Article
Comment
General Election 24
Politics
5 min read

What happens when you lose an election?

Spare a thought (and prayer) for the defeated.

Ross leads CARE, a Christian social policy charity.

A mayor reads an election result as a despondent candidate looks on.
Penny Mordaunt loses in Portsmouth.
BBC News.

Friday morning, 6 May 2005 I awoke wondering whether the past few months had been a bad dream, and contemplating what my future might hold. It was the day after the general election. ‘My’ party had won, but my result, while respectable, was a distant second place. So, in the wake of this election, I know what the vast majority of the 4,379 candidates who ran are feeling, which is why I would encourage us all to spare a thought and prayer for them. 

Few people apart from close family and friends and the most ardent party activists will give much attention to the candidates who lost. Perhaps a few prominent politicians will be interviewed alongside pictures of the ex-cabinet member who lost their seat to a fresh-faced young candidate. But in general, life moves swiftly on, and those who lost will be quickly forgotten about. 

It's understandable. We want to know what a new Government will do – who will be the leading figures shaping our lives over the next few years. If we do think about those who lost it will be in the context of the next competition – party leadership. Will there be a change in party leaders? Which ‘faction’ will come to dominate their party, and so on. This is an important consideration. 

There will be hundreds if not thousands of candidates who will need to be reminded that their identity and worth is not in politics, being a candidate, or seeking the approval of local voters. 

Of the 3,729 candidates not elected to sit in Parliament for the next five years many will face a similar mixture of emotions as I did on that morning in 2005. There may be regret and anger. I know for a long time I wondered whether there were things I could have done differently. Things I did not say or do that could have made a difference. “If we had planned to do this… if we could have avoided that…, should I have…” will be questions on the lips of many on Friday morning. 

Personally, I also felt that there were things said and done against me that were deeply unfair, so I was also angry that the unjust had seemed to prevail. I could identify with the  ancientthe ancient writer of the Psalms poetry who cried “why do the wicked prosper?” Politics is unfair and cruel. That is the reality. Too often it is not a meritocracy. Candidates lose, not because they are less able but because voters preferred another party or leader. 

In these days following the election, I suspect there will be hundreds if not thousands of candidates who will need to be reminded that their identity and worth is not in politics, being a candidate, or seeking the approval of local voters. For me, I was immensely grateful for close friends and teachers who reminded me that my identity was in Jesus Christ. I was part of a holy nation, a royal priesthood and God’s special possession. God knows how those former candidates and MPs without that security will cope, which is why they need our prayers. 

Being a candidate is hugely costly. Some do it for fun, others might be motivated by spite, but the great majority run because they want to serve others. 

I also needed to learn what it meant to forgive. I felt that untrue claims and accusations had been made against me during the campaign, and tactics deployed that were designed to intimidate and mislead. I did feel that the result was unfair, and I was angry that my opponent and his team would stoop very low to win, But I also needed to learn how to forgive. To this day I believe I ran an honourable campaign, giving more respect than I received; and I would like to think I would have made a good MP. I believed God called me to run but I do not feel he let me down. That does not mean he still needed to teach me how to forgive my opponent. That is an ongoing process I am learning over time.   

There will be many like me who will need to learn forgiveness in the weeks, months and years after the election. Like me, they may need to learn how to forgive opponents that hurt or wronged them, or learn how to forgive themselves, the electorate, or even God for not giving them their hearts desire.

And I'll pray that those who were defeated in this election will still have sense of calling to public service, despite their loss, if this is right for them. Being a candidate is hugely costly. Some do it for fun, others might be motivated by spite, but the great majority run because they want to serve others. We need to remember this in an age where people are increasingly cynical about politics and politicians. 

I lived in the constituency I was running in for over four months before the election. The Monday after polling day I was back at the desk I had not seen for months. It took several months for me to slowly work out that God could still have a calling for me into the public square and that his plan was good. 

There is evidence that in the current environment, good people are staying out of politics and public life because of the cost and the emotional toll it has on the individual and their family. I know firsthand some of what that means. But if good people are deterred, they leave a vacuum that will be filled by others of less capability and virtuous character. That would be a tragedy for our national life.  

So, in the days after the election, I will intentionally remember how I felt nineteen years ago and send a card or text message to those who I know have lost, thanking them for their service and reminding them that God may still be calling them into public life and service, just in a different way. And I will pray for them, as I also pray for the new government, and the peace and prosperity of the UK in the next five years. 

Article
Belief
Comment
Life & Death
Politics
4 min read

Did God save Donald Trump?

In the aftermath of the assassination attempt, Graham Tomlin asks whether or not we can see the hand God at work.

Graham is the Director of the Centre for Cultural Witness and a former Bishop of Kensington.

Red hat with the words Make America Great Again

Given the polarised nature of American politics and the venomous nature of the debates, the assassination attempt on Donald Trump was not entirely a surprise, even if a massive shock to the system. It was both tragic for those who were killed and yet a relief for everyone that Trump survived, not least for the unimaginable consequences across the country if he had not.

It doesn’t take a very deep dive into the maelstrom that is Twitter/X these days, to discover a common theme among Trump supporters - that God shielded him from a certain death. “God protected President Trump,” Senator Marco Rubio posted. “God saved the life of Donald Trump” say a million others, confident that the seemingly miraculous slight head tilt at the moment of the shot that ensured the bullet hit his ear, not going through the back of his temple, was a moment of divine intervention.

Yet look elsewhere on X and you can find vast numbers of people equally certain that this is complete nonsense. God did not save Donald Trump, either because there is no God to save anyone, or because if there is a God, either he doesn’t intervene at all, or even if he did, he certainly wouldn’t want to save the likes of Donald Trump.

If God saved Trump, they say, why did he not save the life of Corey Comperatore, the volunteer fireman who was killed by bullets fired from the gun that was used in the attack?  Trump supporters respond with the claim that Trump has a special calling, justifying divine intervention, to ‘restore the Judaeo-Christian heritage to America’ as one tweet put it.

So, which is it?

Christian thinkers have normally held to the possibility that God can and does, at decisive moments, interrupt the normal flow of history.

Christian thinkers have normally held to the possibility that God can and does, at decisive moments, interrupt the normal flow of history. After all, the central Christian claim is that he did this in remarkable acts of deliverance such as the Exodus, at key moments in the history of Israel and most importantly in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And, they claim, he does it in less prominent ways, as testimonies to prayers answered and apparently miraculous occurrences suggest.

Yet divine interventions like this are by definition rare. In one of Douglas Coupland’s novels, one of the characters ponders a Christian group that expects constant miracles: “They’re always asking for miracles and finding them everywhere. In as much as I am a spiritual man, I do believe in God - I think that he created an order for the world; I believe that, in constantly bombarding him with requests for miracles, we are also asking that he unravel the fabric of the world. A world of continuous miracles would be a cartoon, not a world.” He has a point.

Yet a world without any interventions at all would be a world which God had seemed to abandon to its fate. The idea that God set up his world to run like clockwork with no further intervention is Deism, not Christianity, a theology popular in the C17th and C18th, still found today, but leaves God watching us from a safe and uninvolved distance. It would lead to the conclusion that God did not really care that much about the world, leaving it to its own devices, especially when evil runs riot and nothing seems to prevent it. Such interventions are best seen as signs, special indications that do not ‘unravel the fabric of the world’, yet are tangible reminders that even though it is broken, God has not given up on this world, and will one day redeem it.

Yet if God can and does step in at certain moments to divert the course of history in a fallen and broken world, that doesn’t mean that every claim to divine intervention is genuine. So how can you tell? Who do we believe?

If God can and does step in at certain moments to divert the course of history in a fallen and broken world, that doesn’t mean that every claim to divine intervention is genuine. So how can you tell? Who do we believe?

At several points in the Old Testament, writers wonder how you can tell the true prophet from the false. One of them answers like this: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken.”

To be honest, this doesn’t appear to help much. You can tell if a person has got it right if their prediction comes true, but at the time, you have no idea whether it will come true or not, so it still leaves you in the dark as to who to believe.

Yet it does suggest an important insight. You can only tell God’s intervention retrospectively. You can only say with a degree of confidence that God has ‘intervened’ when looking back on events and seeing how they turn out.

If Donald Trump is elected, and somehow brings about harmony and flourishing for as many people in the USA as possible, stabilises the economy, enabling all people to live a decent life, not just the rich and powerful, restores a sense of civility and generosity to public life, resists the forces of harm and evil in the nation and in the world, and brings freedom for Christians and others to practice and promote their faith, then maybe we might look back in future years and say that God did step in on July 14th 2024 to frustrate the purposes of evil in the world.

Yet if none of that happens, and what results from his survival is instead a deeper fracturing of social cohesion, a coarsening of public debate, a siege mentality that divides the world between ‘us’ and ‘them’, an increasing divide between the rich and the poor, the elites and ordinary people, then we might in future say it was mere chance, one of those random things that happen in this created yet fallen world with its mysterious blend of order and chaos.

Which will it be? Time will tell. Until then, we’d better be cautious about claims of divine intervention. Not because God never does it, but because we’re not very good at telling when it happens.