“No” to Christian Political Parties and to Theocracy

Today is polling day for local elections here in the UK, in London and in many other areas, but not here in Chelmsford. So the discussion I am having here is primarily about the UK political scene. But the same principles apply in other democratic countries, and so I recommend this post, and the ones I link to here, to all my readers.

Houses of Parliament and CrossA few days ago Gillan Scott caused some controversy by posting an Interview with Malcolm Martin, Christian Peoples Alliance candidate for the London Assembly. In response to this debate, including to some of my own tweets, he asked the question Are Christian political parties really a good idea? Meanwhile Danny Webster responded to the same controversy with Why I don’t think Christian political parties are the best option. Both Gillan and Danny have been posting other good material on faith and politics over the last few days.

I can basically agree with what both Danny and Gillan have written about Christian political parties. I don’t want to condemn those who choose to join or support them, especially in the UK context where votes for them are more likely to be wasted ones than to usher in a theocracy. There is nevertheless a real chance that the CPA candidate will be elected for one of the proportional top-up seats in the London Assembly – and if so that is likely to be because of the party’s stance against gay marriage, an issue which is divisive even in London’s churches.

Gillan makes a good distinction between parties like CPA which “puts faith at the heart of its politics” and those which promote “a whole raft of biblical principles such as the basic human rights of every individual, social justice and the importance of marriage”, but not a specific faith. Neither Gillan nor I object to the latter – but are they really Christian? However, he has some serious reservations about the former:

If a party stands up and says that it represents the Christian faith, then the implication is that all Christians should agree with its policies.  As we all know though, Christians don’t agree on a lot of things and party politics is one of them.  The added danger is that such a party will be perceived as working towards a theocracy where the government subjects its people to what they believe is God’s will and of course because it’s God’s will it can’t be questioned.  Where this is taking place in the world in countries such as Iran, theocracy inevitably leads to oppression.

I’m not saying that theocracy is the CPA’s aim.  But they do want to promote faith in God and put him at the heart of politics. …

There’s nothing I can find in the Bible about Christianity gaining political power.  Israel in the Old Testament was a theocracy, but it was never intended to spread beyond the Jews who lived under the Mosaic law.  Instead in Romans Paul talks about us submitting to the authorities, not usurping them.

Indeed. It is parties like this which, if they become more than fringe groups like CPA, are seen as promoting theocracy, and are rightly condemned as teaching some kind of “dominionism”.

Gillan concludes as follows:

I would suggest that there are two ways God’s values will become prevalent in our society. One is through revival, which I long to see, but will only come through prayer and not politics.  The other is by Christians working their way into positions of power and influence where they can live out kingdom values.  That includes politics.  There are some fantastic Christian MPs and political activists who are doing just that.  They are working through the existing frameworks to influence what happens in government and in our nation.  They haven’t chosen to go up against the existing structures, but work in them and through them and I admire them for that.  Realistically, they will have more effect and do far more good than by looking to do something exclusively Christian and will gain the support of many more people, Christian or otherwise, in the process.

I completely agree. This approach is not “dominionism” and will not lead to a theocracy. But it will help to bring our society to work more according to the principles of the kingdom of God.

11 thoughts on ““No” to Christian Political Parties and to Theocracy

  1. Pingback: The Rights and Wrongs of Christian Political Parties | eChurch Blog

  2. I like what C.S. Lewis had to say about theocracy:

    “the higher the pretensions of such (uncontrolled) power, the more dangerous I think it both to the rulers and to the subjects. Hence Theocracy is the worst of all governments. If we must have a tyrant a robber baron is far better than an inquisitor. The baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point be sated; and since he dimly knows he is going wrong he may possibly repent. But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely because he torments us with the approval of his own conscience and his better impulses appear to him as temptations. And since Theocracy is the worst, the nearer any government approaches to Theocracy the worse it will be. A metaphysic, held by the rulers with the force of a religion, is a bad sign. It forbids them, like the inquisitor, to admit any grain of truth or good in their opponents, it abrogates the ordinary rules of morality, and it gives a seemingly high, super-personal sanction to all the very ordinary human passions by which, like other men, the rulers will frequently be actuated.”

    I agree that there is a distinction between Christians in politics, and Christian parties.

    That said, I think there is an extend to which this country is “Christianised” and it should be rightly pointed out when actions are going to be taken which take the country away from that. If a Christian group exists not so much to wield power as to act as a pressure group in that respect, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing.

  3. Thank you, Phill. What Lewis says there is excellent. Now I am not saying that the CPA is at all like that, but there are people around with that inquisitorial mindset who might well get involved with any Christian party that ever looked like gaining any real power.

    I have no problem with Christian pressure groups. But I don’t think they should be standing for election as political parties.

  4. A theocracy scares the living daylights out of me. Why? B/c it’ll never be a ‘true’ theocracy with God running the show, but ultimately it’ll be what some guy ‘says’ God is telling him to do. And what if that guy doesn’t hold all your specific theological beliefs?

  5. Indeed, Rhea. I wouldn’t have a problem if it was really God in charge, or Jesus ruling as literal king of the earth. Maybe he will do in future. But for the moment God has appointed governments and probably made them separate from the church. Let’s not try to change that setup.

  6. Peter,
    In principle I agree that a ‘Christian’ party is not a good idea and is unlikely to get anywhere in this country at this time. I do believe however that there is no choice as to who might do anything for the Christian cause. Your Liberal party may have some good social policies but I feel any good they may do will be undone by their appalling moral policies. There has hardly been a Christian MP given any significant Government post in the last decade with the exception of perhaps Timms who was attacked in his surgery.
    It is most unlikely that any Conservative MP will get anywhere without denying his faith and following the leaders line. Most ministers that pre-election, one might have thought them resistant to gay issues, have all come out in support of Gay Marriage.
    Peter, to say that many London churches are in disagreement over C4M, based on one instance reported by Cranmer is not a fair comment. This was most likely personality disagreements amongst the petty officials felt left out and then complained. I wonder whether that church is run by Christians or jumped up little egotistics.
    Anyway, half a million votes for an online petition is no mean feet.

  7. Mr Integrity, I agree that in the current climate it would be an uphill struggle for a Christian who took a strong traditional line on moral issues to get to the top of any of our main political parties. But politics is always the art of compromise, or of picking one’s battles. For many of us these are not the really important issues in our nation today. So we would be prepared to accept the majority line in a party on, for example, gay marriage in order to further our policies on, for example, social justice. But of course Christians disagree on the priorities, and sometimes on the substantive issues, which is one reason why Christian political parties work no better than secular ones.

    I posted the link to Cranmer as this is just one example of a church divided apparently on the gay marriage issue. But I know that it is by no means the only church split on this matter. Perhaps the majority of practising Christians support the C4M petition, but there are also quite a lot supporting the opposing C4EM petition. So this is not an issue around which Christians can be assumed to be united, which implies that the CPA is taking a somewhat sectarian line.

  8. Haven’t quite had a chance until now to say thank you for quoting my post Peter. It’s reassuring to have someone I respect like you agreeing with my thinking. Sometimes I write something that I am fairly convinced makes sense, but wonder what people will make of it, so I appreciate your support on this.

    Looks like you liked the image I put together for the post too :)

  9. Thank you, Gillan. I know how you feel. I often write things that I’m not really sure will make sense to anyone else. If I get no response, or just fundamentalist ravings, I’m never sure if that’s because I’ve hit the mark or because no one has a clue what I am talking about. But what you write always makes sense, even if I don’t agree with it.

    Yes, a nice image, which I used as a link to your post. I didn’t realise you had put it together yourself. Technically I am not breaching copyright because I don’t have a copy of it, only a link, and if wordpress.com doesn’t like people hotlinking to their site they can block it. But if you would prefer me to remove the image, I will.

  10. Sometimes it’s good to have people disagreeing with me as it makes me think harder about what I do believe and why, so I’m always happy when I get a comment from you, whatever you say.

    I’m really not precious about anything I put up on my blog. Sometimes if I can’t find a suitable image that I’d like to use, it’s easier to create my own.

    Must get my Creative Commons license sorted out.

  11. Pingback: Rethinking the Need for Christian Political Organizations « Trace’s Studies in Grace Blog

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