Christians in the Public Arena

There are Christians working in public service at all levels across the world, with major opportunities to represent Christ and impact society through their words and actions. And the opportunities are manifold, because the public arena encompasses such a huge range of organizations.

For example, it includes political and public office at local and central levels, as well as institutions that provide civic services, enforce the law, and offer emergency services. Then there are medical and education services, charities and the voluntary sector, the media and the arts.

We soon realize just how big the sphere of influence is for Christians working in environments where they serve the public.

The Bible has much to say about the public arena. One key New Testament scripture is where Paul assures us that those in positions of government are not just people to be obeyed (Romans 13:1) but, as he tells Timothy, people to be prayed for—as a priority—and to give thanks for:

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

The Christian faith has always argued that government has a role and a place and that we ought to respect that.

For example, Jesus urged the people to pay to Caesar what was rightfully his (Mark 12:13-17). Jesus was endorsing the right of government to obedience and respect. Across a wide spectrum of public service, church and state share common priorities and a common agenda, and it is important for us to pray for those in government who fulfil the duties that we long to see faithfully fulfilled.

But we also have an opportunity—even a responsibility—to represent Christ in the public services.

In 2000 and 2004 I ran as a Christian candidate in the London mayoral and assembly elections in the U.K. Our campaign manifesto focused on six principles on which campaigners for Christian democracy have always fought: social justice, respect for life, reconciliation, active compassion, wise stewardship, and empowerment. You will find these principles expounded by William Temple, by the Movement for Christian Democracy, by the party which I led (the Christian Peoples Alliance), and by Christian democratic movements throughout history and throughout the world.

Although another candidate went on to win the mayoral election, an anonymous Web poll, carried out by the current affairs magazine New Statesman, found that the Christian principles on which I built my campaign were most favoured by the public. People actually want Christian principles and values!

Since many others also share our values, as Christians, we have opportunities to work with other people of faith (Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, etc.) to impact the public arena and resist the pressures of secularization.

Six Christian Principles for Public Service

1. Social justice. Social justice is very much a part of who we are as followers of Jesus. Jesus himself models a heart for the poor and the oppressed on many occasions. Every community has its economic divides, and we can find huge social disparities, even in the same city. How do we create a fair society in which justice is given to all, not just to a favoured few who have justice by power or by wealth?

2. Respect for life. Scripture and the salvation message help us to understand why we should respect life. How do we protect the most vulnerable people in our society: the unborn and those who are at the end of their lives? And how can we ensure that the value and dignity of every individual is respected and that all are enabled to become what they are capable of becoming?

3. Reconciliation. How the world cries out to be reconciled! And how greatly people need to be brought into right relationships with each other! The news is full of programmes about warring neighbours, nations sending huge armies against each other to dispute ownership of oil wells, or bitterly contested territorial areas and natural resources. As Christians, we are called to be peacemakers and work toward reconciliation.

4. Active compassion. It is not enough to pay lip service to the need for social justice and all the rest: we have to do something about it. That includes enabling people who need empowering and who are denied basic rights by our modern society. This includes the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and even minority faith groups.

5. Stewardship of resources. Human greed can cause wars and extremes of poverty and wealth. The global facts are simple: there is more than enough for all on the earth. But some of us want most of it for ourselves. Good stewardship of resources and biblical generosity are values worth upholding and fighting for in the public arena.

6. Empowerment. Some people need to be empowered, particularly the voiceless. Many people living in the poorest communities do not even know that they are eligible to vote. Good government is empowering government.

Christians working in public service have a wonderful opportunity to represent Christ and impact society through their words and actions. When it comes down to it, it’s an intensely practical exercise.

Very few Christians in the public arena are in a position to openly proclaim the gospel. More often than not, Christian doctors, nurses, teachers, government officials, journalists, and social workers are not allowed to publically express their faith.

However, actions make a profound difference, and if we ensure we are being driven by Christian values and principles, taking hold of opportunities to share faith as they arise, we can surely impact the world for the sake of the gospel.

Ram Gidoomal is chairman of the board of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelisation and chairs the Resource Mobilisation Working Group.