Saturday, 15 July 2017

ABC-Austerity, Brexit and Charlie Gard

If there's a key word of the last 12 months, it's been 'populism'. A word that, depending upon your view of the issue at hand, is said either with a cheer of triumph or through gritted teeth.

The odd thing is, the ones who are most likely to be saying it through gritted teeth, are often the ones who talk most about the need for the empowerment of ordinary people against the establishment-the need for the working class to stop being dominated by the needs of the rich elites. Yet, in issues like Brexit in the UK and Trump in the US, the response to ordinary people feeling empowered, participating in the voting system and expressing their views in large numbers is 'wrong answer you uneducated people Go back to the starting square whilst we explain the right way to you'.

The fundamental contradiction in such responses is that they say they want ordinary people to be empowered, but only if they come up with the correct answer. For example, contrast the response to the unexpected success of the Brexit campaign to the unexpected relative success of Jeremy Corbyn in the election. The latter, also based on a part of the population that do not normally vote-young people-coming out in large numbers is seen as a triumph of empowering a disenfranchised group rather than an uninformed gaggle who have disrupted the predicted outcome.

Populism is seen as being an unintelligent, casual disregard for knowledge and evidence. See for example, the comments of Professor David Rothkopf-'Donald Trump has won power because his supporters are threatened by what they don't understand, and what they don't understand is almost everything'. Populism is seen as some kind of mindless disregard for the 'expert', a lack of care for evidence and knowledge.

Yet is that the case? Could it be that what people are really tired of is people saying 'trust us, we're the experts', without them bothering to engage in debate, explain in ordinary people's language why they believe something to be the right way forward, and be seen to have the humility to listen and adjust their positions when ordinary people make a valid point.

This unwillingness to explain was seen during the referendum when the EU and the government basically ran their campaign on the basis of 'trust us. Leaving will be a disaster', without engaging with the real concerns expressed by people and seeking to address them. It has been seen all the more so in the EU's response since the referendum when they could have stood back, looked at the result and said 'we have failed to engage and make our case to ordinary people. We have failed to address their concerns. How can we learn from this and make adjustments to rescue this situation?' Instead they just continue to adopt the approach of 'any right-thinking person would support the EU' and look haughtily down at those with a different view.

If I'm honest, I think we saw a politer, more toned-down example of 'trust us. we're the experts' in the Conservatives’ approach to the last election. Theresa May's stance was 'trust me. You need a steady pair of hands at this time. We need to continue with austerity' and made no attempt to explain or win hearts and minds beyond that. Small wonder we saw a different form of populism emerge in response and vote for Corbyn.

Right at this moment, we see another example of the ‘trust us. We're the experts' approach in the Charlie Gard case. I'm not pretending there are any easy answers on this tragic case, but what does concern me is the approach reported taken by medical staff in this and too many other cases (and I'm not at all pretending the issue is easy for them). which is 'trust us. We're the experts' when the best interests process is far more meant to be about all those who know a person well engaging together and reaching a common view. Clearly that will not always be possible, but neither does that mean in such situations that the 'experts' view prevails.

Am I arguing against the importance of expertise? Absolutely not. But I am saying that part of the responsibility of being an expert is that you engage with the public, explain your positions in ordinary language as much as possible, be seen to adjust your position in response to valid argument (even if it isn't put in the kind of technical language you might be used to) and, perhaps most importantly, be seen to act with grace when you lose an argument. Do not, like Hillary Clinton, dismiss those with different views as 'a bunch of deplorables'. (Any surprise that those deplorables, once you'd insulted them, then decided not to change their mind and vote for you Hillary?)

We need experts, but we need them in order to bring wisdom to debates that engage large numbers of ordinary people, not who use ordinary people as cannon fodder until they reach the right decision.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

No room at the inn, but the living room was available

One of the biggest traps in reading the bible is to do so with the twin filters of our 21st century western mindset and the wrong interpretations  we've inherited from history-and the story of the birth of Jesus is one of the biggest examples of such a trap.

We've all grown up with the story-Joseph with Mary, heavily pregnant and about to give birth, arriving in Bethlehem on a donkey, to be told that the inn was full and so she had to give birth in a stable, a birth that soon had visits from shepherds and wise men. No doubt many parents, and church members generally, will see this scene acted out this week. It's so familiar, but is it the story the bible teaches?

Before I go further, I must acknowledge the debt I owe to Kenneth Bailey's book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, which first highlighted to me a number of the points which follow.

Firstly a minor point, there is no mention of a donkey in any of the gospels. Mary and Joseph may or may not have travelled on a donkey. We just don't know.

The more important point is in what happened to Mary and Joseph when they arrived in Bethlehem, Our usual understanding is that there was no room at the inn. However, consider this:

1. Would people from the Middle East be likely to leave a heavily pregnant woman without anywhere to stay? Even today, the sense of community that still exists in much of the Middle East would mean it would be regarded as a matter of shame to leave such a woman without anywhere to sleep and for her to end up giving birth in a stable. Even in our western culture, a woman about to give birth would be a matter of concern for many people if she had nowhere to go, and many would offer to help.

2. Both Joseph and Mary had family connections in the area. Joseph was returning to the town where his family originated. It would have been regarded as a matter of duty to house even a distant relative if he turned up in a town. Mary too had relatives in the broad vicinity. We know that she had previously been to visit Elizabeth in the hill country of Judea. Bethlehem is in the centre of Judea. In an emergency, Elizabeth's home would have been somewhere to divert to.

3. Joseph and Mary are likely to have had time to make arrangements for the birth. The bible does not suggest that Mary arrived in Bethlehem already about to give birth. Luke 2:6 states that, whilst they were in Bethlehem, 'the time came for her to give birth'. This could have been several days or more after their arrival.

So what did it mean when the bible states there was no room at the inn? To understand this, we have to understand the housing of the time, including the housing of animals. Simple family homes often had only two rooms. One was effectively a guest room. The other, larger room was a family room where the family ate, slept and lived. Only rich people had separate stables to keep animals in at night. Most people had a part of their living room that was lower by several feet, and it was into here where animals were driven at night. At the edge of the raised section  where the family lived, there would be several managers, at the right height for animals to be able to eat from at night.

The other aspect we need to understand is what is meant by 'inn'. The Greek word used in the story is katalyma.  This is not the word used for a commercial inn. In the story of the Good Samaritan, the injured man is taken to a  panndocheion, which is a commercial inn. Katalyma simply means 'a place to stay'. Luke 22 uses katalyma when, at the time of the Last Supper Jesus asked 'where is the guest room where I am to eat the passover?' If Luke used katalyma to mean 'guest room' in Luke 22, it seems reasonable to assume he also used it with this meaning in Luke 2:7, where we are told that Jesus was placed in a manger because the guest room was full.

What looks likely to have been the case was that, when Joseph and Mary arrived, the guest rooms in all houses were full because people were already staying in it (probably due to the census) and so a family, recognising their duty to care for both a relative and a heavily pregnant woman, invited Joseph and Mary to join them in the family room. When Jesus was born. Mary, away from anything she had prepared at her own home, used the manger to put the baby in as it was next to where she was.

Finally, consider the wise men, It is firstly interesting to note that Matthew tells us that, when they arrived, they entered  the house where they saw Mary and the baby, underlying that Mary and Joseph had somewhere to stay, but the other key question is when did they arrive? We're told in Luke 2 that the shepherds arrived the same day as Jesus was born, but for the wise men no such date is given. What we do know in Luke 2:16 that Herod, when he realised that he had been tricked by the wise men, ordered that all of the boys aged under 2 were to be killed. If the wise men had arrived the night of the birth, even allowing a few weeks/months for Herod to realise that the wise men were not returning, why did he order boys under 2 to be killed? Why not boys under 1? The most likely explanation would seem to be that the wise men visited Jesus some months after his birth.

So, rather than a pregnant woman arriving on a donkey being left out in the cold by a heartless inn keeper and an equally heartless community, we instead have the community, very likely to be poor, and full of people visiting for the census, doing their best to do their duty, and a family placing their own small home under greater pressure by finding a place for the woman and her husband to stay and also where she could give birth.

An often overlooked message of the incarnation is how it reinforces that the church is to be a community, and one that especially cares for the poor, even when it is inconvenient.

Many churches care deeply about being biblically accurate, even when it involves putting to one side cherished traditions and misconceptions. It would be great to see that principle applied to how nativity stories are told and acted out.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

The Global Radio of worship

Global Radio is a UK media group that owns stations such as Capital, Heart, and Smooth Radio. It is known for running very tightly formatted stations that play a relatively small number of songs regularly throughout the day and encourage their presenters to only give short links between the music. BBC national stations in contrast, whilst they do have their own formats, tend to play a much more diverse range of music and encourage their presenters to be creative. For example, in the last 30 days, Smooth Radio played 797 different tracks whilst its main rival BBC Radio Two played 4222 different tracks. All this information can be found at where much fun can be had comparing all kinds of different stations. (Pause whilst my wife says I'm sad for finding such sites fascinating.) 
I would argue that the biblical approach to worship* involves something far closer to the BBC approach, but too many churches have worship that is closer to Global Radio. The bible sets out that worship when the church comes together is meant to be a creative experience with everyone having different gifts they can contribute. 1 Corinthians 14:26 says 'when you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation'. That suggests that each time a church worships together, there should be different elements in the mix, as different people bring different contributions as the Spirit leads. The same should be true with songs with the Bible again showing a huge range of diversity as a model. Psalms alone has 150 different expressions of it, with others scattered throughout the bible. On that basis, we should seek to be diverse and creative in the songs we sing. 
 However, I would have to say that the experience I come across in many churches is different. Like many people who have been Christians for any length of time I have upwards of several hundred worship songs in my memory. I might need the words projected on a screen to jog my memory to the lyrics of some, but I would recognise them in an instant. However, go to many churches for three or four weeks and you will hear the same 15-20 songs being used week after week. This isn't just a concern over lack of creativity. I think it also affects how the congregation engages with worship. Am I the only one who finds it incredibly difficult to keep my concentration, or for lyrics to speak meaningfully to me, when I am singing a song for the eighth time in the last ten weeks? 
 A similar concern exists over to what degree the principle of every having a contribution to bring is reflected in many churches, and there is a responsibility both on those leading worship and those in the congregation in this regard.  
 For those leading worship, it is so important to leave space between songs to allow contributions to come out. It is so frustrating during worship times when the aspect in relation to the songs is great, but songs are all it consists of. As soon as one songs finishes, the next starts, with no room for anyone to participate (or a variation, even more frustrating, is when there is a pause between songs for the worship leader to pray aloud themselves, but to then immediately launch into another song without waiting to see if anyone else wants to contribute). 
 A key plea to worship leaders in this regard is, please don't be afraid of silence-and from the times I've led worship myself I know how difficult it can be to judge how long to leave a silence, but those silences fulfil two important purposes: 
a) even for those of us who are used to bringing contributions, it can take a few seconds to open our mouths whilst we try and figure out 'is this the right moment to bring this? Does it fit with the flow and themes of the worship at this point? Have I got this right?' It can be really frustrating to have taken a moment to ask these questions, only to find that before you can open your mouth, the worship leader has decided that, as there has been more than five seconds of silence, they had better start another song. This is all the more important in encouraging those unused to bringing contributions to step out, as they may well need more time to pluck up their boldness and speak. 
b) it is in silence that new phases of how the Holy Spirit is moving in a meeting can sometimes develop. People starting to sing out in tongues, or a more general sense of the Holy Spirit at work develops. These sometimes take moments of silence for them to emerge and grow. 
 However I did say that there was also a responsibility on those in the congregation, and that is in believing that God really meant what He said in saying that when we come together, every one of us has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation, and that bringing these contributions is so that the church may be built up. If you are someone who does not regularly contribute during your church's worship times, can I encourage you to believe with confidence that God really does equip you during worship to have something to bring, and that what God is giving you to bring is something that the church needs to hear in order to be built up. 
 We have an endlessly creative God and we should reflect that in our worship (even if you like Global Radio). 
 * In raising the subject of worship, I'm aware that some will argue that worship is a seven days a week, whole life issue and not just about a church meeting-and I agree with them. However, the Bible does set out the particular benefits, and importance of, worshipping together, and the expectation that God will give us all gifts to use during such times. Some have adopted the term 'sung worship' to differentiate this from 'whole life seven days a week worship'. I've avoided using 'sung worship' in this article, for the reason that it falls into the trap of suggesting that worship together is all about songs whereas, as discussed above, it is about bringing many more gifts than just song.   

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Think theology everybody!

Over the last few months I've become a member of several apologetics discussion boards. With a small number of exceptions, I've been shocked and depressed at the poor quality of debate. Too often it seems to consist of people trading the same lines-and, worse, insults-time and time again, and issues just go round in circles. There is little sense of people genuinely trying to get to grips with biblical truth and seeking to argue it in a persuasive way.

However, one discussion particularly caught my attention. Someone-who said they were a Christian-was arguing that what they labelled 'creationists' were not real Christians and were a fringe cult due to believing in 'creation' and this meant that they were delusional and brainwashed.

Creation and evolution is a whole other subject. What struck me was that the author had totally misunderstood what makes someone a Christian. A Christian is someone who knows that their only basis of salvation is by faith in God that, entirely through through His grace and kindness, we are made clean and holy by Jesus dying in our place. What we believe about creation is important, as are what we believe about many other things, but it has nothing to do with our salvation.

What struck me even more was that none of the Christians in the discussion picked up on this issue-that the author had fundamentally misunderstood what makes someone a Christian. Instead they launched in a debate about different creation vs evolution perspectives.

Would that this was the only example of missing the point, but it isn't. I remember some years ago a Christian magazine ran a letter from someone arguing that Christians should not use transport but should walk everywhere. In support of this they quoted Colossians 2:6 'As you have received Christ Jesus, so walk in Him'. As if that wasn't bizarre enough, the next issue ran letters in response from several Christians, all arguing along the lines of 'what about people who live in villages and need transport to travel? God would understand'. None of the letters said 'the writer of the original letter has misunderstood the verse. This is theological nonsense'. The next issue of the magazine ran a letter of response from the original contributor, saying that he had concerns over the poor level of theological understanding of many Christians and so deliberately written the letter, knowing it was a total misunderstanding of the verse, to test out what sort of responses would be sent-and was the fact that no one had picked up on the misuse of the verse only confirmed his concerns.

One of the reasons for this lack of being able to understand the truth and use it well is that in too many churches, even ones that passionately believe in biblical truth, having a real foundation of understanding is seen as something for leaders. What we see in the bible is very different. A letter like Romans which is one of the most key books in the bible in giving an understanding of salvation by grace not law, but which uses complex arguments to make its point, was not addressed to leaders. Instead it says in chapter one that the letter is 'to all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints'. The same applies across most of the other letters. They are sent, not to leaders, but to the church as a whole in particular towns. Grasping hold of great truth was seen as the normal expectation of being a believer in Christ.

This fact was being addressed in some places in recent decades. In some families of churches, it looked like the issue of making sure Christians had a good theological understanding-a good basis of what they believed and why-was taken seriously. There was a new expectation that making sure people were taught well was a normal part of maturing as a Christian but I think there is a danger of the tide turning and it is something we need to pay attention to.

In the last few years, I've been conscious of a growing assumption that it's really only leaders who can be expected to understand theology well. Websites and events have sprung up that, although not labelled as just being for leaders, have operated in different ways with the assumption that only leaders would want to participate and, in some cases, have only allowed leaders to contribute articles to sites, not leaving any space for others to debate or discuss what is said. I've also picked up a growing trend of comments along the lines of 'people in our churches wouldn't be aware of/be interested in the debate on issue x', which begs the question 'what does it say about the level of teaching/maturity in your church that you think that most people in it have no interest in sound theology?'

The bible takes the opposite view. Yes, it sets out that leaders have a core responsibility to lay foundations of biblical truth, but not with the aim of them being the only ones who can understand such truth. Rather, Ephesians 4:11-12 says that Christ gave key leadership gifts 'to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine'. The purpose of sound teaching from leaders is so that people become mature and learn to recognise truth from falsehood for themselves.

It is so important to promote a culture where understanding a sound foundation of biblical truth, and being able to apply it in life and explain it to others, is the normal expectation of all believers, not the preserve of leaders.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Hide and Sex

It was the footnote that made me sit up and take notice. I was reading Ezekiel 16 where God is pronouncing judgement on Israel, calling her his bride whom he had loved and cared for, but who had been unfaithful. In verse 25, he says 'at the head of every street you made your beauty an abomination, offering yourself to any passer-by'. However, 'offering yourself' had a footnote next to it which said that the actual phrase in Hebrew was 'spreading your legs' to every passer-by.

Now this was the English Standard Version of the Bible that I was reading, one that places a high value on accurate translation, and yet the translators had chosen to replace the accurate 'spreading your legs' with the more discreet 'offering yourself'-even though the actual words were entirely intended to have the shocking impact which they carry-which has to beg the question 'why?'. The only conclusion I can come to is that the translators were concerned that readers would find the phrase too shocking, which reflects a much wider problem the church has-that in a world that is on one level obsessed with sex, and yet on another level is messed up and confused about it, the church and Christians are all too often too embarrassed and confused themselves to boldly speak into society about it.

When the subject of sex comes up in church settings-and it comes up all too rarely-it is put into 'safe' boundaries. It is put into a separate seminar that people choose to attend if they wish, or put into a youth group discussion. If sex comes up at all in a Sunday morning preach, it is usually surrounded by cushions of 'I'm sorry if anyone is embarrassed by this but …' and is moved on from as quickly as possible. All this reinforces a notion that sex is somehow a shameful or embarrassing subject.

The Bible knows no such boundaries. It devotes a whole book, the Song of Songs, to a couple expressing sexual desire for one another. Large parts of Leviticus deal with the approach under old covenant law to all kinds of sexual issues-without any warning to the effect of 'we're going to talk about sex now. If you think you might be offended you can stop reading if you want to'. In Proverbs 5, warning of the dangers of adultery and exhorting men to rejoice in their wives, it says 'let her breasts at all times fill you with delight'. The only boundary the Bible sets is that sex is for a husband and wife within marriage, and indeed is a core part of the 'one flesh' that constitutes marriage, but within that boundary it sets out what a huge delight it is.

And lest anyone reading this think that the Bible in examples like the above just reflect men being obsessed with sex, one of the principles in the Bible that desperately needs to be taught clearly is that it presents sexual desire as something that is equally normal and good for both men and for women. One of the facts that is striking about the Song of Songs is that the man and the woman both equally express their desire and fantasies about one another. The apostle Paul in writing to the Corinthian church assumes that sexual pleasure is something a wife should expect from her husband every bit as much as a husband from a wife. In 1 Corinthians 7 he says: 'The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband', and then goes on to say 'do not deprive one another'.

This very issue, of sex being intended to be something of delight for both the husband and the wife, is one reason why Christians and the church need to ensure that sex is something that is discussed and taught on without embarrassment as part of normal day to day life. People come into the church with all kinds of history and perspectives on sex. Even for those who have grown up in a church background there can be all kinds of wrong teaching that has given false guilt about sex, and for some, tragically and appallingly, abuse in their past for which a godly perspective on sex is key to restoration and healing.

Couples can often struggle on, thinking that they are the only ones with difficulties on a particular sexual issue, when a church with a biblical attitude to sex can promote a culture of openness between friends and in the church community, where they can find others who've worked through the same issue and found solutions.

Sex was one of God's greatest gifts in creation. Part of the church's calling lies in restoring an understanding of just what that means.

(Thanks to my wife for her input and advice on this post.)

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Radical is a good word

The government talks a lot at the moment about preventing young people from being radicalised. Now I know what their actual issues are, in terms of understandable concerns about a particular type of Islamic ideology, but the use of 'radicalised' implies that there is something wrong with being radical.

The word 'radical' is derived from the Latin 'radix', meaning a root. Radical therefore means 'going to the root or origin; touching or acting upon what is essential and fundamental; thorough' (Oxford Dictionary). It is also 'marked by a considerable departure from the usual or traditional... disposed to make extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions or institutions' (Webster's Dictionary).

The principle of living consistently with what you believe, of going to the roots, and changing how you live and what you say, to be in line with what you believe is surely a good thing. Some might call it having integrity. Arthur Wallis explores this in terms of what it means for a Christian to live radically in his book 'The Radical Christian'-a book that was a key one for me as a young Christian in setting out what it means to follow Christ. (It is now available free online at ).

However I do not think that being radical is simply a matter for Christians. It is surely a desirable aim for society in general for people to know what they believe and to live in line with it. This is the point where people often come in with three objections:
a) Wouldn't that lead to conflict where people have opposing beliefs
b) Isn't it impolite to challenge people and:
c) What about people who have beliefs that would lead them to carry out violent acts (such as we have seen this weekend)?

In response I would say the following. Firstly, having differing views and learning how to live together, and learning how to like people with differing views as people, is a sign of maturity in a society. Hiding one's beliefs and just keeping a superficial veneer where it is seen as impolite to express clear beliefs is actually a sign of immaturity in a society which hasn't learned how to debate and discuss in a passionate, but respectful, way. Moreover, hiding beliefs does not lead to violent, harmful beliefs from changing. It only leads to them being kept secret until it is too late.

Secondly I think one reason why modern western society finds it so difficult to know what to do about so-called radical Islam is that western society lacks a narrative of its own about why it believes what it does. Faced with a group of people with both a different worldview and a clear narrative about what drives their actions, western society with its general hazy 'do what you want as long as it isn't something we consider hurts other people' is stuck. Without a guiding morality or narrative that explains why they believe what they do-that gives a compelling different picture as to what drives their views of morality or society-that explains why they consider certain things to be right or wrong, western society does not know how to challenge beliefs and change hearts.

These two factors-of having no clear basis of morality, and regarding it as impolite to challenge and debate-are a deadly combination. It results in the only answer being to shut the debate down, in ways that result not just in the government seeing young people expressing radical views as being a cause for concern and investigation, but also in other effects such as Germaine Greer (of all people) being banned from speaking at a university because some of the students were offended by her views on transgender issues, rather than welcoming the opportunity to debate and challenge. It also manifests itself in society's obsession with privacy, the notion that anything one carry out in one's own time should not be commented upon in any way.

Needless to say, these attitudes are also having an effect on the ability of Christians to speak out freely and also, worryingly, in the attitude of some Christians towards speaking out, seeing it as 'unloving' to do so.

What we need is a culture that encourages debate and challenge-that does not by any means leave the offensive views of IS supporters unchallenged but instead faces these head-on by having clear arguments to the contrary that persuade and change people.

It is also even more so a reason why we desperately need Christians to not just be clear about what they believe, but why they believe it, and to confidently, passionately express that. Every generation of Christians faces values in their culture which they can embrace and ones that they need to challenge. For this current generation that we live in, the challenges are in resisting the notion that living lives radically is bad, in clearly being able to explain how following Christ gives them a totally different view of how the world works and why we are here, in demonstrating how they can live gracefully but without compromise alongside people with very different views, and most of all explaining why following Christ is the only hope and the real answer. This is the challenge for our generation that churches need to equip people to successfully fulfil.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Casting light, not throwing stones

Like some others I know, I have a passion for politics and love to seek to influence to change lives and society for the better. I've tried to set down here a number of principles that may be helpful for Christians involved in politics:

1. Our preoccupation is Christ, not politics. The desire to change society for the better is good and honourable, and for some of us, politics is the route we use to bring that about. However, our preoccupation in doing this should to bring glory to Him. If 90% of what we post on social media is about politics, and rarely about Christ, where does our preoccupation lie?

2. In all we do and say, bring glory to Him. Remember that we are ambassadors of Christ in all we say and do. That does not necessarily mean working references to Christ in everything we say and write, but it does mean that the beliefs and attitudes we express in our words and actions should give people a glimpse of what Jesus is like. It is particularly important that we express that in how we act toward those who disagree with us politically. 

3. Avoid calling other parties or their members 'evil'. You may disagree with their policies, but you are a sinner now saved and made a saint by grace, in your background no better than those you are calling evil. Are you calling Christians in other parties evil? Are you implying that those who do not know Christ but are members of your party are in some way morally superior to non-Christians in other parties? If so, what is the standard of righteousness you are applying?

4. Make the focus of what you say to be about what you believe and why, not about rubbishing other parties. Spend four times longer explaining what you consider to be right than you do saying why you think the other side are wrong. Be quick to say when you think the other side are right.

5. Be sparing and wise about what articles you link to on social media. Sometimes you may come across an article that expresses what you want to say far more effectively than you feel you can, but if their analysis is right, but their attitude is wrong, don't share it. Remember that people will associate you, not the author, with the attitudes that are expressed there.

6. People in other parties are not your enemies-or, if you think they are, then biblically that should only lead you to love them and seek to bless them.

7. Have nothing to do with gossip or plots to undermine people.

8. Be quick to give honour to those in other parties. Most people in politics that I have come across have got involved because they genuinely want to make society better. They may vary in their ability, radicalism and the degree to which I agree with them, but most of them come from that motive. Wanting to make the lot of those who live around you better is  a worthy motive and people should be given honour and respect for wanting to do do.

9.  Be especially quick to give honour to those in leadership in society. Christians in the early church were told by the apostle Peter to honour the emperor-that same emperor who was persecuting Christians in a way that many of us have never experienced. Yes, Christians should express when they profoundly disagree with a decision, but they should do so thoughtfully and with wisdom-and they should be even quicker to praise when they agree with a decision, and most of all they should give honour to those in leadership simply because they are in leadership. Leaders have been placed in those roles by God and we should pray for them to make wise decisions.

10. Be bold. I am constantly surprised when I find out after 20 years that politician x is a Christian or that, when faced with a policy that most Christians would regard as wrong but their party supported, the most they did was abstain. The world is not changed by abstentions. Call to God for protection and wisdom so that, when faced with situations like those of Daniel and his friends, you are able to speak with wisdom to those in authority and say 'I cannot support this' and look to God to deliver you, and if it ends up costing you office in your party, or prestige, or friendship, still look to the God who loves you and has called you.