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Churches should not be ‘neutral’ about injustice

28 June 2024

Why are Christian leaders not speaking out more against politicians who sow division and hatred, asks Wan Gi Lee

WHEN I came to the UK in 2002, I spotted one distinctive feature in the Christianity of this country and across Europe: a tendency to be as politically “neutral” as possible. This is right, and makes sense, given that our belief in Christ is to be open to all and to embrace all. Such “neutrality” should not, however, be used as an excuse to tame the Church’s prophetic voice against the injustices of society.

This tendency to occupy “neutral” ground has been getting stronger, so that any Christian voice against politicians and parties with populist and divisive agendas seems to be effectively muted now. Christian denominations seem to be worried more about a “breach” of neutrality rather than a “void” of prophetic voice.

Time and again, the Bible reminds us that there is no neutral ground when it comes to injustice that causes suffering of innocent people and division of communities. God sent Moses to Pharaoh because of the misery and suffering of his people under the violent empire. From then on, God would send his prophets to “political leaders” who were acting unustly.

Sadly, this kind of prophetic leadership is rare these days. Is this because God is not sending prophets to powerful people in the political sphere any more? Or are church leaders, harnessed by the “neutrality protocol”, giving up on being a prophetic voice?

As Christians consider how to engage with the forthcoming General Election in the UK, it is important to consider whether the Church’s prophetic voice is being lessened

DURING the General Election in South Korea in 2000, a significant campaign was organised by a coalition of more than 400 civil-society groups and Christian denominations and movements. They compiled a list of 86 candidates who had records of bribery, corruption, a divisive agenda, or abuse of power and justice linked to corporate and political activities. The civil-society and Christian groups campaigned to urge people not to vote for these candidates.

As a result of this “deselection” campaign, 59 candidates were not elected. The campaign led to the filtering out of about 70 per cent of the politicians connected with perverting the course of justice. The campaign drew huge media attention, and garnered widespread support. Ever since, the participation of Christian movements in the political field has been strong in Korea. I believe that this provides an example for the UK and wider Europe of how Christians can work together to seek justice.

The situation is no less worrying in the UK and across Europe today. Far-right movements are gaining popularity, and embedding division and hatred with disinformation campaigns. What is the Church doing to speak out against and thwart the far-Right? Many seem to feel unable to speak out because of the tacit policy of “neutrality”.

But we need to ask whose “neutrality” this is. When “neutrality” comes as a form of “silence”, Christians will be held accountable for hiding the treasure of justice under the soil. This is why it is so important that Christians participate in the General Election campaign, and scrutinise parties’ policy proposals with the eye of justice.

WHEN the Christian movements stood up together in the Korean election, they did so under the names of their own denominations, and, most importantly, under the name of the Church. As a result, Koreans witnessed the Church as being the salt and light of the society.

Many denominations in the UK discourage their leaders from expressing open support for a political party, or from naming politicians whom they believe should not be elected on account of their behaviour or their views. Thus influential voices are silenced at a crucial moment in the nation’s history. The light of justice should not be put under a bowl: it should be put on its stand

The General Election campaign is a pivotal moment in which the colliding values for many big issues are being disputed, examined, and redefined. Whether it is in the economy, health, migration, housing, the climate crisis, or education, we are called to seek justice for those who are weak, marginalised, and suffering. As the prophet Isaiah reminds us, we are here to “learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.”

Christians should wait no longer to be a prophetic voice. Let us make our votes a prophetic voice, so that no divisive movement can exploit or manipulate the oppressed for their own profit or agenda. The political sphere is an important part of God’s Kingdom, but, sadly, it is often neglected by Christians. It is time to stand up together and demonstrate, with both our votes and our voices, that God is in the public square.

Dr Wan Gi Lee, from South Korea, is a Salvation Army officer (pastor) with the St Albans Corps. His doctorate is in cultural studies.

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