Thursday, 22 September 2011

Confessional politics

When I served as a Member of the European Parliament  I occasionally asked myself whether I was  "Christian politician" or a "Christian in politics"? The reason I asked that is because when you are a Christian politician many people are very keen to tell you what you "ought" to do and believe.

This crossed my mind as I read the extraordinary and unpleasant blog post of Conservative MP Nadine Dorries about Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron.

Nadine is colourful and tenacious. Her own words explain why. Last month she tried to amend the law on abortion. Her amendment will best be remembered for David Cameron's tasteless and sexist joke at her expense. 

But her references to Tim Farron beggars belief. He decided not to support her amendment. Nadine Dorries saw this as part of a career driven personality problem. She seems to assume that MPs of faith should have supported her amendments on the basis of faith.

She says: "I'm sorry to have to do this to Tim, but he is not being entirely truthful, either to himself or the faith he professes to have......Tim disappeared into the night...... I spoke to Tim because he’s a Christian and a member of Christians in Parliament. I asked for his support.......We do conviction politics a little more seriously over on our side of the House......Tim Farron, puts being President/ potential leader of the Lib Dems before his faith.......his faith may simply be a vehicle of convenience......Some with a stronger faith than Tim may say he’s been blinded by ambition and sold his soul to the devil."
 

Although I write a public blog and preach I'm aware that my faith is an intensely personal thing. In politics it isn't always easy to reconcile what you believe with what is possible. It is often impossible to reconcile what others believe you should do as a Christian with what you actually have to do.

Once certain Christians knew I was both an MEP and a Christian I found a queue a mile long wanting to tell me how I should vote. Some were welcome, the Evangelical Alliance for example, were excellent in their support and briefings.

Others seemed to assume they had the right to tell me what I should think about abortion, homosexuality, Europe as "the beast", and countless other subjects. Few actually engaged in discussion, which actually is helpful. It always seemed to be "You are a Christian, you should do this: ......." And if I didn't do "this" but decided to support "that"....well, I clearly wasn't a Christian. I do know that on the morning I lost my seat there literally was a cheer in the office of one "Christian" organisation.

So I actually find Nadine's comments quite offensive. If she has a problem with a fellow Christian MP she should at least have begun  with a Matthew 18 meeting. If she believes that all members of the "Christians in Parliament" group should have voted in a particular way, she should then take it up with them. When I chaired the equivalent body in the European Parliament none of us would have dreamed of telling each other how to vote.

To publish such an awful post under the heading "Tim Farron - outed", which in itself has inappropriate connotations is clearly wrong. And just what are non-believers to make of this spat? "See how they love one another" ?

1 comment:

Robert said...

I agree, that's dreadful. There are some pretty nasty people in the church, and some of the behaviour which is tolerated is just appalling. So we can't be too surprised when it comes out in public.

I don't know what the answer is, or even where there is one, except that we should be less tolerant of bad behaviour in the church. We need to be less tolerant of some of the prejudice associated with Christianity as well. I was horrified when a friend of mine turned out to be seriously embarassed to tell me that she does in-vitro fertilisation in case I disapproved! Maybe we should be telling the extreme anti-gay mob and the like that their views aren't recognisable as Christianity.