The (so-called) ‘Scottish Christian Party’ is contesting the Scottish elections with a mixture of old-fashioned Calvinism and modern right-of-centre politics. Great Britain â€” and especially Scotland â€” has a long and honourable tradition of Christians in public life, but, unlike much of mainland Europe, there is no tradition of ostensibly Christian political parties. It is true that some Christians â€” in common with many voters of all faiths and none â€” have lost confidence in mainstream political parties. But has the time come for specifically Christian parties to call on the support committed believers, or should Christians seek to involve themselves in mainstream parties? And what about this particular ‘Christian’ party?
Christianity is not a political faith. The early Christians were a tiny minority, frequently persecuted, often despised, who had almost no political influence for the first three centuries of their existence (which is another reason why the Da Vinci Code is entirely implausible, but that’s another story). This contrasts sharply with the context of the Old Testament, which was written down in a culture which expected the people of God to be ruled by the word of God. For this reason, when Christians have been in a position to establish rules for how society operates, they have often either tried to separate the church from the state â€” recognising the non-political nature of the New Testament â€” or they have looked specifically to the Old Testament for inspiration.
However, even if it were desirable, it is simply not possible to lift instructions for a semi-nomadic life in Palestine’s early Iron Age and put them in a 21st century context. In fact, even by the time of the New Testament this was already a problem, and Jesus Christ frequently pointed out that the religious leaders of the day had applied a literalistic interpretation of the letter of Old Testament law, and missed the spirit of that law.
The Scottish Christian Party is clearly in the ‘Inspired by Old Testament law’ camp. There is a lot of sense in some of this. Faced with the increasing burden of stress, they propose the restoration of a day of rest. Faced with the increasing burden of consumer debt, they propose the cancellation of unpaid debt after seven years. to some extent, this reflects some of the proposals of Ronald Sider in ‘Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger’, which was one of the key influences on the Jubilee 2000 campaign.
But the Old Testament is silent on many other issues. For example, the SCP policy on Venture Capital is:
3. Venture Capitalism
The Scottish Christian Party supports local wealth generation with an emphasis on local entrepreneurs rather than handouts to multinational firms. We will encourage joint ownership schemes where venture capital rather than grants would be made available by local government. Profits from successful ventures would be ploughed back into new ventures. We will support incentives including business rates holidays and business mentoring for start-ups.
This may well be a very sound policy â€” but it is not in any sense a ‘Christian’ policy. On Tourism, their policies include:
Visitscotland as an organisation should be downsized and reformed as a small co-ordinating body with direction and control coming from the ATBs. (Area Tourist Boards)
There are a good many other policies like this. Some are eminently sensible â€” concentration on renewable energy, management of fisheries â€” but they are not in any sense ‘Christian’.
The Scottish Christian Party believes that the much needed extra prison capacity should be purchased from developing countries for the purpose of catering for Scotlandâ€™s medium Security Prisons. This should take the form of building state of the art prison facilities in developing countries that wish to host Scottish Prisons.
Aside from being lifted (in reverse) straight from the plot of the Rowan Atkinson film Johnny English, this particular policy reveals something strange and disturbing about SCP. It reveals a contempt for the rest of the world which parallels the pronouncements of the British National Party. This is completely at odds with the teaching of Jesus Christ, and the tenor of the rest of the New Testament, including St Paul’s famous pronouncement “in Christ there is no Jew nor Greek, no slave nor free, no male nor femaleâ€¦” ((Galatians 3:28)).
The Jubilee Debt campaign has shown the impact that taking Christian faith into the political arena can have. Equally, this year we are reminded of the work of William Wilberforce in applying Christian principles to oppose, and eventually abolish, the slave trade. There are committed Christians in all the mainstream political parties, and their actions are informed and often guided by their faith.
However, for a single party to effectively claim a monopoly on Christian politics, and to call on Christians to support it on this basis is a serious problem. It is not only bad for politics, it is also bad for the Christian faith.
It is bad for politics because it makes a false claim on the loyalty of Christians. The use of the word ‘Chrstian’ in its title urges believers to vote for it, without the need for scrutiny of its policies.
It is bad for Christianity because it makes a large number of implicit â€” and false â€” claims about how Christians should think and behave. Although Christians do not live in the Old Testament world, they are called on to make sense of their lives in the light of the Old Testament (and the New Testament). But there is not one, universal, blueprint for how this should be done. In its one-sided application of a very few Old Testament principles, SCP attempts to side-step a Christian’s own conscience and reason. Rather worse, by ‘filling in the gaps’ with perhaps (or perhaps not) emininently sensible policies, SCP creates confusion about what is Christian and what is merely plausible. Worse still, it claims an authority for these policies by association. An authority they in no sense deserve.
It is a matter of deep regret that politicians in all parties have lost the respect of many voters. But if Christians want to change that, and to have people in the Westminster, Scottish, Welsh and European parliaments, who deserve their respect, then they need to get involved in mainstream politics. In a nation where just one person in tend attends church regularly, a Christian party is never going to form a government, or even be a key partner in a coalition.
What is more important â€” and this has been proved over the last centuy in countries with a tradition of ‘Christian’ political parties â€” assigning the name ‘Christian’ to what is no more than a collection of purely human policy and prejudie does violent discredit to the Gospel.