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Thank God for Christian MPs

James Mildred

Miriam Cates MP

At CARE, a considerable part of our work is to do with legislation. It’s nitty, gritty, technical stuff. There’s not only a whole language to learn (secondary legislation anyone? Order Papers?), but also the reality that you’re often briefing MPs on huge pieces of legislation which will have real life consequences for many people.

To secure the change you want to legislation, you need three things: to know the system well, to be able to draft good amendments and, perhaps most importantly, you need to be able to build coalitions of supportive MPs.

This week, a Christian MP called Miriam Cates achieved all three and in doing so, persuaded (or forced!) the government to make a vital change to the Online Safety Bill. Thanks to her efforts, the government will make changes to introduce new measures to criminalise social media bosses who flout rules aimed at protecting children online. As CARE’s policy lead on online safety, Tim Cairns, said, this change will make it far more likely that social media executives will take their obligations more seriously. As a result, children will be better protected.

In this digital age, online harms are becoming a bigger and bigger challenge. In the last decade, there’s research and stats that tell us children as young as 5 are watching pornography, stumbling across it accidently online. There was also the tragic story of Molly Russell who took her own life, having experienced online bullying. As Christians, we should welcome the government’s move to legislate in this area. Yes, passing laws to govern the internet is complicated. But the Bible shows us how precious children are. They are a gift from the Lord, a blessing to be grateful for. You only have to look at Jesus welcoming the little one’s and making time for them to see God’s heart for them. Moreover, Christians care about the most vulnerable and to see young people better protected online is an overwhelmingly good thing.

Miriam secured the backing of three dozen Tory MPs and worked especially closely with veteran MP Sir Bill Cash. It was an unlikely coalition – one of parliament’s newest MPs, hand in hand with one of the most experienced. Yet this is exactly the sort of bridge building and relational work that’s needed if you want to secure change.

Making any sort of significant change to legislation in parliament is immensely difficult. Bill Cash apparently said in his decades in the Commons, securing the recent online safety win was highly unusual. But such is the nature of politics. What Miriam Cates has demonstrated in both the strength of her convictions and her evident ability to ‘get things done’. Parliament is fortunate to have someone like her – a committed Christian who is campaigning on behalf of the most vulnerable.

Some Christians have the luxury of standing on the outside of parliament and politics and shouting in. I think we need organisations that do that. But we also need to recognise that Christian MPs might not be leading the headlines, or calling out every injustice and being seen on BBC news, but that doesn’t mean they are not quietly and effectively doing what they can.

Thank God for Christian MPs. God calls us to make a difference in every sector of society and this includes politics. It’s a good thing to know that in Westminster, Stormont, Holyrood and Cardiff Bay, we have brothers and sisters who are faithfully representing King Jesus in the corridors of power. They are being salt and light often in a very dark place. And we know they can accomplish much good.

For example, Christian MPs have helped promote palliative care and made the case against assisted suicide, contributing massively to successive bills failing to pass. They’ve also helped pioneer family hubs and pro-family policies like the marriage tax allowance. They’ve championed religious liberty and one of our sisters in Christ is currently the Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion and Belief. Some have spoken into debates on the law around prostitution, raising awareness of the need for reform. They’re also among the only MPs who will argue against ever increasing access to abortion – and with some success.

God doesn’t call us to be successful in all we do so it shouldn’t surprise us if the relatively small number of Christians in places like Westminster haven’t always succeeded. But God does call us to be faithful. To be a faithful witness to His truth, no matter the cost. Yes, they might be few in number. But the Bible is a story of God using His people to overcome impossible odds. We need Christians in politics for all the good they can do and the ‘seasoning’ effect they can have in debates.

What Tuesday showed is that Christians can make a genuine difference in politics. We’ve seen this through CARE’s work. From securing the reintroduction of the marriage tax allowance (which gives a small amount of help if one parent chooses to stay home), to persuading the government to introduce new guidance on longer-term support for confirmed modern slavery victims, success is possible.

But along the way, you’ll meet fierce criticism which is often misleading mudslinging. Miriam Cates also experienced the darker side of the House of Commons this week. On Tuesday afternoon, there was a debate on a statement by the Secretary of State for Scotland, Alistair Jack about the UK Government’s use of a Section 35 order (part of the Scotland Act) to block the Scottish Government’s Gender Recognition and Reform (Scotland) Bill from receiving Royal Assent. He said this was because the legislation impacted on the Equality Act which is a reserved matter.

That move is fiercely opposed by the SNP in Westminster and also by some Labour MPs. Miriam spoke in support of the move by the UK Government. It’s worth quoting some of her speech. She said:

‘In a restaurant recently, I had an experience where a man dressed as a woman walked into the toilets where I was on my own. He stood behind me and stared at me in the mirror, looking me in the eye. I have no idea whether he intended me any harm, but my evolved instinct as a woman was to be frightened, because unlike in almost any other species, women are far less powerful than men and we cannot defend ourselves…Women are evolved to be wary of men in intimate spaces, which is why we have single-sex spaces and why they must continue to exist for the safety and privacy of women. The Bill threatens that social contract.’

In response, Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle accused Miriam of delivering ‘one of the worse transphobic dog-whistle speeches I’ve heard in an awful long time.’ He called her arguments ‘disgusting’ and yelled across the house at her ‘You should be ashamed’.

(For the record, Sir Peter Bottomley raised a point of order in which he made it clear he believed Miriam had said nothing transphobic whatsoever.)

Tuesday then was a day where a Christian MP experienced both the highs of achieving success and the lows of being attacked very personally for speaking out against a very bad law. It’s a powerful reminder of both the opportunities there are for Christians in politics and the huge challenges too.

What Miriam experienced was a form of misogyny, yet another instance of an aggressive man looking to intimidate a woman.

Christians in politics have a huge opportunity here. The Apostle Paul commands all Christians to make sure our conversations are always ‘seasoned with salt’ (Colossians 4:4). The Lord Jesus combined ‘truth and grace’ (John 1:14). James says we should all listen more than we speak (James 1:19).

Let others shout and rage. Let others ridicule and mock. By our speech we can demonstrate both conviction and civility and in doing so, model a better way of doing public discourse. God has given us the Holy Spirit to help in this, so we don’t have to face the fury of the mob all by ourselves.

For MPs like Miriam, it’s also immensely encouraging to know there are Christians out there praying for them. This reality can give courage.

So, how can you pray for MPs like Miriam? Firstly, pray they will stay close to Jesus. The world of Westminster involves time away from family and temptation is a real challenge. Pray they will be protected from temptation and giving into to evil desires. Pray they will listen to God’s word and be filled with the Spirit, led by Him as they go about their work. You can pray they will know favour in meetings with colleagues and ministers. You can also pray they will be given courage to stand for truth, even when it goes against where current culture is at.

Perhaps you could also write to them and just thank them for their courage and for their work. Too often, Christians are known for writing to MPs only when we’re against something. But let’s go above and beyond and just send an encouraging message to let them know they’re not alone!

If I’m going to encourage you to pray for Christian brothers and sisters in politics, it seems fair to finish with a prayer.

Living God, we praise you for raising up men and women to be MPs, MSPs, MLAs and MSs, along with councilors as well. May they know your presence and strength. May they experience your grace as they represent their constituents and campaign on key matters. Lord, when they are attacked, give them courage and faith to stand their ground. May they know your blessing on their work and grant them breakthroughs and encouragements. Thank you for their faithfulness, as they honour you, may you honour them, just as your word says. We pray for those who help them in their parliamentary offices and constituency offices. Lord God, we pray you will help them to be light and salt and bring honour and glory to the Lord Jesus, in His name we pray, Amen.

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