Is Britain a conservative or liberal nation? According to the latest British Social Attitudes survey published last week the answer is ‘both’. We have become financially more conservative, with fewer people favouring a tax-based redistribution of wealth:
Only two in five of those questioned said they now support higher taxes, a significant shift from 1997 when 62 per cent of voters were prepared to dig into their pockets to fund an increase public spending.
On the moral scale we have become more liberal:
Only 36 per cent of people now believe that homosexual sex is wrong, compared with 62 per cent who thought the same in 1983. Similarly, the number of people who strongly believe that couples with children should get married has dropped from 25 per cent in 1989 to just 14 per cent now (The Independent 26th January).
So where does that leave the teaching of the bible? Is it simply a record of an outdated culture, or a spiritual self-help manual, or does it still speak with the life-changing authority of God’s word to a world that he made and loves? What are we to make of the frequent exhortations to follow justice and mercy in our dealings with others, and the importance of a holy lifestyle that reflects our Maker?
In a year that will see a general election we have already seen our political leaders jumping on the marriage and family life bandwagon: which party will protect family life more effectively; which party will heal a ‘broken Britain’ more deeply? I hope our political leaders will actually give a lead and won’t just follow the trends reported in the social survey in order to win popular votes. It is important for Christians to support the political life of this country, and to take an interest in democracy. As Edmund Burke the English philosopher famously said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
In 1st century Roman-occupied Palestine people couldn’t vote for their government; all they could do was to pay their taxes, so Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” That is about as far as an ordinary person could be engaged with government then, but it shows that Jesus was concerned that people take their civic duties seriously. Democratic government won’t bring heaven on earth by any means, but it is probably the best thing we have got in the meantime. It is worth supporting by our carefully considered votes when the time comes.