So the General Election has been called at last, for 6th May. This date had of course been predicted for months if not years. But then nearly two years ago most people were expecting Gordon Brown to call an immediate election and he didn’t. So, as he could in fact have held out for about another month, no one could be sure of the date until the official announcement was made.
So we have a month of busy politicking before we send our new batch of MPs to Westminster. I will not be reporting on this in detail here.
Meanwhile a coalition of important UK Christian leaders jumped the gun slightly, and used the Westminster name which of course has an illustrious Christian history as well as its parliamentary one. On Sunday they launched Westminster 2010: A Declaration of Christian Conscience:
Christian Leaders launch ‘Conscience Manifesto’ ahead of General Election with call to arms for the Country’s Christians – Easter Sunday 4th April
Thirty senior Christian leaders, including the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, will launch a Christian Manifesto the ‘Westminster 2010: Declaration of Christian Conscience’ on Easter Sunday.
They continue (extracts only here):
Westminster 2010 is a rallying call to UK Christian voters and urges Christians of all denominations to vote with their conscience, guided by their faith.
With four million regular church attenders in Britain, on average 6,000 per parliamentary constituency, the move has real potential to have a significant impact on who is elected, especially in marginal seats.
The document sets out a broad range of policies that unite churches in the UK, including support for marriage, freedom for those of faith to live their lives according to their beliefs and opposition to assisted suicide and euthanasia.
It also calls for Christians to support, protect, and be advocates for children born and unborn, and all those who are sick, disabled, addicted, elderly, poor, exploited, trafficked or exploited by unjust trade, aid or debt policies.
The timing of the launch of Westminster 2010 ahead of the call of the General election is designed to send a clear message to all parliamentary candidates that Christians will be supporting those who will both promote policies that protect vulnerable people and also respect the right of Christians to hold, express and live according to Christian beliefs. …
Westminster 2010 marks a significant escalation in the battle by church leaders to protect Britain’s Christian heritage, which they feel is under threat.
The Christian leaders plan to target Members of Parliament and candidates who are seeking election to pledge that they will ‘respect, uphold and protect the right of Christians to hold and express Christian beliefs and act according to Christian conscience’.
The text of the declaration is here, and includes pledges to support human life, marriage and conscience. It ends with a list of “Key Signatories”, public figures in Christian ministry.
The declaration is interesting in that it goes well beyond what one might expect in an election campaigning document. Note the latter part of this sentence:
As UK citizens we affirm our Christian commitment both to exercise social responsibility in working for the common good and also to be subject to all governing authorities and obey them except when they require us to act unjustly.
On this basis they declare that
we refuse to comply with any directive that compels us to participate in or facilitate abortion, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide, euthanasia, or any other act that involves intentionally taking innocent human life. … we refuse to submit to any edict forcing us to equate any other form of sexual partnership with marriage. … we will reject measures that seek to over-rule our Christian consciences or to restrict our freedoms to express Christian beliefs, or to worship and obey God.
In other words, this has become a statement of intent of civil disobedience against laws which are considered unjust.
The problem I see is that all of this is very one-sided and inwardly focused. There is a mention in the declaration of those who are “poor, exploited, trafficked, appropriately seeking asylum, threatened by environmental change, or exploited by unjust trade, aid or debt policies”, but only following an “including” referring to all people. There is nothing in the pledge about standing against those who persecute asylum seekers, cause environmental change, or promote “unjust trade, aid or debt policies”. Contrast that with the lengthy condemnations of those who want us to treat with respect those who have chosen to live in same sex partnerships.
So I find myself in two minds about this declaration. I support what it actually says – although I think that if (hypothetically in the future) a democratically elected government chooses to use the word “marriage” for same sex civil partnerships it would be rather trivial for Christians to take a stand of principle against that word. My problem is with what the declaration does not say, with evils which are rampant in our society and in party policies which are ignored here. Indeed one might suggest that it is directed against the policies of one major party far more than against another’s.
The declaration does not take a stand against racism, whether open, or thinly disguised as in the policies of the BNP, or slightly better disguised in a rejection of immigrants and genuine asylum seekers which suddenly evaporates when the incomers are white southern Africans.
The declaration does not take a clearly defined stand against injustice in world trade and aid, and in a financial system which allows a few in our own western countries to grow obscenely rich, and all of us to benefit enormously, while third world countries are consigned to perpetual poverty.
The declaration has nothing to say about the huge imbalance of wealth in our own country. While there is a mention of the poor, there is no pledge to refuse to comply with laws that make them poorer. Now I’m not suggesting following the advice of the vicar who infamously encouraged his poor parishioners to shoplift. But if Christians are being taught not to obey laws which “require us to act unjustly”, then surely there are some in this area which can be disobeyed.
There are a number of other areas, e.g. climate change and the environment, which the declaration could mention in detail but has not done, but this post is long enough already. So, to close, I don’t think I am going to sign this pledge, but I am happy to let others consider it for themselves.