In the forthcoming European elections we are being given the opportunity to vote for The Christian Party/Christian Peoples Alliance. The election literature on behalf of their candidates in the London area came through my letter box a day or two ago, and it prompts the following thoughts.
The leaflet is clearly targetted at the BNP, and particularly at discouraging evangelical Christians from voting for them. This is quite an important point to be made, as there is a clear temptation for evangelical Christians to follow the BNP's claim to stand for the Christian heritage of the country.
However, there are two strap lines that cause me some concern. One is that of the Christian Party itself: "The Christian Party: proclaiming Christ's Lordship". As a headline for evangelism, this is fine. But here it is being presented as the headline of a political programme, a programme which is identified in a specific way with the Christian religion. The second is a strapline for this election: "Put your X by the Cross!". This suggests that a vote cast in this way will be a vote for a particular religious faith.
The difficulty that these strap lines present can be expressed in two ways. Firstly, according to Catholic teaching, it is a specific role of the lay person to mediate the Christian life from the Church to the world. The lay person takes a course of action in the world, using their specifically lay expertise, which in this case is political expertise. This mediates Christian teaching into political and social action, but without the demand upon others of adherence to a particular religious faith. The second way to express this is in terms of what Pope Benedict XVI would call "appropriate secularity" in the political and social sphere. If the political and social sphere is to allow a freedom for the activity of people with religious faith, then it seems unfortunate to campaign in such a way that implies adherence to one particular religion. This is not to say that religious faith is banned from the political and social sphere; just that its engagement should be a mediated one through the "secular" activity of believers.
There needs to be a certain "distance" between the profession of a religion and a campaign of political action. This is, from the point of view of principle, because any course of political action has a "transitory" or "temporary" nature to it, a certain dependence on the specific circumstances in which it is undertaken. It is important that this course of action is not identified definitively with the content of faith, which has a permanent and transcendent character. At a practical level, it is all too easy for the proponent of political activity to be associated with behaviour that falls short of the expectations of a religious faith, whether by accident , intent or the imputation of others.
This "distance" also allows the lay person a genuine freedom to live out their faith in social and political action, with the successes and failings that go with any attempt to live the Christian life.