Polarisation and Politics – Whose side are YOU on?

Throughout the pre-election campaigning I remained pretty silent on this blog with regards to politics. I have a lot of respect for people who had the courage to lay out their thoughts and opinions publically in the run up to the election because there’s always the chance of backlash, debate and derision. Quite honestly, I couldn’t think of anything that I was desperate enough to say in those weeks that I’d be willing to risk getting into a debate that, for me at least, would probably be pretty tiresome.

So why am I writing this now? I’m writing this because a lot of the posts and articles I’ve seen on social media in the aftermath of the election have saddened and, in a few cases, angered me. I’m not going to reveal who I voted for in this post because I think that would inevitably detract from what I want to say; this post is about dealing with the way that people have treated each other in recent days. And in thinking about this, I’ve found it really hard to settle on a tone. All I know is that I don’t want to insult people, or belittle them, or make them feel bad about the decisions that they’ve made with regards to the election, because then I’d be guilty of the very thing that’s made me so frustrated in the past few days.

I guess the most saddening thing for me is the way that something like an election can lead to polarisation, exaggeration and generalisation. Many vocal Labour voters have been labelled and derided as the ‘belligerent Left’, up in arms over a democratic vote, whilst I’ve seen Conservative voters being labelled as anything from deceived to heartless and awful. This just can’t be healthy. I get that people have strong views on something like this, but I think it should be possible to argue positively for those views without degrading the people who think differently. The attitude that I’ve seen seems to be along the lines of ‘you have a right to vote as long as you vote for who I support, otherwise you’re an idiot at best’.

I could go more into the stereotyping, and I originally planned to, but actually, I think you’ve all seen examples for yourselves. What I want to do is bring in a bit of my Christian perspective, and talk about that. Now I know Christians who voted for both Conservatives and Labour. I know Christians who voted for both parties out of a sense of conviction that it was the right thing to do and with a clear conscience. I know Christians who are pleased that Conservatives got a majority, and Christians that are sad that Labour didn’t. At any other time of year, all those Christians would love each other, be respectful of each other, and more or less get along as the big, varied family that we’re supposed to be.

What I’m seeing at the moment is more of that polarisation. Some people are happy, some are upset, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of love between the two. In any family there are arguments, it would be naïve to suggest otherwise, but how many people want to sit in the middle of a family argument? It’s uncomfortable and upsetting.

There are several things that I think it’s important for us Christians to remember at a time like this. One is that we are called the bride of Christ (see Revelation 19:7 and other places), not the bride of David Cameron or Ed Milliband (as much as a ‘Millifan’ might want that to be otherwise). And just like a bride-to-be’s affection will be focused ultimately on her fiancé, our affection must be focused ultimately on Jesus, and we need to recognise that whatever our political differences are, in Christ we are one body orientated towards him.

Another thing to remember is that no matter who is in power, we are called to help those in society who need it most. It doesn’t matter who is Prime Minister, there will always be people suffering, and we worship a God who time and again reminds us that he is most concerned for widows and orphans, i.e., the weakest and most dependant in society. I don’t think God’s changed his mind on that one, and if we claim to be like Christ then we should have that attitude too. Sure, in election speak, a strong economy from the Conservatives might get more people into jobs that allow them to afford a good quality of life, or increased welfare from Labour might get people the money they need to stay out of food banks, but the reality is that whoever is in power there’s going to be people in need and as people bearing the image of Christ, Christians must be willing to meet those needs regardless of politics.

Finally, I think the demonisation and ridicule of politicians goes too far sometimes. David Cameron is no more fallen than the rest of us, and Ed Milliband was made in the image of God just as we were. I believe that God sees in them what he sees in all of us: a life marred by sin with great potential for beauty. Remember that politicians are people under great pressure with a lot of responsibility. They’re human. This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be held accountable for mistakes, especially when those are more clear transgressions like expenses scandals, but I think it also means that we should have a bit more grace for them than a lot of us currently do. It’s something to think about anyway.

There’s a lot more that I could have said on this issue, but I’m going to leave it there for now. If you’re a Christian reading this then I would encourage you to continue to pray for our country and our leaders as you pray for and serve the poorest in society as well. All of us, whether we’re politicians or not, have the potential to do great and awful things, and in a world like this, I think a little bit of grace, forgiveness and prayer will go a long, long way.

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