Losing our identity: What do we look for in political leaders?

By Andy Flannagan, Executive Director of Christians in Politics

In the wake of the US elections, the aftermath of the Brexit vote, and the current leadership through COVID-19 in the UK, many believers are engaging more heavily in political debates. Our leaders are under scrutiny and opinions are readily formed. In moments where their private lives hit the headlines, I’ve too often recently heard Christians say things like “we only care about whether they get the job done” or “we’re not electing a pastor, we’re electing a president”.

I understand what people mean by those statements, but I want to drive a stake through the flawed ‘sacred-secular’ divide exposed and encourage Christians to approach things differently.

We shouldn’t disconnect ethics from leadership. Politics isn’t just about getting things done, and when you study any organisation you’ll discover they are built in the image of their leaders. Just like business leaders, political leaders establish the culture and are role models and influencers of the public square.

If we are created in the image of God, as set out in the theological idea of Imago Dei (or ID as I’ll call it) from Genesis 1:26-28, then the link between governance and character shouldn’t be bypassed, as it often is in our current public square. Quite simply, if we are made in the image of God then we are called to govern because he governs. And we are called to govern in a way that represents him to the world.

Being made in God’s image is more about a physical representation of something or someone (Ex. 20:4; Matt. 22:20), it is our whole human being that is an image of God’s attributes, mirrored in the way we live.

That often manifests in our character, and the Greek roots of the word - kharaktēr – means ‘a stamping or engraving tool which gives a distinctive mark’. We are all engraved with God’s image, it’s part of our character, and that character should be displayed in all aspects of life – both private and public. To put it another way, like a stick of rock, wherever you bite into us, we should be displaying who we truly are.

At Christians in Politics we believe in the importance of developing character and being true to the ‘distinctive mark’ we’ve been given by God. Yes, we are made in the image of God, but our character develops over time only through accountable relationships and discipleship (Paul makes it clear that this is a process in 2 Corinthians 3:18). Our hope is that the next generation of public leaders are better supported and nourished than the previous generation. Our hope is that they will have people alongside holding up their arms and calling them back to that ID engraved in their lives. Without that support, encouragement and challenge the image of God may become increasingly hard to discern, and our politics will suffer deeply because of it.

It is in times like our present crisis, when a government is making life and death decisions on our behalf, we need to be able to trust them. In any relationship trust is built by an accumulation of promises fulfilled and truth spoken. As some world leaders are now discovering, if you develop a reputation of doing the opposite of that, when you need to communicate something very important, the wheels come off. Of course, the reality is that governments are always making life and death decisions but for some of us, our relative prosperity and comfortable lifestyles often mean we don’t experience them at first hand.

If you look at the memoirs and biographies of every Prime Minister of the UK, you will quickly see that their defining moments weren’t policies and manifestos, but their response and reaction to unfolding events. We need leaders who aren’t easily influenced by shouts from Twitter, “The City” or other vested interests. We need leaders who pause to consult ancient wisdom and scripture. We need leaders who put a high value on truth, so that when they look us in the eye and tell us something we don’t want to hear, we can bear that cost with trust and a sense that we are together serving a common good. We need leaders of character. And at Christians in Politics we are wondering if you might be one of them.

Let’s finish with the one who did perfectly carry the ID. When Jesus responded to the trick question of “Should we pay taxes to Caesar?”, he intentionally framed his response in the realm of engraved images. He asked for a coin, which had the graven image of Caesar on it. So the coin stays true to its identity by going back to Caesar, and we stay true to our identity by allowing our lives to be given back to God.

People with a spine of ID-infused character are secure enough in themselves to be able to listen to an opposing point of view. People with a spine of ID-infused character are humble enough to admit they may not always get everything right. People with a spine of ID-infused character are not clinging to the identity of a tribe so tightly because they know their true identity in Christ. As a result they are not responding with visceral venom when their tribe is maligned. We need more people like that in politics in the US and the UK. Might you be one of them?

For more resources and information on getting involved visit www.christiansinpolitics.org.uk. You can also read more about the ID v Idols campaign #ID_v_idols

Andy Flannagan is the Executive Director of Christians in Politics and former Director of Christians on the Left. Andy longs to see a just rewiring of the global economic system. He and his wife Jenny live in Luton where they actively build friendships and community. Andy is also a writer and singer-songwriter – his books include God 360 and Distinctive Worship, along with a number of creative and critically acclaimed albums. As an Irishman, Andy’s proudest moment was captaining England’s Barmy Army during the Ashes in Australia.

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