On Saturday I went to my first political rally. Some of our best friends invited us.
I'm not deeply political. It wasn't really part of my upbringing but I've become more politically aware over the past few years. A the same time, British society seems to have become more political too - maybe it always was and I wasn't noticing. Social media might be dominated by pictures of cats but political conversation isn't far behind that.
I vote and I've gradually reached some fairly settled convictions on the political compass though I'm still learning. I've written about the EU referendum result here for Premier Christianity.
We share similar politics to our friends, though they're far more invested in the cause than we are. I respect their views and their commitment. I find my nominal politics challenged by their living faith in it. Our friends were organising this rally - they and their son marked up with Jeremy Corbyn t-shirts. I think it's cool that a 7 year old is politically aware, I hope they might think the same about my faith-thinking 7 year old. I'd like my son to develop political convictions.
1. We were there because of our friends. That could be risky for them - what would we make of them in this setting? Friendship gave us a sense of trust. These friends came to church with us and commented "Your church is like you are..." - they saw that the tone matched. Would that be true as we ventured 'on to their turf'? How did they feel about inviting us?As someone who communicates faith for a living I've also been thinking about the message of the rally. We heard hysteria and rants and measured speech from the microphone... the placards were pro-Corbyn and anti-Tory/Blairite. In language I'd use in my faith community "it was all very in house". Was the aim to stir up existing enthusiasm? Was the aim to win observers to engage? What woudld it take for me to make a next step in my political journey? What would such a step be? How would I do that?
2. We were outsiders and newbies. The only people we knew there were our two friends - who were organising the event and so were busy talking to lots of other people. That's a strange experience. I wondered what would it take for me to come back if our friends weren't there? I didn't recognise anyone else - interesting people who live in my city with whom I've not crossed paths before.
3. My weird-o-meter was on high alert. As someone who regularly has a part in organising public events I'm acutely aware of how speech and music come across in large gathering. How many of those present really represent the cause... how many were just as newbie as us? Does every community have its oddballs? Who is "the normal person" in the gathering? The rally was open air - what would my friends think if they saw us there? As I explore politics would I be perceived as more deeply committed than I am? What would be assumed about me? Everything communicates something.
4. Politics, for some, is an all in thing. It's time consuming. It's a community. Is it possible to be part of a faith community and a political community? Those involved care passionately about society, about their vision for it, and they're sacrificial in their engagement with it.
I think you can be politically-committed and committed to the Christian faith, though I find my faith moderates my expectations of what politics can hope to accomplish. My family of faith happily includes people with radically different political persuasion, whose conscience - shaped by their culture, class, education, faith, talents, experience, aspirations etc - leans them towards different ways of seeking a just and fruitful society, different ways to respond to the longing for a good life and the evident injustice, brokenness and darkness in the world.
Christian faith gives significant room to hold a wide range of political beliefs and approaches. More than that, politics is part of the amazing cultural mandate of humanity and can be leveraged for great good. Taken alone it falls short of being able to bring about the deepest and most far-reaching change that Jesus can and will bring about.
As a Christian Minister I call people to know Jesus Christ not to hold a particular political position or support a particular party. However, an implication of this Gospel should be to participate actively in society rather than to retreat from it, which at least means some level of political engagement...
The rally showed me more of what matters to those involved, opened my eyes to a new community in our city and got me thinking more about how involved I am. Having politically-minded friends has inspired me to get involved more as we move to a new town, though I'm not entirely sure what that looks like yet.