Over the past few months, it’s felt like my prayer life and my political affiliation have been equally personal. At the back of my mind as I’ve read manifestos, sat through hustings and gone out campaigning has been a sure and steady confidence that I was doing the right thing and that God saw.
I’ve prayed the prayers of the Old Testament prophets with half a mind wandering to policies that might tick some of the boxes in Isaiah 58. Spend myself of behalf of the hungry? Well, isn’t that exactly what I’ve been doing when I’ve given up Saturday mornings to post leaflets through countless letterboxes? Restorer of Streets with Dwellings? I’m sure there’s a bullet point about that one somewhere…
Maybe it all started to go a bit wrong when I began to see God as just another potential voter and counted on His support; when I started to pray on behalf of an entire political party, rather focussing on human beings and God’s will for them, irrespective of the government. I guess it was inevitable that I’d feel a sense of unfairness when the result didn’t go my way.
After all, when my small, self-interested prayers about deadlines, trains and romance go unanswered, I’m not immune to throwing a strop. So when big, desperate prayers about common good and the future of the country don’t get the response I hoped for, where does that leave me?
On Wednesday night, I stood in Parliament Square with 500 others and prayed the Lord’s Prayer over a nation on its way to the polls. Even as I prayed: “Your will be done,” I was confident that couldn’t possibly mean anything other than the outcome I wanted in my heart. As I knocked on doors and handed out the final campaign leaflets the following afternoon, I thanked God for those I met who saw things the same way I did.
And as I stayed up all night in disbelief, watching results trickle in, I wondered how I could have been so naïve as to think God might take sides in a general election. That’s not to say He doesn’t care about the poor, the vulnerable or maybe even the economy. He does. But He does so outside of the realm of party rivalries and ideological differences. If I was wrong to think that God might approve of, or even share, my political views, I would be even more wrong to contemplate that he might join in the demonisation of those who don’t.
Slowly, I’m learning that the call to love your neighbour as yourself isn’t just about the homeless man in the street or the person in your office who can’t help but get on your nerves. It’s about really, whole-heartedly loving those whose political views are the polar opposite of your own and who can reconcile them with their faith. They are still our Christian brothers and sisters. In congregations across the country, we will continue to pray the Lord’s Prayer side by side, pleading for the coming of a kingdom where there will be no left or right, no blue or red (or yellow, green or purple for that matter), only a sovereign God. And so, humbled by a God who loves me even when my passion has outweighed my compassion for the other side, still I can pray: “Your will be done.”.
It might take the next five years, but if those of us who are truly heartbroken by the election result can begin to grasp what it is to love our neighbours, all of them, then I think a little bit of the kingdom really will have come, however much politics has tried to get in the way.