With the Conservative leadership election under way the Christian press and social media have kicked into action. Some are celebrating the fact that all the candidates profess the Christian faith. Others are trying to reach a judgement on which of them is the ‘most Christian’. Lots of prayers for God to raise up a “Godly Christian leader.”
But is that what we need? Before the referendum a clergy colleague of mine cautioned, “Which of us would have voted for the Emperor Nero?” Yet it was under Nero that the church was persecuted, Paul was imprisoned, and as a result the gospel spread to the ends of the earth far more quickly than it was doing in more peaceful conditions.
And the same is true in the modern world. One of the fastest growing Christian populations in recent times is in Communist China, where the church is still oppressed, greatly limited in its activities, and under the constant watch of a suspicious government. Meanwhile in the West, with freedom of religion and a succession of leaders who have claimed to be Christian, the church is declining numerically and to a large extent in spirituality too.
Which is not to say I would suggest praying for an oppressive dictator to lead this country. It is just to question whether an active Christian leader would necessarily be the most advantageous for the Christian gospel.
I thank God when our political leaders act according to gospel values. In recent days some leaders have taken a stand to engage with and welcome minorities in our society – most notably Nicola Sturgeon (Atheist) and Sadiq Khan (Muslim). Some of our leaders seem genuinely concerned for the plight of the poor and working for a more equal society – at the lead here are Nicola Sturgeon (Atheist) and Jeremy Corbyn (Atheist). Meanwhile a previous Christian leader, Tony Blair, has been condemned for involving the UK in an unnecessary and possibly illegal war.
There are of course Christian leaders doing good things too. He doesn’t get much air-time but I like a lot of what I hear from Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats and Evangelical Christian. But the point is that selecting a leader who will be best for the gospel, the church, and the country, is far more complicated that looking at their self-declared religious affiliation. How a person lives and governs is more important than where they say their loyalties lie.
So I am not praying for a Christian Prime Minister. What I am praying for is the person who God knows will be the best for the cause of his gospel. I pray for a leader who will work for justice, equality, and peace, the values of the Kingdom of God, whether or not they can be found in a pew on Sunday morning.