Standards in public life matter. Those who occupy positions of power and authority carry a greater weight of responsibility to uphold those standards. Both of these statements should be uncontroversial. But when politics is dominated by news about 'rule breaking', as we’re currently witnessing, trust is undermined.
For some, there’s just cold fury in response. Deep seated anger at the way rules imposed on all of us were allegedly broken. For others, the story just deepens existing cynicism about politics and politicians in general. What possible good, they ask, can come out of Westminster?
As Christians and followers of Jesus, how must we respond? Let me offer one word of caution before seeking to answer this question. The danger of hypocrisy is very real. Jesus denounced the Pharisees (the religious rulers of his day) for their hypocrisy, and he did so in an utterly brutal fashion.
Hypocrisy is deeply offensive to God and it’s incredibly easy to slip into. It’s where we point the finger of judgement at others, despite being guilty ourselves. I’ve got to be honest and say I don't know if I was on the right side of every lockdown rule all the time.
At the same time, given what I said earlier about standards in public life and the importance of leaders keeping them, watching what’s been happening in politics recently also should cause me to lament. And I think lament is the right word. How tragic that there seems to be such a lack of moral authority and allegiance to telling the truth by those who have the highest earthly authority in the British constitution.
Leaders who deal in lies and deception are a judgement from God upon any country. We should grieve over the absence of moral character at the very top. We must not however make the mistake of dismissing or writing off politics in its entirety.
There is a distinction to be drawn between the theatre of politics – and by this I mean the drama of personalities, individuals and their actions – and the technical function of politics. By that I mean the fact that according to one definition, politics is making decisions. In our society, it can refer simply to the work MPs and Peers do at Westminster, MSPs do at Holyrood and MLAs and MSs do at Stormont and Cardiff Bay respectively.
There are good men and women in the various parliaments and assemblies of the UK who are committed to upholding standards for public life. Who have integrity and honour and who do not lie. It is vital we remember this because while the ‘Executive Branch’ is powerful, the British system means it’s not ‘all powerful’. We should be immensely thankful for this.
The presence of faithful Christians in Parliament as well should encourage us never to ‘give up’ on politics. Our prayer should be that they are able to be a powerful influence for good in the corridors of power. To this end, we must pray they are protected from temptation. Working in politics brings unique challenges and they need our prayers to sustain and protect them.
So often the media will focus on what is sensational. They will obsessively follow the psychodrama of party gates and so on and so forth. All the while, MPs and others are scrutinising life changing legislation, some of which will do much good in the lives of many across the country.
As Christians, then, we need to practice a form of 'detachedness' from the drama. We need to remember the bigger picture. And how thankful we should be that we follow a King who is eternal, immortal, invisible (which keeps us safe!), the only God.
Our King is Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man. He’s the perfect ruler. Every decision is true, just, and right. His every word, absolutely reliable. His heart, full of compassion for people. And his commitment to build his Kingdom unwavering.
Such a King is more important than prime ministers or any earthly rulers. Over and above the chaos, Jesus reigns. And that is reason enough to rejoice. So, fight cynicism and let’s also remember what the Apostle Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:1-2:
“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”