Opinions are more polarised than ever and scandals have made many feel disinterested in politics. That’s why it’s more important than ever to come together in unity and listen well, says Tim Farron
This week, the annual National Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast has been held in Westminster Hall. It’s the first time we have been able to meet in person for three years, which makes it a particularly special occasion. The prayer breakfast celebrates the contribution of Christianity to the national life of the UK. While Christians are (largely) aware that there are many parliamentarians and staff members who have an active faith, I am always struck that many do not know that we meet regularly for fellowship.
The prayer breakfast is a chance to demonstrate this on a large scale, as 700 MPs, peers and church leaders join together to pray for our parliament and government, and to reflect on the continuing relevance of the Christian faith to politics and public life.
It is also an opportunity for the many non-Christian politicians in attendance to hear something of the gospel. The theme of this year’s breakfast is: ‘Serving the Common Good’. It reminds us that, at the heart of the gospel, is the command to “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:31). It also challenges us, as Christians working in the political sphere, to consider how we do this in practice.
On the floor of the lobby, in Latin writing that goes largely unnoticed, is Psalm 127:1: “Unless the Lord builds the House, the builders labour in vain.”
In a time of such polarisation and division in politics – and wider society - it is so important to bear witness to unity in the gospel. It is a powerful reminder to all of us, but especially to Christians in politics, that our first allegiance is to the kingdom above the tribe. The breakfast brings church leaders alongside their local MPs, enabling them to talk openly, and build relationships with them, regardless of political opinions.
On social media, it is all too easy for people to hurl abuse at one another – and, sadly, Christians are not immune to this. When someone holds a very different viewpoint to us, our culture seems to dictate that it is a form of secular heresy to even attempt to understand where they are coming from. The last thing you’d want is someone from your tribe accusing you of ideological impurity for seeking to comprehend another’s point of view! So the easiest thing to do is to put our fingers in our ears and block them out.
In the act of meeting and worshipping God together, we are enabled to build relationships with one another. And out of those relationships, we can seek to understand why someone who shares our faith might approach their politics very differently.
Politicians, just like everyone else, fail and fall short of God’s standards. When that happens, it can be tempting for Christians to dismiss politics as an inherently mucky business. We can be so disgusted with an individual’s behavior – especially when they are in a position of influence - that we simply stop paying attention to what they say and do.
But perhaps this is not the right response. To be a Christian in full-time political work is a huge privilege, but there are huge pressures too. More than ever, we need Christians to be praying for good MPs. We need prayer for integrity and humility in a world that seems to favour dishonesty and vanity, and which simultaneously puts people on a public pedestal, abuses them on social media and then expects them to be well balanced and make wise decisions.
A sovereign God
The prayer breakfast provides a tangible moment for those who are not in politics to focus their prayers on those who are. And it reminds those of us who are to step back and remember that politics is not the ultimate solution to the world’s problems.
The last thing you’d want is someone from your tribe accusing you of ideological impurity for seeking to comprehend another’s point of view
God is sovereign over our nation. At the very heart of the Palace of Westminster is Central Lobby – the point where the corridors of the House of Commons, House of Lords and committee rooms meet, and the place where people can come in off the street and ask to meet with their MP. On the floor of the lobby, in grand Latin writing that goes largely unnoticed by the hundreds of feet that walk over it every day, is a Bible verse from Psalm 127:1: “Unless the Lord builds the House, the builders labour in vain.
This week, pray that our politicians come to an understanding of this truth, and that the prayers of those 700 people in Westminster Hall will, in the words of Psalm 141:2, rise like incense before the Lord. Pray that they will flow out into every part of Parliament; that they will give strength and wisdom to those working here and cause mercy and justice to be done in our nation today. Pray also that people will come to faith in Christ as a result of their attendance at this year’s prayer breakfast.