Making it work
With a new prime minister in 10 Downing Street, what lessons of alliance and leadership would a Cameron-Clegg coalition learn by consulting the Bible?
The recent elections have, for a while at least, ushered in a ‘new politics’. But the people of Britain may not find it attractive for long, according to former Home Secretary Lord Reid.
Speaking to the BBC after the election, Lord Reid said, ‘We must not wreak havoc – we need a degree of stability, of humility, of respecting the views of the electorate.
‘Leadership is about taking decisions; not about coming out of the Cabinet and saying, “we agree on most things, so we’re going to compromise, regardless of whether it is in the national interest”.’
The tribal trysting following May’s general election caused a stir at all levels – in workplaces, company board meetings, policy think-tanks, the media and markets. Agreements had to be made on matters of pressing political import. On other issues, the coalition agreed to disagree.
Whatever the eventual outcome of this surprising alliance between Prime Minister David Cameron and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, further compromises will have to be made and it’s not going to be easy over the next few months, especially with a budget due within weeks.
But what can Cameron and his Liberal allies learn about compromise without sacrificing principle?
It is important to remember that ‘there is nothing new under the sun’. The biblical books of Kings and Chronicles outline in detail the trials and tribulations that accompanied various alliances between the kings of the ancient near east.
In the times of the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, there were so many tricky coalitions. Judah and Israel would fight against Egypt or Syria or Moab; Israel and another partner would sometimes fight against Judah. And sometimes, all of these would join against invading hordes from the east.
But what did God say to the Jewish kings of Judah and Israel about such alliances? Often he warned them about trusting in others and not in him. For example, in 2 Kings 18:21, he warned his people: ‘Lean not on Egypt, that broken reed’.
Consider too the time of King Jehoshaphat. King Ahab and then his son, Ahaziah, ruled Israel; while Jehoshaphat ruled Judah.
Jehoshaphat ‘walked in all the ways of his father Asa. He did not turn aside from them, doing what was right in the sight of the Lord’ (1 Kings 22:43). He made peace with Israel and fought with Ahab in battle against Syria (1 Kings 22).
But this was not considered right in the eyes of God, as proved by Jehoshaphat’s ships being wrecked at Ezion-Geber. In 2 Chronicles 20:37 the prophet tells him this loss was caused by his alliance with wicked King Ahaziah.
There were political compromises made during the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Herod had been established as a puppet king by the ruling Roman empire. The Romans so distrusted the Herodians that they set up military leaders (later, Pontius Pilate) alongside Herod and installed Quirinius as Governor of Syria.
Against this, the Zionists were seeking to usher in Yahweh’s kingdom by guerrilla tactics. The whole thing amounted to an incredibly unstable situation.
And yet what was Jesus’ response to this instability? He told Peter that ‘the sons [believers] are free’ (Matthew 17:26), yet advised him to pay taxes. He told the Pharisees on another occasion, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s’.
This biblical reflection is not to suggest that either Cameron or Clegg, or an alliance between the two, is intrinsically evil! But it does remind us that this new coalition will govern, among other things, over matters of public morality and religious freedom against the backdrop of ascendant secularism and waning faith. It must not promote unbiblical values for short-term political expediency.
It is important, then, that in the context of a new politics, Christians should ‘render to Caesar’ as good citizens – engaging in policy-making in a constructive way through petitions, letters and questioning constituency MPs.
We must not let injustice reign while we complain behind closed doors. It is a wonderful freedom that bodies such as the Christian Institute and Christian Concern for our Nation can put our concerns to Parliament and even help to drive reform.
It is incumbent upon believers to pray for the wider government and individual MPs, especially Christians. Let us pray the coalition works in a way that does not mean religious liberty is squeezed out, but maintained and nourished.
Above all, let us honour our Lord, acknowledging that, ultimately, he is in charge – not Clegg the ‘kingmaker’, nor the electorate. By appealing to the Lord’s mercy and restraining power on our new Parliament, we may yet bring his peace to many hearts and society at large.
Finally, we can take comfort remembering that our King rules both here on earth and in heaven.