Attended most (not all) of a day-conference yesterday in my home city of Bristol on the theme of Christians in Politics, hosted by Woodlands Church.
Described as being "for followers of Jesus passionate about the kingdom of God & longing for justice", the day consisted of workshops, presentations and question-and-answer sessions, followed by a worship celebration in the evening which I did not attend.
For my American Christian readers used to a more conservative paradigm for thinking about politics and Christianity, yesterday's event may have been something of a surprise, with presentations from Andy Flannagan of the Christian Socialist Movement, a representative from the Green Party (only caught his first name, Rob) and the former Parliamentary candidate for Bristol West from the Liberal Democrats, Paul Harrod. There were also representatives from NGOs, including lobbying and campaign groups. If there was a representative from the Conservative Party taking part, I wasn't aware of their presence, though there was literature from the Conservative Christian Fellowship available.
Of the smaller workshops, I opted for "Westminster or Bust?", subtitled "finding your political vocation". Chaired by Gareth Davis of CARE, who struck me as bearing a striking similarity visually and stylistically to New Frontiers leader David Stroud, the workshop was a whistle-stop tour of practical ways to get involved in politics. Preceded by a helpful and succinct "why get involved" presentation, Gareth's ten ways of engaging ranged from meeting your MP/local councilor, to joining a political party, from becoming a school governor to working for a think tank or as a civil servant.
As an aside, Gareth Davis's presentation was based on the Prezi software, the ability to move in and out of images on-screen proving a welcome change to PowerPoint.
In the main presentation that proceeded the breakout sessions, we were introduced to a range of political activists. One of them, Les I think his name was, took the opportunity to critique the Woodlands Church motto, "Reproducing the Life of Jesus" as meaningless, arguing that Jesus' life was unique and unreproducible. Les further informed us that he "didn't know what he believed" about faith and politics. Perhaps predictably, Les was to chair the workshop on "Throw Over the Tables and Whip Them", the Christian case for direct action. All very post-church/Greenbelt, I smugly thought to myself.
A couple of final thoughts that left me something to reflect on as a result of the day.
1) There appeared to be a genuine respect across the party divides for believers who were seeking to engage politically, despite their differences of approach and a recognition that such differences are usually of strategy rather than objective.
2) Affecting meaningful political change is a very long-term project. Those most involved in the nitty-gritty of campaigning and lobbying spoke several times about how it takes decades in order to have an effect on public policy. Today's mainstream policies (third world debt reduction, for instance) arose from campaigns launched in the 1980s.
2) Another aspect to this long term approach is to not despise idealism in politics. Andy Flanagan commented: "Today's idealism is what everyone agrees with in ten years time."
Of the organisations, and other individuals represented at the day (attended by about 80-100 adults) I noted SUSA, whose website seems to contain a lot of non-partisan useful resources, including a "What kind of political animal are you?" questionnaire.
Overall, an interesting day. More practical than theoretical, but none the worse for that approach, in my opinion.
My own introduction to the topic of Christians in politics is found here.