prayer - thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. This will only happen through us, God's people. If we want God's will to be done on earth, we must do it, and urge our leaders to do it also.
We have a new government, a new opportunity to shape the future of our country. God has a desire for how we should do that - it is our duty as the people of God to try to discern that, and call upon our politicians to enable it to happen.