Youth Board Member Nick Le Friec led a rich and thought-provoking workshop with the Transform Network.

Here he writes about some of the key themes and points of debate. These include: a general distrust and negativity towards politicians, but a passion for political issues; the role of social media in polarising political discourse; how to prioritse Kingdom over tribe; that the Christian response to politics should be unique and ‘set apart’; and the extent to which Jesus is political.

Energised by politics but not politicians

Whilst some members of the group were clearly energised by politics, a general negativity was evident based on the perceived lack of credible politicians, the feeling that politics is a game and that politics struggled to resonate with the interests of young people.  However, there was a shared acknowledgement that we were all interested in politics where it begins to noticeably affect issues we care about: some examples from the group included the refugee crisis, the NHS, Brexit, prison policy and tuition fees.

Furthermore, members of the group recognised that their local activism, supporting initiatives such as the foodbank, constitutes intrinsically political action which seeks to reflect the life and teachings of Jesus in community life.  Therefore, it was apparent that the group was passionate about issues, if not necessarily politics; interestingly, this engagement appeared to stem from a concern for the wellbeing of the vulnerable and disadvantaged in their communities.  In such instances, participants were passionate about challenging such perceived political injustices, but struggled to know how to do this effectively.

Social media and disagreeing well

A key discussion point during the workshop was the widening divide in political opinion which has led to greater conflict as contrasting views interact; it was suggested that Brexit and the election of Trump accentuate this polarity.  Furthermore, most participants agreed that social media largely had a negative role in contemporary politics, with the general feeling being that the anonymity and indirectness of ‘tweeting’ or ‘writing a status’ facilitated the dissemination of political opinion in a manner which was more likely to be aggressive, hateful or rude.  The conclusion from discussion was that social media had limited value in providing a platform for political discussion, as it appears difficult to engage with others’ political concerns through genuine, respectful debate.

'Kingdom over tribe'

In this discussion, the tribalism of politics was alluded to, leading us to consider how Christians should respond to this.  We observed that Kingdom values transcend earthly attempts to forge political realities; therefore, we acknowledged that, whilst Christians should contribute and seek to see Kingdom values reflected in the earthly political realm, we must remember our conceptions will be fallible.  The group felt that by recognising this inherent fallibility, political dialogue would be enriched and the polarization in opinion could be successfully navigated through shared admission of imperfection.

Was Jesus a political figure?

A big area of debate during the workshop was how to interpret the politicism of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Many group members were keen to assert that Jesus was political, with one member suggesting this was evident as Jesus engaged with the political powers of his time and challenged the perceived political consensus.  Others agreed that Jesus’ life featured political engagement, but felt that to say He was a political figure was not appropriate as He embodied all the virtues and values that earthly politics strives for; therefore, He transcends our worldly understanding of what constitutes political engagement. 

In addition to this, they felt focusing on Jesus as a political figure might detract from the principal calling of His messianic vocation and its meaning to the Christian faith; chiefly, human redemption through the cross and resurrection.  Therefore, parts of the group suggested that we ought to recognise that Jesus’ life and teaching possess a political dimension which encourages us to advocate on behalf of the poor and engage with political decisions which cause injustice; however, we should only do this whilst remembering the broader, multifaceted significance of the cross.