The Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent speech to the TUC (Trade Unions Congress) to mark their 150th anniversary was well received by many who saw it as a wonderful example of the Church ‘speaking truth to power’ and standing up for the marginalised and the oppressed – and particularly workers’ rights. It was also heavily criticised by the Tories as being party political and not the sort of behaviour expected from an Archbishop. Indeed, Phillip Davies MP said “Mr Welby should quit his position as the head of the church and join the Labour Party properly if he wishes to comment on issues of government”, suggesting that the Archbishop “ought to consider removing his dog collar and replacing it with a Labour Party rosette”.
It always amazes me the number of times that we hear people (usually politicians) trot out the old adage that ‘Politics and Religion shouldn’t mix’ as if they have absolutely nothing to do with each other, and of course in reality this statement couldn’t be further from the truth. People of all descriptions have every right to challenge the authorities on political matters whenever necessary and Christians are no different. It’s just that their particular understanding of the world is inevitably coloured by their religious faith and perspective – a perspective which sees all people as equally important ‘made in the image of God’ and loved by him. Although nobody would suggest that Christians have a monopoly on moral goodness or social fairness, matters of mutual love and respect, service and justice are biblical themes repeatedly seen in the lives of the prophets, Jesus and the apostles as they sought to transform a broken and sinful world into ‘the Kingdom of God’. It was Archbishop Desmond Tutu who once exclaimed that “I don’t know what Bible people are referring to when they say that politics and religion shouldn’t mix”, because the Bible is full of politics.
The simple fact is that Christians are not motivated to be a thorn in the side of any one political party, but all political parties if their programmes and policies undermine and speak in the face of Christian values and principles, and in truth this is what being a prophet is all about. It’s about bravely speaking God’s truth into the world wherever necessary without fear or favour, appropriately challenging and encouraging it in due portion. Indeed, the Apostle Paul always felt that his task was to preach on ‘the whole counsel of God’ (Acts 20.27) and he wouldn’t allow any ‘political’ party or those in authority to prevent him from doing so, for usually the people who make the loudest protest about the mixing of religion and politics are those who fundamentally misunderstand the nature of Christian witness and would rather avoid the glare of its inspection.
And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6.8