Thursday, 9 June 2011

Politics and religion

The 'unholy row' between the Archbishop and the Prime Minister had me musing on the role religion has played in my own political views.  I've never made a secret of the fact that I have a faith - brought up in a very Church of England family I have more recently been sharing worship in the Methodist Church - Emmanuel on the Oxford Road to be specific.

However it's certainly not something I shout from the rooftops either, my public profile is first and foremost as a Labour councillor.  I don't feel it is right for me to bring religion in to that.

My view is that my faith informs my values and therefore the approach I take to politics and thus indirectly my Labour and Co-operative politics.  However I fully accept that many of the same faith, even the same part of the Church as me could well feel called to serve in a different party.  I may not agree with them but then they won't agree with mine either - and in the family of the Church, like other families, we can disagree about politics without losing sight of an essential truth: we are brothers and sisters. 

Of course many of my close comrades in the Labour party are not religious at all, or from a different faith:  you don't have to 'do God' to have the same views about the way the world is.  I think where some Labour people also have concerns about the idea that religion, or rather religious leaders, could influence a politician away from the values of a party.

The row regarding Nadine Dorris and her crazy plan for girl's only US-style abstinence training is an example of this.  It's not just about the impracticality and sexism of what she's suggesting.  After all I can't think of many people who think it would be a bad idea for young people under the age of 16 to feel able to say 'no' to sex.  I think many people believe it is strongly motivated by the church background she is from and has a further, decidedly more authoritarian motivation behind it.   They are probably right in my view.  However her views are not out of place in some wings of the Conservative party and that's why I think that a more general concern regarding religious people in politics is mis-placed.  If you think God is more interested in when young people have sex than in 'good news for the poor' it will probably be obvious from the outset.  After all we all have strong personal views in politics, otherwise we wouldn't be in politics!  At least with religious people we have am early clue what their personal opinions are likely to be.  The key thing in my is to exercise your own judgement and if you are an elected politician not join a party that is contrary to your religious faith!


Where does that leave my faith?  Informing my values and therefore my politics, yes, something that is fundamentally part of who I am, yes that too.  But I'm not going to find the answer to dealing with Housing Association rents in the Bible or even from the preacher at church.

As for the Arch Bishop, I agree with a lot of what he says.  Was he the right person to say it?  I don't know is the honest answer.  On the one hand it's not going to do the church a lot of good with the establishment and the press, but on the other hand church leaders should speak the truth as they see it and stand up for the widow and the orphan, after all the church is not there to be popular with the establishment!

Here's a thought experiment:  If an Archbishop saw a brutal dictator in another country refusing to recognise democratic election results, murdering political opponents and through appalling incompetence bankrupting a country: would it be right for him to publicly cut up his dog collar on national television and say he would refuse to wear it again until that dictator had left power?

If you think that action was right then really it all comes down to a matter of degree - to what extent should religious leaders get involved in politics?

I don't have the answer to that one.  It's a serious subject full of pitfalls.