In 1985 God clearly called me into politics. I was a lawyer at the time, a partner in a large law firm in Plymouth, happily married to Jan with 2 children. I had been raised in a loving but non-Christian home and had become converted to Christianity in 1979. We were part of a charismatic house church. During 1985 I felt that I was being stirred up and unsettled. The elders agreed that God was calling me into…. that was the problem, it was simply not clear. I was prepared to go anywhere and do anything. Cutting a long story short, I finally sensed – deep down in my inner man - that He was calling me to enter the political arena.
I was 30 and knew nothing about politics, like many Christians back then. Within 6 months I had been elected as a councillor onto Plymouth City Council and 6 years later was elected as a Member of Parliament. And here I have been ever since.
Why? What is the point? What can we hope to achieve?
The short answer to that is that it was not my idea, but God’s – so clearly there is a point and purpose to it all. I have come to realise that politics is about how we run our society, it is about everything. How much tax to raise, when to go to war, how to look after the most vulnerable and so on. As Desmond Tutu said: Christians are very good at looking after the people drowning in the river – why not go upstream and find out how they are falling in in the first place and stop it from happening. Any society made up of flawed human beings will never be perfect; but why not have men and women of faith helping to shape the laws and give leadership to make the country as good as it can be, given our human condition?
And that, I have learnt, is precisely why we have to be engaged – to make our society a better place. To care for people, to introduce better laws, and demonstrate biblical principles. We are called to love God and love our neighbour as ourselves, and what better way to love our neighbour than to introduce systems of support to ensure that she is no longer hungry or cold.
There is no overarching blueprint to create some kind of evangelical theocracy – not at all. Oliver Cromwell tried that in the seventeenth century, and it was a disaster! Rather it is to serve and bring integrity compassion and authenticity into the public square.
At Westminster we have a thriving group known as Christians in Parliament with bible studies, fellowship, and organised events including our annual Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast. It has been my privilege to chair this group for over a decade. We exist to encourage and support every believer here to deepen their walk with God and to spread the good news of the gospel to those who have not yet heard this life changing news. We bring in first class experts on a range of relevant topics including cutting edge issues (such as Artificial Intelligence) so we might be better informed.
We also support the work of Christians in Politics which exists to encourage the church to engage in the public square. And there has been a sea change in the attitude of most church leaders since the 1980’s when I first got involved in this world. Now it is understood, as Wilberforce and many others understood in the centuries before us, that this is essential if we are to serve our country.
Is it a tough gig? Yes, but so is almost every job for a professing Christian these days. Are there times when difficult decisions must be made? Yes, as is the case for teachers, nurses, and others. That is why we need good Christian friends around us to share with and pray with us. I have been blessed with come great colleagues in my 30 years here, from all parties, supporting and loving one another. As we like to say: kingdom is more important than tribe.
The Bible encourages us not to put our light under a bowl and hide its impact. Nor should we keep ourselves out of the political arena and deny the corridors of power the positive input that our faith can bring.
Engagement. If He is calling you into the public square: obey. That is how we will be a light to the nations.