Christian Politics: A Call to Action
By Dr John Coulter
My academic analysis concerning the need for an Irish Christian Party because of the secular drift in Irish society on both sides of the Irish border certainly had social media in hyper drive and resulted in a very positive live debate with myself, fellow commentator Jude Collins, and North Belfast Ulster Unionist Party Assembly candidate Rev Lesley Carroll on the BBC’s Sunday Sequence.
So where do these ideas go from Sunday Sequence? Christians and church goers need to follow the constructive example set by Jesus Himself in the New Testament when he entered the Temple and found it dominated by the so-called money changers.
Did Jesus moan and complain, but do nothing? No. Did Jesus bury his head in the sand and pretend nothing was happening? No. The Biblical account clearly states that he took positive action and physically threw the money changers out of the Temple.
Christians and church goers need to follow Christ’s example – get off your bottoms, get out of your pews and get into the polling booths!
Christians and church goers need to stop complaining about the perceived forward march of the secular and pluralist society and get out and vote! They can no longer adopt the fundamentalist tactic – which is very common among the ‘born again’ Salvationist faction of the Christian faith – of ‘come ye out from amongst them’.
This, unfortunately, has been interpreted by many Christians Scriptural signals both not to become involved with political parties, or indeed, even to not come out to vote.
The big challenge to Christians and church goers in general is how they are going to positively combat the perception that society is drifting steadily towards a secular and pluralist abyss?
Has the Christian Church become so fixated with arguing about theology that the secular and pluralist society has crept up behind Irish Christianity by stealth?
With the 5 May Assembly poll a matter of weeks away and the formal election campaign about to shift into top gear, Christians and church goers need to watch they do not succumb to the apathy bug.
Take the pro-Union community as a hypothetical example. How can members of the fundamentalist Loyal Orders be expected to vote for candidates who are atheists, agnostics, humanists or ecumenists given the clear Salvationist stance of the Qualifications of an Orangeman, which people joining the Order must swear allegiance to?
Already there are perceptions among some sections of the Loyal Orders – especially the Orange Order and Royal Black Institution – that pro-Union parties are trying to distance themselves from the Orders.
Could this be why the traditionally Right-wing leaning Unionist parties are having to move towards the centre of Ulster politics because it is now the centre people who are coming out to vote?
Academically speaking, is the new supposed liberal-leaning policy of the UUP to outflank the DUP in the pro-Union middle ground? Or, has the UUP recognised it cannot win the battle to regain top Unionist spot from the DUP on 5 May and has decided to lock horns with the Alliance Party instead for the liberal, secular, pluralist vote in Northern Ireland?
Could this mean that the UUP would be keen to rebrand itself as a soft unionist version of the moderate and middle ground – but virtually defunct – NI21 party, formed by two former UUP MLAs – Basil McCrea and John McCallister?
However, the challenge which liberal-leaning tacticians within the general pro-Union community must face is to ensure that this liberal agenda can be sold to the Unionism’s heartland voters – namely, centre Right Protestants with strong Loyal Order sympathies.
If the ‘Let’s All Be Trendy Liberals’ agenda does not deliver significant increases in MLAs for the pro-Union parties, the perception will be further created that political Unionism has become nothing more than a right-wing Alliance Party dominated by liberal Protestant Presbyterians.
There is even talk among Unionism’s Right-wing that if the ‘liberal trend’ does not result in effective seat gains come May, would the Loyal Orders – the Orange, Black and Apprentice Boys – consider fielding Independent Unionist candidates in future elections.
As a starting point for an Irish Christian political movement, when candidates and representatives begin their election visits – ask them point blank: do you believe in God? If they say they don’t, or have no time for religion – then don’t vote for them!
However, in the event of the 5 May poll returning a majority of MLAs who do not adhere to Biblical principles, then Christians and church goers will have no other path but to launch formally the Irish Christian Party.
Unfortunately, over the centuries, especially in Ireland, mention Christianity and politics in the same breath and the stereotype image of the street corner hell-fire preacher, bellowing out extreme Protestant fundamentalism springs to mind.
The Crusades of the Middle Ages did nothing to advance any Christian socialist cause, and the weird ideological concoction of Identity Christianity spewed out by the Ku Klux Klan in America does equal damage to the notion of Christians and political activity.
But now is the chance for Christians and church goers under the banner of an Irish Christian Party to strike.
Such a grassroots movement is seeking a return of biblical Christianity as a central core of political thinking by getting Christians to focus politically on the New Testament account of the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus Christ, as told in St Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter Five.
It has been this Sermon by Jesus which has become the foundation stone of the political thinking of the Irish Christian Party.
In this aspect, Christ outlines a series of attributes, commonly known as The Beatitudes. There is a school of ideological thinking – to which I personally belong – which maintains that Karl Marx based Das Capital on The Beatitudes, and his overt criticism of religion was merely a ploy to disguise the fact that he had pinched his ideas from the Bible, and the words of Jesus.
In reality, Jesus Christ was the first real communist – not Karl Marx. The Irish Christian Party’s Christ and state ideology is, therefore, based on St Matthew’s Gospel Chapter Five, verses one to 12. Many of the Beatitudes begin (using the Authorised King James translation): “Blessed are …”
However, when the words of Jesus are taken in a modern context, they make the basis for a realistic political agenda for the Irish Christian Party.
Here are the key points which the Beatitudes highlight. The poor in spirit (verse three) – the need to restore national pride in society; those who mourn (verse four) – the need to remember and help the victims of the conflict in Ireland; the meek (verse five) – the need to help the working class, and for the rich to invest their wealth in helping those less well off in society; they which do hunger (verse six) – the need to combat growing poverty in society, and also provide a sound educational and health system for all; the merciful (verse seven) – the need for a fair and accountable justice system; the pure in heart (verse eight) – the need to restore the moral fabric of society, to encourage family values and implement the concept of society’s conscience; peacemakers (verse nine) – the need for compromise and respect of people’s views based on the concept of accommodation, not capitulation; the persecuted (verse 10) – the need for members, activists and voters of the Irish Christian Party to have the courage to stand up for their beliefs; when men shall revile you (verse 11) – the need for a free press with responsible regulation.
Taken as an overall Beatitudes-based manifesto, the Irish Christian Party is about the creation of the concept of Christian citizenship. Under this concept, compulsory voting – as exists in Australia – would be introduced to Ireland.
Tragically, Christianity in Ireland has become bogged down in recent years over theological debates about women clerics, translations of the Bible, abortion, gay marriage, relations with Islam, and even petty issues such as should women wear hats to church, and how “loud’ in colour should men’s ties be before they can enter a church building.
Christians have even “gone to theological war” with each other over the type of worship coming from the pews, with traditionalists favouring the old fashioned hymns and psalms from the 19th century, with modernisers (especially the Pentecostalist factions) opting for the 21st century lively tunes, often referred to as Hill Songs.
Ironically, extreme Christian fundamentalists – particularly from the militant pro-life lobby – have coined the perfect rallying call which can see the birth of an Irish Christian Party.
It is based on the abbreviation WWJD? –What Would Jesus Do? Where Marxism can be accused of trying to remove religion from politics, the Irish Christian Party seeks to put the teachings of Jesus back into political thinking.
The big problem that I have long faced as a Christian socialist myself, trying to implement the teachings of Jesus Christ, is to find a political vehicle to expound those views.
Being a Christian Socialist in Ireland is a tough challenge, given that the island of Ireland has been at war with itself for the past eight centuries, as two of the largest Christian denominations, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, battle for supremacy. Hopefully, the Irish Christian Party can be a way forward.
Dr John Coulter is Ireland Columnist for Tribune magazine, and is author of the ebook ‘An Saise Glas’ (The Green Sash): The Road to National Republicanism, published by Amazon Kindle.
Follow Dr Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter