The case for Christian democracy

Ram Gidoomal CBE, December 2003

Ram speaks to Ken Livingstone during the 2000 London mayoral contest. Ram is standing again in 2004

Ram speaks to Ken Livingstone during the 2000 London mayoral contest. Ram is standing again in 2004

In the article ‘The case against Christian political parties’ Dr Michael Schluter argued against the case for Christians forming their own political parties. Ram Gidoomal CBE chaired the City life Boost Scheme and is Leader of the Christian Peoples Alliance (CPA), Britain’s first party of Christian Democratic inspiration. He argues that there are now strong reasons why Christian Democracy is needed in Britain.

Christian Democracy is a long-established and successful political force across Europe, providing decades of stable government and economic growth in a continent ravaged by the Second World War and the scourge of fascism. But its antecedents go back further, to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and the political witness of figures such as Abraham Kuyper, Prime Minister of the Netherlands and great Reformed theologian.

Among a range of factors propelling Christian Democrats into public office, two emerge as significant for British politics. We have not had, until recent times, the same spirit of anti-clericalism that caused Christians to form parties on the continent to defend themselves from secular assault. Secondly, the emergence of proportional representation across Europe ensured that Christian Democratic parties have to be taken seriously as partners in coalition government. As we consider the politics of twenty-first-century Britain, these two factors emerge to set the scene for a new approach to Christian engagement with society.

Why now?

Recent political events suggest a gear-change has taken place in the progressive unravelling of laws imbued with a biblical worldview. The constitutional arrangements in Britain that enshrine Christianity at the heart of Parliament, the monarchy and the legal system have also been put in doubt, not least by the proposed European Union Constitution.

The conviction that government is subject to a higher power has been reflected for centuries in Britain by the fact that more time is still spent in prayer on the floor of the House of Commons than is spent in Prime Minister’s Question Time. In a coronation ceremony that dates back over a thousand years, the monarch makes a public pledge to recognise the ‘Empire of Christ our Redeemer’. These hallmarks of the Christian faith are more than just the veneer of Christendom. They point to the ancient wisdom of our political forbears in seeing government as the business of human co-operation with the Creator God and the need for law to be rooted in biblical revelation.

But behind a powerful drive towards a secularist notion of human rights is the same anti-clerical spirit that seeks to displace Christ and elevate the spirit of humanism. It is the same force which brought about the end of Sunday as a shared day of rest and the same spirit which is now encroaching upon freedom of worship and the liberty of churches to employ whom they choose.

Influencing society

There are several options for Christians who recognise the need to modernise the state whilst holding on to its Christian aspects. The first is to generate policy ideas and then lobby for these by mobilising Christian opinion. The second is to seek both Christian values and legislative action by transforming the political process from within. Both approaches are legitimate and necessary.

For those with a political vocation to serve in public office, the challenge then becomes which party to join. It is a well-noted fact that there is huge disillusionment with the political parties on offer in Britain. But the introduction of fairer systems of voting has meant that people can use their vote to back parties more in line with their own view of the world. Now that the genie of proportional representation (PR) is out of the bottle in Britain, there is no use Christians who are Labour or Conservative supporters continuing as if the public did not have a wider choice.

For Christians seeking to renew consent for the biblical foundations of social policy and our political institutions, a party of Christian Democratic inspiration, such as the CPA, is a direct means to influence decision-making from a position of first principle. And unlike five years ago, the argument that the project won’t get anywhere because of the old party system is unsustainable. Under PR you only need five per cent of the vote and the party gets in with a platform to speak and act.

The need for Christian democrats

The CPA stands within a tradition and articulates its policies within the framework of Christian Democratic thinking. However, it remains only one contribution to the debate among a range of other contributions from Christians in politics. But it is distinctive in challenging contemporary evangelical habits of thinking that the Gospel only applies to individuals and not to nations or to the governance of the state by politicians. For the CPA, it is impossible to separate recognition of the teachings of Christ from recognition of the person of Christ.

To call upon government to implement merely the laws of God whilst denying the source of power by which those laws can be lived is to offer no hope at all. It is in fact a denial of the Gospel. This is the primary reason why I support the case for having the word ‘Christian’ in my party’s name. It points not just to the legal source of political authority but also the source of power to bring social and political transformation. The CPA endorses the church’s message through the generations, that government in Britain must acknowledge Christ. It is based upon the conviction that not only does Jesus want to bear individual burdens; for the nations that choose to follow him, government itself rests upon the shoulders of Christ.

In his wonderful work, The Desire of the Nations, Professor Oliver O’Donovan of Christchurch, Oxford, puts it like this:

We must say that the church seeks the ‘conversion’ of the state, provided that we use that term analogously. In relation to the state its sense is different from that which it can be used of individuals and societies. Not only individuals, but families, tribes and nations may repent and believe the Gospel.

Although seeking to hold onto Britain’s Christian heritage, the CPA is responding to the challenge of engaging with the new realities of politics as it is, not the kind of politics dominant in the last century. Claims to provide the only path that all Christians must follow will never make progress. Neither should Christians feel they must vote only Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat. The electorate have become used to voting in the same way they shop for consumer products, as a demonstration of lifestyle.

Real choice for voters

When running as Mayoral candidate for London for the Christian Peoples Alliance, I met many people across the faiths who said they felt disenfranchised by the limited choice on offer. Christians told me they were looking to back candidates who reflect the priorities they have in their own lives, such as a commitment to sustainable ways of living, the pursuit of social justice, the importance of marriage and the responsibilities of family life. After just 100 days of campaigning in 2000, almost 100,000 people voted Christian Democrat in London, which meant that the CPA ‘won’ the 11th of the top-up seats available under the proportional list system for the London Assembly. However, as it turned out, the CPA did not cross the five per cent threshold necessary to qualify for the seat, although next year the party is well-placed to cross this artificial electoral hurdle.

It is probable that British politics in this new century will begin to reflect politics in the rest of the EU, with a range of parties on offer to voters, and with Christian Democratic parties having a significant say in coalition government, such as they have today in Norway and the Netherlands. Despite the best efforts of Christian Conservatives, Christian Socialists and Christian Liberals in this country, each of their parties is pursuing policies deeply damaging to the social and moral fabric of the country.

There is no need for them to look over their shoulder at what is still the modest role of the Christian Peoples Alliance. But neither should they look down and declare that the CPA alone is somehow unprincipled by referring to Christ in our name. We have seen a decades-long strategy of Trotskyist-style entryism, in the hope that if enough Christians join the secular parties, one day each of these great political ships will turn and uphold the biblical foundations of our democracy. However, it may be that the small tug of Christian Democracy is required to give them all the shunt that they need.

Christian People’s Alliance: PO Box 932 Sutton, Surrey SM1 1HQ

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Category: News and Reviews

December, 2003

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