Table of contents
- Christians in Parliament group
- When faith and politics combine
- Future of faith and politics
Alastair Campbell famously declared 'we don't do God' (Brown, C. 2003), which raised an interesting point which this piece of research will build on. That is, should politicians 'do God', or should a personal faith and policy making, be kept well away from one another. At a time where the objection towards the Christian faith is prominent and Christians across Britain are expressing feelings of resistance towards them, it is important for us to understand how faith impacts those in the most responsible of positions within British society.
This research provides a unique insight into the lives of seven Christian Members of Parliament (MPs) who are each responsible for representing various constituencies across Britain. Using primary data gained through interviewing each MP, this paper investigates the role their individual faith has on their political decision making. This is achieved by asking MPs various questions regarding the influence of their faith, both upon themselves, and also on British politics. A number of key areas are debated, including; reconciling faith and politics, political conflict and representing the Christian faith. Further understanding the position of these Christian members, will enable us to learn more about how they are treated, as well as realising their vision for Christianity in the future. Prior to this study, research in to this area of British politics specifically, appears extremely limited. This works major contribution is to illustrate how Christian MPs manage their political ideology, whilst maintaining a Christian faith.
In a recent challenge on David Cameron, former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey has suggested, the Prime Minister was making Christians in the UK feel marginalised. Further to this, Lord Carey highlighted the fact that, 'more than two-thirds of Christians feel that they are part of a persecuted minority' (BBC News Online, 2013). Lord Carey's analysis is a continuing concern not just for Christians, but also to all those who strive for equality in the UK. The picture he paints is one of a discriminatory society, something which is not normally used to describe 21st century Great Britain. As well as bringing into question the notion that 'the agendas of the Christian Church and the political right-wing make comfortable bed-fellows' (Andrew Zak Williams, 2011), Lord Carey has also stirred the ongoing conflict between faith and politics in Britain. Increasingly Christianity and politics are clashing, causing the debate about the role of the Christian faith in society to be reignited. This research provides an intriguing insight into the lives of seven Christians who have chosen their pathway, and now have to deal with the challenges that confront them.
This dissertation asks the following questions:
1. What is Christians in Parliament (CiP) and what capacity does it have to influence British politics and society?
2. 'How do faith and politics combine within British politics today?' answered from the perspectives of members of CiP.
3. What are the prospects for the relationship between politics and religion in Britain? Will MPs who actively represent their religion as well as their politics, be able to continue to do so in the future?
This chapter deals with the research design and research process of this paper. The study itself uses the interview method in order to learn from seven MPs, the extent to which their religious belief plays a part in their political decision making. Specifically, this research utilises elite interviewing which 'can be used whenever it is appropriate to treat a respondent as an expert about the topic in hand' (Leech, 2002, p663). This analysis applies to this work because MPs were regarded as experts in the field of 'faith and political decision making'. They were treated as experts because of, as Burnham et al (2008 p231) suggests, 'their high levels of knowledge of the subject matter under discussion and their general intellectual and expressive abilities'. The fact they were all Christian and also involved in politics, meant they satisfied Burnham's criteria.
The MPs who took part in this research fitted the two important criteria, one they are politicians and secondly they are also active Christians. However, calling themselves a 'Christian' was not enough to satisfy the requirements of this study. In order to focus my research, the participants who took part were members of the Christians in Parliament All-Party Group, which ensured that they were all practicing their faith. In recruiting my participants, the non-random sampling method was applied. This was the most obvious method of inclusion, considering that my participants were all from one specific group. In the process of gaining interviews, all members of CiP were contacted in order to gain as much access to the group as possible. Initially, a total of five interviews were held and four months later, two further interviews were conducted. The seven interviewees represented each of the three major political parties; three Labour MPs, three Conservative MPs and one Liberal Democrat member. Although not a vital aspect to this study, a cross political party representation in this work, provided a broader insight.
The purpose of Christians in Parliament (CiP) All-Party Group is, 'to provide an opportunity for Christians of all denominations to come together at the Palace of Westminster for fellowship, worship, prayer and discussion' (Houses of Commons, 2013). The role of All-Party Groups (APGs) is described in a standard note written by Kelly and Yousaf (2012) who explain, they 'fulfil a valuable role as a forum in which Members of both Houses and those outside parliament interested in a particular subject may meet to exchange information and views, and to advocate a particular cause'. With regard to CiP, the 'subject' which they come together to discuss is Christianity and all that it entails within parliament and in British society. One restriction on the registration of APGs is 'the need to provide exactly 20 qualifying members' (Kelly and Yousaf 2012). As well as this, membership must be made up of, '10 who are from the same political parties of the government and 10 who are not from the government party. At least 6 of the latter 10 must be from the main opposition party. No group's register entry lists more than 20 qualifying members' (House of Commons, 2012). CiP meet these criteria and they also have a large group of APG officers. This gives MPs and Members of the House of Lords, the opportunity to be involved at a higher more influential level. For example, CiP has one chairman, four vice chairs, one treasurer and a secretary, which makes up the membership of the group (Houses of Commons 2013).
The interviews themselves took place in a range of locations within the Palace of Westminster. It has been suggested that, 'the place of the interview should be convenientto the participant, private, yet if at all possible, familiar to him or her' (Seidman 1991 p40). Realistically, the interviews had to be conducted first hand within London, at both Portcullis House and The Houses of Parliament. Three interviews took place in the personal office of each MP, three in the café area of Portcullis House and one in a seating area of the House of Commons. Gillhams (2000, p8) position on interview location, is that people talk more freely 'on their own ground'; and this analysis can be related to my research. One interview which was held in a public area was shorter in time and largely, answers were much more concise than those held in private offices. Further to this, it is important to note that the subject of the interview may have played a role in the openness of my participants. Adler and Adler (2002, p.528) argue, 'the subject of the interview should be the determining factor in terms of location'. Because a number of the interview questions were personal, and dealt with what could be perceived as sensitive issues, the more private my interview location, the more likely my participants would answer honestly and freely. Overall, the location of each interview was determined by the demands and requirements of each MP. It was my responsibility to work and adapt to each individual situation. This meant altering recording levels in the louder locations to ensure a good quality soundtrack, as well as dealing with unexpected interruptions during interviews held in MPs offices.
The analysis of interview data must be done quickly to ensure accuracy; the interviews for this piece of research were both recorded and transcribed. As Burnham et al (2008 p245) suggest, 'the researcher should read through the notes taken or listen to the tape as soon as possible'. Such advice was followed and the transcription process was completed within two weeks of the interviews taking place. This applied to interviews that took place in October 2012 and those conducted later on in March 2013. As well ensuring the interviews were transcribed as accurately as possible, as Harrison (2001 p.102) highlights, 'the transcription process for me proved crucial in that it allowed me to get familiar with my data by milling over them time and time again'. Although a long winded process, the transcribing of my interviews enabled me to gain a greater knowledge of the data at hand.
Although a valuable process to the individual and whilst enhancing the research paper itself, the transcription process raises certain ethical complications. Brinkmann (2010, p435) suggests 'the process of translating spoken words into written text is in itself an ethical question and demands reflection about confidentiality'. By carefully constructing the process in which the data was analysed, any serious ethical concerns within this piece of research were diminished. For example, personally transcribing each interview limited the threat of private information being shared amongst others. Although more confidential, not employing a professional transcriber raised the chance of human error occurring within the transcriptions themselves. This was overcome by informing the interviewees that the data may be used within the published piece of work. Each MP was offered the opportunity to re-read the transcripts or be informed of the specific data which would be used, none accepted this invitation. This vetting process ensured adherence to strict confidentiality regulations in line with the University of Lincoln ethnical guidelines, whilst also respecting the position of the MPs themselves.
The purpose of interviewing each individual MP was to develop a greater understanding of how members of CiP handle their religious belief. In order to achieve this aim, a research questionnaire was designed which comprised of three individual sections. The first section aimed to gather a general understanding of the CiP group, whilst also learning the role which each individual member holds within it. In this initial section, members were encouraged to explain; what impact do you think CiP has had on yourself and on British Politics? This required respondents to offer an insight into the goings on of CiP and share their thoughts on its influence politically, and personally. The three initial questions were fairly basic and simply aimed to gain an understanding of the structure and practices of the CiP group. They also provided a simplistic and relaxed start to the interview, which allowed me as the interviewer to establish the connection with my interviewee.
Having gained an understanding of what CiP is and how it functions, MPs were then asked about their faith and how they manage it whilst being a politician. There was no intention throughout the interview to catch any MP out; instead there was a desire to gain a greater understanding of what is a relatively un-researched area of political study. Within this section of questions, MPs were asked; do you feel that you represent your faith in parliament? It was hoped that this question would provide the greatest insight into the political decision making processes of each MP, which would address the major research question. In the middle section of the interview, MPs were also encouraged to share any examples where political conflict had occurred.
In addition to the three questions on the current state of religion and British politics, MPs were then further questioned about the future. This section sought to address the developing issue of the role of religion in British politics going forward. The MPs who were questioned in this research were deemed to be some of the best and most suitable people to ask about this topic. Throughout each interview, all respondents were encouraged to speak openly and to reflect on their own position, as well as the position of Christianity within British Politics. Structurally, the questions aimed to draw as much information out as possible, by allowing each MP to answer openly. It has been suggested by academics, 'broad initiating questions encourage the conversational partners to provide in an unfiltered way, their own take on an issue and as such often evoke unexpected themes' (H, Rubin & I, Rubin 2005). In this latter section, MPs were encouraged to offer their vision for the future from their unique perspective as a Christian MP.
Having discussed the methods used to both retrieve and analyse the research of this paper, as well as gaining a further understanding of the role of All-Party Groups, this work will now continue to discuss the relevant literature to this study.
Literature surrounding the role of Christian MPs in British politics is extremely limited; it is this research which is providing the initial insight into this area of study. This work however, deals with a number of wider themes which will be reviewed in this section of this paper. These themes are; the history of faith in Britain to date, the influence of faith on politics and why people get involved in politics.
Christianity has had an outstanding influence on British society throughout history. Many early Christian opponents of slavery came from denominations such as the Congregationalists, Quakers, Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists (BBC Online, 2011). The Evangelical Christian movement provided a basis for societal change in Britain. The campaigning of Wilberforce, a passionate Evangelical, was the catalyst for the abolition of the slave trade. As well as this, William Wilberforce amongst other comrades 'worked with the poor ... worked to establish educational reform, prison reform, health care reform and to limit the number of hours children were required to work in factories' (BBC Online, 2011). Christianity has been the catalyst for major change and is largely responsible for the Britain we know today.
Much like America, the major religion in Britain is Christianity; 10% of British people attend church regularly, with attendance more common among women and middle-class people. Although the number of people who call themselves 'religious' is down, church attendance is growing in some urban areas, particularly among Black-led and Pentecostal churches (Dingham A & Lowndes V, 2008 p819). Whilst congregations in general are declining, the involvement of faith is still very real within British Culture. This said, political parties are increasingly under pressure to represent everybody, and are unable to simply promote and support one singular religion. In September of 2012, 'the Prime Minister appointed Baroness (Sayeeda) Warsi Minister for Faith and Communities' (The Tablet, 2012). A sign that faith is being taken more seriously within British culture and those 'people of faith' now have a representative within Parliament. Although some say 'the agendas of the Christian Church and the political right-wing make comfortable bed-fellows' (Andrew Zak Williams, 2011), the challenges for Christians under the Coalition Government are proving increasingly difficult. An obvious example is that of Nadia Eweida, who was told to stop wearing her cross at work, a case she later won in the European Court of Human Rights (BBC Online, 2013). Going forward, Newman (2013, p22) has suggested, 'for freedom of speech and religion in general — the future remains far from certain'. What is noticeable within the media is that there is a sense Christianity is being portrayed negatively, and many seem sceptical about its future role within Britain.
As has been discussed, historically, Christianity has had a huge impact on British society and its culture. Currently, the influence of Christianity is rarely seen in great reforms by Christian politicians and more often within campaigns and the work of the Church within communities. Although this good work continues, there is an ongoing debate within British politics, which is whether political parties should 'do God'. Polly Toynbee the former president of the British Humanist Association has offered her opinion suggesting, 'atheists are better for politics than believers' (Toynbee, P 2012 p42). Whilst you may expect political parties to be distancing themselves from religious debates, this has not been the case according to Therese O'Toole. In her research into the current state of faith in Britain she highlights, 'what we have seen under both New Labour and the Coalition is a gradual move to take religious identities and faith communities more seriously' (O' Toole, T, 2012). The work of faith groups is the most obvious example of religious group's practical engagement in British society. With regards to faith and political engagement, Home Office (2004) research concludes, 'those who actively practice a religion, are more likely than others to volunteer. The same pattern can be seen in terms of civic engagement... including participation in consultations, lobbying and involvement in decision-making bodies'. There is a clear continuing and influential involvement of faith based groups within Britain. As Dingham and Lowndes (2008 p828) highlight, 'through their representatives on urban partnerships, members of faith communities are enabled to participate in the planning and delivery of urban services from consultation to co-governance'. The influence on British society by members of faith groups is very significant and their impact continues to be acknowledged by the British Government.
Faith groups also have a role to play in representing minor aspects of society. As Dingham and Lowndes (2008 p838) suggest, 'the local Church of England Vicar may be the only community representative left on a rundown housing estate'. This example is part of a wider feeling that faith- based organisations are trusted by people who would not trust, and would not approach, or even think of going to another voluntary organization. As well providing community representation, 'faith communities represent a significant element of diversity—both by virtue of straight forward variety of faiths and because of the overlap between faith and ethnic or cultural identity' (New Deal for Communities 2000, 6). The research into the importance of faith clearly shows that it still plays an influential role within British society.
The research into religious belief and political participation is one which should also be analysed with reference to this work. Research typically shows a positive, significant role for church attendance on voting participation (Peterson, Steven A. 1992). Further to this, Driskell et al (2008, p 294) conducted a piece of research into this area which interestingly found, 'religious beliefs are significantly related to national political participation. For religious activities, identifying with a religious tradition reduces participation, but participation in church activities increases political participation'. This research shows that those who engage and live an active faith are more likely to be politically active.
One of the most obvious reasons why anyone, let alone Christians get involved in politics is to represent. Hanna Pitkin (1967) has provided the major insight into the varying aspects of representation. Her work discusses the concepts of representation; formalistic, symbolic, descriptive and substantive. Pitkin's (1967, p39) idea of formalistic representation is that, 'there can be no such thing as representing well or badly; either he represents or he does not'. In relation to this research, this analysis suggests that once someone becomes an MP they may do what they like and this must be judged as representation. Pitkin also provides an insight regarding the concept of substantive or descriptive representation. That is, 'acting for others, an activity in behalf of, in the interest of, as the agent of, someone else' (Pitkin 1967, p113). This concept can be related to the idea of an MP as they actively represent their constituents. With regard to 'symbolic representation' studies by the Royal Commission have offered an insight into the role of faith and representation. The Royal Commission stress the importance of supplying representation, 'to each broad shade of religious opinion' (Royal Commission 2000, p 153). In their investigation into a 'More Representative Chamber', Bochel and Defty (2012), discuss the role of faith members of the House of Lords. They explain, 'the clearest examples of peers being aware of their symbolic role were provided by the Bishops ... describing themselves as representatives of 'the monarch of under God' and 'office holders for God' (Bochel & Defty 2012, p 88). Although this research was conducted on members of the House of Lords, a similar position on representativeness with regard to MPs will be highlighted later in this research paper.
In recent times, 'communication between MPs and electors became more extensive in the latter half of the twentieth century as demands on MPs increased' (Norton, P. 2007, p 354). There is a need for MPs now more than ever, to ensure their constituents feel satisfied by the work they are doing. However, this provides a complication for Christian MPs, how can they represent everybody when their faith is a factor in their politics? Stephen Hunt (2013) has suggested in his work that 'religion should distance itself from the political realm and restrict itself to spiritual and pastoral matters. Conversely, that politics should not meddle in religious affairs largely because religion is deemed a matter of private conscience and conviction'. Christian MPs are in a unique position where they have to manage this constant conflict of religion and politics. With regard to conscience as Hunt (2013) mentions, Phillip Cowley offers an insight into this topic and highlights the importance of it within British politics.
Cowley's work into issues of conscience has provided an insight into their importance within the Houses of Commons (Cowley, P. 1998, p85). He suggests in his work, that conscience 'are issues of great significance to those directly or indirectly affected, and (perhaps as a consequence) on which people tend to hold very strong views' (Cowley, P. 1998, p75). With regard to this work, Cowley's research highlights the importance of conscience votes and the influence they have had in British society in the past, and will continue to have in the future. They give the opportunity for members to vote according to their personal belief, but as this research will highlight, even on issues which are not declared free votes, this is still happening through members of CiP. Although things such as representation are seen as a motivation to get involved in politics, this has its complications, especially for Christian MPs. Christians in Parliament is an established All-Party Group and they 'sometimes act as useful pressure groups for specific causes helping to keep the government, the opposition and MPs informed of parliamentary and outside opinion' (Loosemore, T, 2013). This however is not as easy as anticipated, and CiPs research itself has concluded, 'in seeking to clear the ground for issues relating to Christian freedoms in the UK, we have concluded that there is a problem' (Evangelical Alliance, Feb 2012).
There is an obvious gap in the research into the topic of the decision making of faith members in parliament, and this research seeks to explore this area. Although this is the case, relevant subject literature does exist and has been put forward in this section of analysis. Within this chapter I have provided an insight into the role which the Christian faith has had, and continues to have in British politics. This is important to understand, as the state of Christianity in Britain directly affects the way in which Christian MPs must approach their work. This chapter has provided an insight into the issues which Christian MPs must deal with, such as representation and conscience decisions. This work will now go on to present three intriguing chapters of evidence, gained through interviewing seven members of CiP.
The Christians in Parliament group
The first section of analysis in this research paper, deals with the Christians in Parliament AllParty Group. All MPs were asked three questions in reference to the CiP group; the aim was to discover more about the group itself, whilst also understanding the impact it has had on each MP individually.
What is Christians in Parliament?
Each interview began with the question; could you tell me a little about the CIP group? This open ended question simply aimed to develop a basic understanding of CiP, from the people who are part of it. The role of CiP was summed up briefly by a one interviewee, who explained, 'we don't do anything in the way of lobbying for particular laws to be done in different ways. Very much it is a kind of fellowship group' (Interview 6, Liberal Democrat MP Conducted 13th March 2013).
This interviewee's analysis of CiP suggests that it is more of a social type of group as opposed to a group which strives for any political change. CiP are responsible for holding a number of social events for members of the group, as well as associates of the Christian Church. An example of one of these large scale events is as one MP explained, 'the National Prayer Breakfast ... we invite local church leaders from constituencies but also all the diplomatic representatives are invited to come and they take the subjects'
(Interview 2, Conservative MP, Conducted 16th October 2012).
It appears the breakfast event is extremely popular and creates the link between Christians who influence British politics, and those Christians who work within their local communities. It is a great opportunity to get all Christians together, however there is no political agenda at these events.
The supportive role of CiP is an aspect of the group which is held in high regard by its members. Also, its ability to gather together Christians from both within and outside politics is a positive feature of the group. However, what is seen as more important than both of these two roles of CiP, is the significance of the Christian faith. One member emphasized the importance of Christianity and explained how he sees CiP as a mechanism to promote his faith within British politics. He explained, the aim of CiP is 'to make sure that Christianity and the Christian faith is not lost' (Interview 5, Labour MP, Conducted 16th October 2012).
He also explained how CiP, 'try and keep the Christian faith strong in parliament and politics' (Interview 5, Labour MP, Conducted 16th October 2012).
These two quotes are a clear example of the personal desire of this MP, and shows that his motivation within politics is largely initiated by his Christian faith. There is an undoubted belief from this member, that Christianity has something very influential to offer the British political system and also wider society. Such a strong religious ethos stems from each MPs individual personality and the influence they allow their faith to have. Interestingly, in response to this first interview question, one member explained,
'I wouldn't be in politics if I didn't have a faith' (Interview 1, Labour MP, Conducted 17th October 2012).
This statement confirms the perspective with which this MP approaches his job; it suggests that he puts his faith first ahead of any political ideology and it is this which is the real interest of this research. In the following chapters of this paper, the extent to which faith plays a part in each MPs decision making processes will be examined.
Joining Christians in Parliament
With regards to membership of the CiP group, I asked all MPs, 'how did you come to join CiP?' The purpose ofthis question was to gain an understanding regarding the logistics of joining the group and to also further understand the motivation to becoming a member of CiP. Like most, a Conservative member said that joining the group, 'was a very natural thing for me to do' (Interview 7, Labour MP, Conducted 13th March 2013).
Already being a Christian was the key motivation to join CiP for most members of the group. As well as this, the opportunity to work with fellow Christian MPs and meet with them regularly seems the obvious thing to do as a Christian Member of Parliament. Together they have the opportunity make an impact in certain areas of politics, whereas by themselves, they may not have such an impact.
In a further answer to this question, a Labour member interestingly created a differentiation between Christian MPs, he said, 'there are those who are MPs and they also happen to be Christians but realistically it is probably not a major influence in the way they think about what they are doing here. And then there are MPs who very clearly would say their faith is what has brought them here. So that is quite a loaded set of terms but I would quite clearly say that I am in the second category' (Interview 1, Labour MP, Conducted October 17th 2012).
Although not completely relevant to the interview question, this intriguing analysis still requires further discussion. This MP is suggesting that there are those who put their faith first, and those who instead, consciously decide to leave faith on the sideline as they go about their work within politics. He distinguishes himself as part of the group of Christian MPs who put their faith first. His analysis suggests, the amount of influence the Christian faith has on some MPs in parliament, is greater than others. This raises a number of questions regarding the extent to which individual faith influences political decisions; this is something which is further examined later on in the analytical section of this research paper.
The Impact ofChristians in Parliament
What can be drawn from these initial interview questions is that there seems to be two specific roles that CiP is able to play. On one hand it appears to play what could be called an influential support role, one MP for example suggested that, 'we can be stronger united together than on our own' (Interview 3, Conservative MP, Conducted 16th October 2012).
Another said, as a group they
'seek to strengthen and encourage one another' also adding, 'we seek to develop friendships between us that will help us support each other and pray for each other'
(Interview 2, Conservative MP, Conducted 16th October 2012).
Undoubtedly, it appears that there is a strong sense of community within CiP and as a group they value the support which can be offered by one another. That is one role; although useful, it does little in the way of instigating any particular political change. On the other hand however, CiP does also seek to work strategically on specific projects in order to bring about some sort of change. One MP summarised this role of CiP saying, 'across party we have been really looking at the issues, to try and get some light where sometimes there is just heat, on some issues Christians have been complaining about, and to make recommendations to Government and others, that has been useful and had some effect' (Interview 1, Labour MP, Conducted 17th October 2012).
In this research there were two major examples offered by MPs, of the strategic work that has been done by CiP. Firstly, a Conservative member of CiP explained how 'it (CiP) has recently developed an inquiry into the issue of whether Christians are marginalised in the public square' (Interview 3, Conservative MP, Conducted 16th October 2012).
The report was published by the Evangelical Alliance and summarised, 'we have concluded that there is a problem. Ranging in their intensity and complexity, the problems can all be seen to contribute to a gentle squeezing of religious belief, and in this case specifically Christianity, from public life' (Evangelical Alliance, 2012). As well as the aforementioned report, another example of the strategic work by CiP was given by a further Conservative MP. He explained, 'I've just helped complete a report for an inquiry into persecutions of Christians in Iran. Which again is seeking to persuade the Government to take seriously the issues and to work with the international community to raise the plight of Christians who are persecuted abroad' (Interview 3, Conservative MP, Conducted 16th October 2012).
Work such as this will not necessarily result in a change of policy, however; it does go some way to highlighting issues which may go unnoticed by the Government. These two examples show the more influential side to CiP, that it's a group which has the capacity to conduct excellent research and help raise awareness of issues that concern Christians specifically. CiP functions for Christians, in a similar way as MPs do for their constituents. It recognises a concern highlighted by Christians in the UK and provides the link to parliament, which may well result in political change.
The purpose of questioning each MP about the role of CiP and what it means to them was to develop an understanding of the group, as well as initially review the impact the group has on their political decision making. As far as administering change is concerned, one Labour MP summed up the impact ofCiP as, 'It's small, it's not strategic' (Interview 1, Labour MP, Conducted 17th October 2012).
This opinion was reflected by other MPs, who see CiP as more of a team building group who all work within politics, as opposed to being a force for political change. It is important to highlight that CiP is a cross-party group and the likelihood of political agreement on many issues is extremely unlikely. There are those certain issues however, like the welfare of Christians in the UK and the persecution of Christians in Iran, which can be investigated whilst political alliances are left to one side. In those cases specifically, the examples above show that CiP seems to work well and provides an educated insight into these key issues. Therefore, although CiP has acted on certain problems in recent years in an attempt to raise political awareness, it appears that it is likely to remain largely supportive as opposed to strategic. This paper will now move on to discuss the answers given by MPs to the questions regarding the combination of faith and politics, and the effect of this upon them as individuals.
When Faith and Politics combine
Having concluded that CiP operates in more of a supportive role as opposed to being politically strategic, this work will now move on to investigate how MPs manage their lives as politicians of faith. The questions themselves focused on three different areas, the first was about reconciling being a Christian and a politician. I wanted to understand whether this was an issue, and if so, how they manage their faith whilst being an MP. Secondly, I asked members whether they felt able to represent their faith in parliament or instead, did they feel constrained in doing so. The final question asked members whether their faith had ever caused any conflict to arise, which had compromised their political position.
Reconciling being a Christian and Politician
Moving on from the questions related to CiP and its role and influence within British politics, I asked MPs, 'do you find it difficult to reconcile being a politician and a Christian?' This question was constructed in order to challenge each MP to reveal a little more about how they manage their faith and political life. In no way was it aiming to catch any MP out, instead this question intended to gather opinions on what is an intriguing and largely unknown topic. The question itself resulted in a number of varying and interesting answers which this paper will now go on to discuss.
When asked whether each MP found it difficult to reconcile being a politician and a Christian, the majority responded saying they did not find it difficult. One MP replied saying, 'Not at all' (Interview 2, Conservative MP, Conducted 17th October 2012), another 'No. I don't think it is hard to reconcile' (Interview 3, Conservative MP, Conducted 16th October 2012). However, this opinion was not echoed throughout all of my interviews. A Labour member and interestingly the youngest MP, which may say something about the difficulties facing young religious members specifically, answered 'Yes' to this question. He continued, suggesting that because he found it hard to be a politician and Christian, this was not 'a unique factor ... I think it is very hard to be a politician and anything' (Interview 1, Labour MP, Conducted 17th October 2012). This answer suggested to me that he was someone who feels the pressure of managing his faith; however he did not feel that this was a problem unique to him. This is an interesting point, considering all other members suggested they did not have a problem reconciling the two issues.
One MP explained that when it came to making a political decision he looked at it from a Christian perspective. He said, 'it doesn't matter whether it is a issue of welfare state changing or education changing or whatever, I still look at it as a Christian. And I think that although there have been attempts to exclude Christianity from the curriculum, as far as I am concerned I will battle to keep it there' (Interview 5, Labour MP, Conducted 16th October 2012).
Such a dogmatic approach to decision making was also supported by a Conservative member who explained that, 'everybody has a world view and my world view happens to be a Christian one. I'm just as entitled to voice that here in Parliament as someone who is an atheist or someone who has another faith' (Interview 2, Conservative MP, Conducted 16th October 2012).
There seemed to be a general opinion, quite rightly, that both being a Christian and a politician did not particularly require reconciling. Both topics can combine without dispute, after all in a free and equal country where is the issue? What was evident was that these Christian members were very happy to admit that their Christian values are extremely influential. There was quite rightly no shame in confessing their faith and it is clear that it plays a substantial role in their decision making from the evidence they offered.
Representing the Christian Faith in Parliament
Once an MP is elected by his or her constituents, that is it, they have the unique opportunity for a minimum of five years to play their part in British history. All MPs come from their different backgrounds, all together representing each square mile of Britain. When they arrive for their first day at work, they come with all their baggage, their history, their relationships, their financial situation and crucially in many cases, their faith. This is part of their make-up, and it is up to each Christian MP to decide whether they wish to represent their faith and if so, to what extent does it play a part in their decision making. I asked the group of MPs whether they feel able to represent theirfaith in parliament.
Overwhelmingly the response to this research question from all members was yes, initial responses included, 'I do', 'Yes' and 'Yeah, very much so'. Many MPs stressed the point, that before they were elected, they ensured that their constituents knew where they were coming from. As a Conservative MP explained,
'I was very careful that before I was selected for parliament that I clarified that I am a Christian so that people knew even before then, where I stood' (Interview 2, Conservative MP, Conducted 16th October 2012).
Another said, 'I am elected on the fact that I am who I am, which is a Christian and I am very upfront about that from the word go and people elect me with all my baggage, including the fact that my identity is wrapped up in being a Christian' (Interview 3, Conservative MP, Conducted 16th October 2012).
It appeared that all MPs felt the need to make it clear to their constituents and to their fellow MPs, that they held a Christian belief. It has to be said, such openness is admirable, however it is also required to ensure MPs are accountable for their decisions. Being open and honest to your constituents can prove beneficial when it comes to gaining the extra votes required. This was the case in an interview with a Labour MP, he told me, 'the first time I went for selection was in 87 and I lost it by 11 votes ... I lost it by the votes of 11 women, who knew my views on abortion so they voted against me. But the next time I went up for election, because people were quite clear where I was coming from it was never raised. I would always advise politicians to not sit on the fence, just say one way or the other' (Interview 5, Labour MP, Conducted 16th October 2012).
One of the most obvious reasons why it is important for Christian MPs to make their religious position known is because quite naturally, their faith clearly plays a part in decision making. A Conservative member explained that,
'I believe that the Christian value is not just one that is good for Christians; it is good for the world and good for this country. So I will naturally impart those views, and that does hopefully influence everything I do' (Interview 3, Conservative MP, Conducted 16th October 2012).
What is striking here, is that as well openly saying he makes decisions based on his faith, this MP also says he hopes his faith 'influences everything I do'. For those who understand the Christian values system, this is an understandable stance to take. His faith, like for many Christians, is something at the forefront of his mind, his faith is the catalyst that affects everything he does. Of course there is another side to this argument which is, why should someone attempt to impose their religious values on others? The Conservative MP in question provided a further response which helps answer this.
- Quote paper
- Joshua Bell (Author), 2013, An investigation into the role faith plays in political decision making, through the eyes of Christians in Parliament All-Party Group members, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/274666