Seeing Christ in those we disagree with

Published on: 28 February 2019

Bishop Alan's urges us to be counter-cultural.

Any discussion about ‘Faith and Politics’ is guaranteed to call forth a variety of lively opinions, and probably cause heightened blood pressure among those involved.

A recent survey asked whether it was appropriate for the Archbishop of Canterbury to comment on political matters. Of those questioned, 44 per cent thought that it wasn’t, while 35 per cent thought that it was and 21 per cent weren’t sure what they thought.

This was followed by a question about his recent comment that our economic model is broken, alluding to the growing gap between the richest and the poorest. About two-thirds of people questioned agreed with that statement.

My own hunch (I hope not too cynical) would be that people tend to warm to the idea of faith and politics mixing, as long as the politics part agrees with their own views and their own politics.

In asking me to write this piece, the editor suggested the question: how do we as Christians engage in the political arena and maintain our integrity?

Thinking about that excellent question made me reflect on the nature of the political arena in this country. Neither in Parliament nor in the media does it often seem an edifying or particularly effective arena.

For those of you who like an image, wouldn’t it be interesting if the necessary refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster led to the breaking-up of the current layout of the House of Commons? What would happen if MPs returned to find their benches arranged in a circular fashion, seating in the round? Better still, the names of MPs were to be shuffled each week and spread around the seats in a random fashion, breaking up the confrontational image of government versus opposition?

The sad truth, though, is that we as Christians have sometimes simply adopted that same oppositional approach to decision making that we often see failing our country in Parliament. In the church, there is more common ground, but when we do encounter differences of opinion, we easily slip into the same patterns we see reflected in national politics.

When we do encounter differences of opinion, we easily slip into the same patterns we see reflected in national politics.

One of the helpful things I remember from student days is the constructive concept of charitable interpretation. In short, it’s a commitment not to dismiss the person whose argument you disagree with as a fool. More properly, in philosophy, it means interpreting a speaker’s statements in the most rational way possible and, in the case of any argument, considering its best, strongest possible interpretation.

Perhaps this is what we as people of faith need to learn for ourselves, and then we might be able to suggest that rather more charitable interpretation would enhance the level of debate and policy-making in our political arena.

Not always thinking the person you disagree with a fool is a fairly low level at which to start in improving the political debate. However, it’s a first step to learn if we are to disagree well, or at least better than we currently disagree. In faith terms, it’s about seeing the face of Christ in the person with whom you disagree.

And who knows, in the political arena, sometimes a little more charitable interpretation might lead to the discovery of some points of actual agreement, some real common ground upon which we really could start to build.

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Articles in this issue...

Faith and Politics – Book reviews

A selection of books on the theme of faith and politics.


Where we all think alike, no one thinks very much

Tim Lenton meets some local Christians expressing their faith in the political arena.


Jesus Cristo é o Senhor!

At the time of writing, with Brexit possibly just weeks away, David Foster joined some of the congregation of Igreja Batista de Dereham, a vibrant Portuguese-language congregation, over coffee and bolo de arroz to find out about their life in Norfolk and their hopes and fears for the future.


Aylsham High School Festival of Faith

Do God and politics mix? How will Brexit affect the Church? How does faith motivate the work of Christians in politics? Who would Jesus vote for?


Diocese in Europe offers reassurance

Did you know that the Church of England has a Diocese in Europe? Some of their Ordinands train alongside ours through the Eastern Region Ministry Course. Charles Read asked the Diocesan Bishop, The Rt Revd Dr Robert Innes, a few questions.


Moving beyond ‘us’ and ‘them’

When people in Norfolk ask the Revd Philip Harvey where he's from, he pauses. The pause accounts for the fact that he left Australia in 2002, then lived in Germany, Oman, Luxembourg and, since July 2017, in Sprowston (north Norwich) as curate. He shares his thoughts on the perspective this physical and spiritual journey has given him.


People of faith in a time of uncertainty

Lee Marsden, Professor of Faith and Global Politics, University of East Anglia considers a faith response to our current geopolitical turmoil.


Faith and politics: what would Jesus do?

Catherine Waddams, economist and professor considers Jesus' response in the political arena.


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