Party divisions

It is a common excuse, I think, employed by people who do not go to church, that there are so many of them that they are not sure which one to attend. As excuses go, it’s about as reasonable as not buying a car because of the number of models on the market, or not washing your face because of the choice of soap brands.

Of course, with church matters the stakes are a bit higher; the salvation of souls is of a different order to modes of transport or clean faces. But I can understand the excuse; if one is looking for a reason not to worship God, the multiplicity of denominations and of churches is as good a reason as any.

Those of us who love church, and consider it indispensable for human living and for a well-grounded faith, have also to admit that we do rather score an own goal when it comes to winning in the public arena. In spite of the New Testament emphasis on unity - the preciousness of it, the obligation to maintain it, and Jesus’ commitment to it - we are better at fragmentation than at coming together. We have a tendency to shape the church in our own image, creating interest groups and one-issue denominations. It’s a far cry from ‘Thy kingdom come’.

I often think in my more whimsical moments what impact it would make if we actually succeeded in doing what Christ prayed for, and worshipped and worked as one. Would we manage to take away entirely the excuse of non-attendance because of multiple churches?

But those who use it are, presumably, planning to vote in the forthcoming General Election, and carefully considering which party resonates with them. The fact that there are so many parties to choose from does not seem to prevent them wanting to exercise their democratic freedom and privilege.

There will be no excuse that because there are so many different candidates representing different political outlooks there is no point in casting a vote.

Indeed, we would think something was radically amiss if there were no political debates and hustings, if the leaders of the political parties simply decided that they would collapse all differentiation and create a one-size-fits-all political movement in which everyone could have their own part.

It would be unthinkable for any political party to consider modifying its distinctive position simply to persuade people to take part in the political process. What process would be left anyway? What need would there be to vote if everyone had the same policy and stood for the same thing?

So we endure an endless cycle of argument and counter-argument; we try to follow the logic and understand the positions. We try to work out where exactly the left is, and where the right might be. We nod knowingly when people talk about fiscal autonomy and pretend we understand the Barnett formula. We take it as read that everyone has their own view and that it is a healthy thing for the democracy in which we are proud to participate to have such a rigorous level of debate.

Mind you, there are some things that tax my personal competencies. I cannot understand, for example, how a party dedicated to preserving the environment can campaign to govern on that one, very slender issue. Nor can I understand why a party which will not vote on English matters in Westminster wants to broker a deal to form a coalition government. Nor can I figure out how a party devoted to the one key issue of Scottish independence can expect to govern the United Kingdom with integrity, when the principles of independence and Union are the extremes of nationalism.

And while I am on a rant on things that I cannot understand very well, why are we still talking about independence referenda? I thought both sides on that particular debate had promised - nay, vowed - to abide by the outcome of the vote. Which was, I think, that we should remain United as a kingdom. Yet I still keep hearing about it, and about the growing popularity of Scottish nationalism.

Perhaps the independence referendum woke the sleeping giant of political awareness. Perhaps the tide of British democracy is turning, and the machinery is creating something new and exciting. Perhaps. And did I mention that I’m not sure what Nigel Farage stands for either; he’s a bit of a nationalist too, I think, although sometimes I wonder whether he confuses British nationalism with English nationalism.

As far as 10 Downing Street is concerned, it’s the political equivalent of the Moderator’s residence (not that the Free Church has one), and it is up for grabs. I think I should just move in and tell everyone to form one big party.

But there is the rub - all we can do is vote. By doing so, we participate in a process that allows for a government chosen by us. We may not get the leadership we hope for, nor the party we support in government. But we can hold our leaders accountable, which is just as important as electing them in the first place.

My point, however, is simple; politics, like church life, is complicated. Personal and ideological views combine, and all kinds of factors shape the positions we adopt and the shades of political opinion which we hold. We do not opt out just because we are spoiled for choice.

So why should we use this excuse as a reason for not going to church? We begin with one Bible, from which we derive our doctrine and practice. To be sure, some churches read it and practice it differently to others. But that is to be expected in a world as diverse as ours.

One thing is certain: it is our wisdom to opt in to church, and not out of it. For, unlike the governments of this world, the reign of Christ is not negotiable.