Article
Creed
General Election 24
Politics
5 min read

Cross-check what matters when voting

Three perspectives to inform how we vote wisely.

Sam recently completed a doctorate in political theology and is the Vicar of St Andrew's, Fulham Fields.

A pen draws a cross in a box on a ballot form.

What principles will shape your vote this Thursday? What or who will primarily guide your decision in the ballot booth? Podcaster and former political advisor Alastair Campbell’s  old adage  “we don’t do God” suggests that religion and politics don’t mix. Yet some of the most important movements for social and political justice in modern history had Christians at their heart. Think Wilberforce, Fry, Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr., Desmond Tutu, or the lesser-known but worth-a-google, Melanesian Brotherhood.  

What wisdom might the Christian faith have to offer when thinking, not just about this election, but how to approach politics in general? Like lions on the England football shirt, all good things come in threes– so, here are three Christian perspectives that can inform political engagement. 

First, earthly kingdoms are penultimate. God’s kingdom is ultimate. 

Perhaps the moment that Jesus is drawn most explicitly to comment on the politics of his day, was when he was asked about paying taxes. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” Given how frustrating it can be watching politicians avoid responding directly to any question posed, we might sympathise with those who wanted a direct answer here. But for Jesus, to say yes would position him as a traitor to the Jewish people who wanted to resist and subvert the authority of the Roman Empire. To say no, however, would be to signal revolutionary intentions to lead a rebellion against the occupying Roman force.  

Set within this political trap, Jesus responds by asking for a coin and turns the tables by asking, “whose face is on this coin?” “Caesar’s,” comes the reply. “Then give to the emperor what belongs to him,” says Jesus. Yet, before we allow this response to justify opting out of political practice or hallow every existing ruling power, Jesus continues: “But give to God what belongs to God.” And what belongs to God, we ask? Well, as the writer of the ancient Psalms poetry put it, “the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.” Nothing short of the whole universe and beyond belongs to God, the creator of heaven and earth. So, in taking the coin, Jesus is not giving a blanket affirmation of Caesar’s rule, but challenges each and every earthly kingdom by relativising it in the light of God’s eternal kingdom. What has sustained so many Christians in challenging and renewing the political context of their day is the trust that before, behind, and beyond the rising and falling of each earthly authority stands God’s eternal kingdom. This kingdom is not in competition with the kingdoms of earth, vying to secure its own territory, but is a kingdom inaugurated by a king who wears a crown of thorns, forgives his executioners, and is raised from the dead to proclaim, “peace be with you!” The call to follow Christ within the political is to retain the perspective of this eternal life. 

Second, politics needs a perspective beyond personal interest. 

Holding an eternal perspective, however, is not to say this world or politics does not matter. In contrast, justice, compassion, and seeking a world as God intends it to be matters precisely because of eternity. How we live here and now has eternal significance. How we treat one another and care for all of creation has eternal significance. What belongs to God? We all do. Each person is made in God’s image. As a coin bears the image of its ruler, so we are marked by the image of God. When we consider our political responsibility, therefore, we must do so not with our own cares or concerns alone, or even primarily. Rather, we should ask what political responsibility we have towards others? How do my political decisions or actions impact my neighbour, both local and global– particularly those on the underside of the political power of the day? As the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cotterill, recently shared, “as a Christian, I’m hoping and I’m praying, that when I vote, when you vote, we won’t be placing our vote according to what’s best for us, but for what’s going to be best for God’s world.” If God’s power is displayed most fully in Christ who came, not to be served, but to serve, giving his life for the sake of the world, then political power cannot be a means for securing our own advantage over and against others. A Christian approach to politics recognises that my flourishing is bound up and inseparable from the flourishing of all others. 

Third, let’s disagree well. 

However, even if we could agree on the importance of politics beyond personal interest, we won’t all agree on what this looks like in practice. For instance, whilst two people might agree on the need to ensure a welfare safety net for the most deprived in society, their perspectives on how best to achieve this might differ greatly. Christians are not immune from such disagreements and (not that you would know it from the promises of each political party) no political system can deliver heaven on earth. How then are we to reconcile our political differences?  

Returning to the theme of belonging and image bearing, the church bears the image of Christ. The church is the Body of Christ, comprised of many different members yet united, as one body. One of Jesus’ final acts on earth was to pray that the church would be one in the same way that God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one. Unity in difference. This image offers a counterweight to how political differences are played out across the news and social media platforms. Here, to vote or think differently is often to become an enemy, or even to forfeit one’s belonging as a bearer of God’s image, another person worthy of inestimable dignity and value.  

Belonging to Christ, however, is to know that belonging together runs deeper than divisions of race, gender, societal status, and political tribalism. It is to trust that my sister or brother in Christ, with whom I might strongly disagree politically, is a gift to me, a showing of Christ, that I would otherwise fail to see on my own. If Christ really is the way, the truth, and the life, then the truth is beyond my final possession of it. This does not mean indifference or relativism. As the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, writes, “unity is Christ-shaped, or it is empty.” But if we can recognise one another placing our penultimate political judgements under the same scrutiny of Christ’s coming kingdom, then even in our disagreements, the church, bearing together in costly communion, reveals a belonging together that anticipates the ultimate: a world where things can only get better. 

Article
Creed
Psychology
6 min read

The case for taking a holiday

The reasons we need to rest and re-boot.

Natalie produces and narrates The Seen & Unseen Aloud podcast. She's an Anglican minister and a trained actor.

On a beach lounger someone holds a book aloft to read.

Well, here we are, either literally or metaphorically breaking up for the summer. School’s out and the long evenings demand al-fresco dining – even in the UK where it’s far more likely than not to rain. And of course, it is time to Live Our Best Life as we chase the fantasy and book an eye-wateringly expensive holiday – to “get away from it all”.  

In my early adulthood, holidays were unquestionably lying on a sun-drenched beach with a very large pile of novels. It was escapism pure and simple. And sun worshipping. Then I went on a skiing holiday for the first time in my 30s and was amazed how refreshing it was. When you’re concentrating on not dying, hurtling at high speed down a slippery mountain, the regular patterns of thought are left behind; there is simply no headspace to worry about the things that normally occupy the mind. I came back from a week on the snow with my body feeling completely trashed but my mind fresher than ever before.  

But whatever our holiday preference, be it active, sedentary or a cocktail of both, it is short-lived. A fortnight is the average length of a holiday, maybe it’s just a cheeky long weekend. If you’re really pushing the boat out (literally if going on a cruise as many people do these days a) – a luxurious three or even four weeks. But however long it is, it is – by definition – not lifelong. We build up to it – “can’t wait to get away” and there can be huge expectation for all the things we’ve been struggling with to be magically less stressful “when I get back”. We think all the exhaustion we carry, all the frustration or disappointment, the overworking we live with on a daily basis, will disappear. We binge on relaxation and put huge pressure on ourselves to HAVE FUN and – that which has become the sly new marketing strategy – “making great memories”. Which can all turn out to be even harder work than what we’re trying to get away from. 

Last summer, we went to the Lake District. And it rained. A lot. I mean coming in under the doors/through the windows sort of a lot. So we played Monopoly. And watched the Mission Impossible films. We went for walks in the rain and ate picnics quickly between showers. It was rather like we were living through a low budget British 1980s adaptation of an Enid Blyton novel, instead of the big budget Caribbean fantasia of one’s dreams. By any official descriptor, it was a holiday – but I’m not sure it felt like one.  

There is a call for some time to be kept holy, time set apart when we’re not busy being busy, when we remember that we are human and limited and need rest.

So, as I’m keenly interested in the etymology of words, I looked up holiday* to find out whether I had achieved the objective. Holiday = a period of time when you are not at work or school – check; holiday = a period of time spent travelling or resting away from home – hmm, not sure about the resting but we were away; holiday = holy day – hang on, what? 

Most world religions or philosophies have some sort of rhythm or pattern for life which includes times of rest. These often (though not always) coincide with some sort of worship or festival. These are times set apart from the day-to-day occupation of “normal life”. Interestingly, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, rest is baked in right from the beginning. After a six “day” working week, so the beginning of the Creation story tells us, God rested. And just to underline the point, sometime later, that same God gave his people the 10 Commandments, one of which is – take a day off.  

The word “holy” means set apart, sacred and right at the heart of the Jewish and Christian lifestyle there is a call for some time to be kept holy, time set apart when we’re not busy being busy, when we remember that we are human and limited and need rest. When we can get some objectivity on our productivity; when we can see (as God did all those years ago) that what we have done is good and we can enjoy it. 

In our 24/7, I-achieve-therefore-I-am culture, we almost certainly don’t do nothing for a day a week. We are always doing something. Even on our day(s) off, we’re reading or scrolling or running or “making memories”. Where is the rest? Where is the holy?  

We don’t function properly – by which I mean we don’t flourish – if we never switch off. That’s how we were made. 

There is an ironically busy industry that has flourished in recent years around mindfulness and retreats; an industry which highlights the ultimately human need for rest. There are apps which help us breathe, there are gurus who massage us in body and mind. Cynically, some say capitalism has caught on to the ancient necessity of acknowledging and attending to our humanity, our need to stop doing and simply be. I think God would say, hooray! Or as Jesus put it, “Come with me to a quiet place and find some rest.” 

How can we put rest back on the agenda of our own lives? It’s different for each of us. One person’s rest is another person’s nightmare. Whatever it looks like, we need to learn how to have “a period of time not working” (whatever work may occupy us, paid or unpaid, seen or unseen). It’s a well-recognised fact that if your electronic device stops functioning properly, if you turn it off for a bit, it’ll restart happily and we are encouraged to restart our devices regularly. We all know that we’re a bit like that and yet... We don’t function properly – by which I mean we don’t flourish – if we never switch off. That’s how we were made.  

We need those moments when we put a spiritual umbrella in the glass of our life, kick back and look at what has been. We can give space for gratitude; for reconnection with ourselves, with our life and even with the omnipotent God who role models rest. 

So, this summer, we’re going to the South of France. I’m absolutely exhausted already. I’ve been organising a rota of (very kind) people to look after our dog; preparing work so I’m ready for the day after we get back; buying gallons of sun cream (just in case France runs out); booking trips and Googling where the nearest boulangerie is so we can have idyllic, spontaneous visits for life-changingly delicious croissants… Going on holiday is really hard work and I haven’t even gone yet. But this year, as I put on my sunglasses and factor 30, I am determined to make time to put the holy in my holiday. And holy days in my life. 

* (of course, if you’re not British, you might be interested in the etymology of the word vacation = "formal suspension of activity, time in which there is an intermission of usual employment"/state of being unoccupied. Which to my mind is summed up by the old adage, a change is as good as a rest, with which I have always taken issue….)