God is a Liberal Democrat – really?!

The Telegraph, Mail and Guardian have all picked up on Steve Webb’s assertion that God ‘must be a liberal’. Webb, himself a Liberal Democrat MP and Minister of State for Pensions, claims ‘the most fundamental reason why Christians should feel at home in the Liberal Democrats is that the character of God, as revealed in the Christian Gospel, would suggest that God must be a liberal’. He goes on to argue ‘there is no other conclusion that can be drawn from a reading of the New Testament’.

Now, clearly Christian Labour and Conservative party members – not to mention the many Christian members of many smaller, fringe parties – disagree. I am unsure whether Webb is claiming that Christians in other parties truly know that God sides with the Lib Dems and they rebelliously refuse to acknowledge God’s own political preferences; or, whether he genuinely believes that all theological understandings of scripture that do not lead to immediate Liberal Democrat membership are somehow misinterpretations of scripture. In either case, this seems something of a bold, unsubstantiated claim.

At the most basic level, Webb states the issue the wrong way round (if, indeed, this issue should be stated at all). At best, Webb could try to argue that the Liberal Democrats most closely represent God’s revelation of himself (though even this would be something of a tall order, hotly disputed). However, he has not chosen to argue that the Liberal Democrats most closely represent scripture but that God himself would be a Liberal Democrat – quite the claim indeed! Even before we look at Liberal Democrat policies and typical voting patterns of Liberal MPs, Webb suggests that God, by his very nature, is a Liberal. I must admit, I missed that in any of the historic creeds but perhaps Athanasius included it in a footnote somewhere. Unfortunately, Webb doesn’t leave much room for doubt. He doesn’t suggest the Lib Dems most closely adhere to scripture but argues that in God himself is revealed the very nature of a Liberal.

Now, putting one’s own political persuasion to the side, there is no getting away from the fact that Christian’s exist across the political spectrum in the vast majority of political parties. Nor can we escape that all parties, at some time or other, alight upon policies that accord with scripture and, equally, often find themselves falling foul of scriptural principles too. Indeed, it is for this reason that many think politics is all too worldly and compromised, believing scripture  would have us take no part in it. The very nature of scriptural interpretation means that Christians of different theological persuasions and backgrounds will place greater or lesser store by different issues. Many will highlight social need, some personal morality whereas others find different issues more pressing still. Moreover, although many Christians may agree a particular need exists this does not imply they agree on the means by which such needs ought to be met.

For the Christian, the political task is to determine which issues of the day are most pressing and which solutions most closely conform to scriptural principles (or, in some cases, which least divert from scripture). Inevitably, Christians are going to disagree over the key issues and the best approach to tackling them. To align oneself uncritically to any particular party is therefore problematic. That is not to say  one cannot join, support or vote for a particular party or align oneself in any way with a political view. It is to say that an uncritical stance with a party or political ideology will inevitably end up conflicting with scripture some time or other.

This means that Christians can join, support and vote for the Liberal Democrats (if, indeed, one comes to such a considered position). But to claim, like Steve Webb, the Lib Dems are somehow the very party of God himself is not simply to overstate the case but ignores the compromised position of all political parties. It overemphasises the good the Liberals may do at the expense of the unscriptural things they almost certainly do and utterly misunderstands the nature of a holy God who could have no part with many of the things in which all political parties engage. If God could not always bear the choices of his chosen people, under a theocratic state enshrined by himself, what chance have secular British political parties of that?