⁶ This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet, and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.Romans 13: 6-10 (NIV)
As we head into a new year and a new decade, we also begin a new parliament very different from the last. Whether you are rejoicing, disappointed or somewhere in between, the reality is that the first half of the 2020s will be governed by those elected in December. During the election season, JPIT was encouraging churches to ‘Love, Pray, Vote’, demonstrating how we can engage in politics positively. That’s not the end of the story, however. It’s important to consider how we can carry on engaging lovingly and prayerfully in politics. One of the ways we can continue to do this is through developing a good and productive relationship with those representing us. That’s why we’re encouraging you again to Meet Your MP.
In Romans 13, Paul gives us some guidance on what our relationship with our governing authorities should look like. He begins by talking of authorities as ‘God’s servants’, not mentioning any evidence their behaviour might suggest to the contrary! Paul encourages us to pay what we owe and expect the same in return, but it doesn’t stop there. He points us back to the Great Commandment to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ and challenges us to continue in our ‘debt to love one another’, saying that in so doing we fulfil God’s law.
Meet Your MP is an opportunity to build a relationship between your church community and your MP. This goes beyond the transactional ‘social contract’ established between constituents and their representatives and facilitates a living partnership. This partnership is an opportunity for both your church and your MP to ‘Love your neighbour’. Through building relationship we are reminded of the humanity of our MPs: they are neither infallible nor adversaries.
Through meeting with your MP you have the opportunity to get to know the person behind the title, communicate your concerns and priorities and find out how you can support one another in seeking to love your shared neighbour. Going beyond the transactional to a genuine relationship doesn’t ignore that there are often things we feel we must challenge. In fact, it equips us to do so. It is through relationship that we can be honest about our views, that we can engage in reasonable conversation and share our experiences with each another.
In 2018, the then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Esther McVey MP, went to visit a church group in her constituency who wanted to highlight the damage being done to individuals, families and communities by Universal Credit. They could have vilified Esther, destroying a rich opportunity for dialogue, but they chose first to listen to her thoughts of the issue. Then the congregation presented her with some ‘craftivism’ – handkerchiefs stitched with messages such as ‘Hunger kills the human spirit’ – to challenge her approach. Esther heard their concerns clearly (and took the handkerchiefs with her as an aide-memoire) but was not willing to change her policy at that moment. Since then, however, we have seen reform to some UC procedures: perhaps those few earnest handkerchiefs carried as much power as some waved placards at a march? (Read the whole story here.)
Meet Your MP is not focused around lobbying your MP, but opening up a dialogue which enables your congregation to communicate the needs in your local community. It doesn’t need to feel overtly ‘political’. MPs are duty-bound to care about what is happening in their community, and a great way to show them is to invite them to share in your community and have conversations with their constituents to find out what matters to them.
Several years ago in Southampton, a church community joined with other volunteer groups to provide a drop-in for asylum seekers. Since then, an enduring and formative relationship has developed with successive MPs, strengthening with each visit to the project or each phone call or visit made to the constituency office. (Read more here.) Perhaps you could invite your local MP to a church-run project or event, or take them on a walk of your local area to highlight issues and needs. And if you’ve done it before, perhaps now is the time to invite them back!
Romans 13 reminds us that loving our neighbour is characterised by being indebted to one another with love. What would it be like if the web of relationships within your community began to reflect this? Why not make it a resolution this year to build a relationship with your local MP to work together to love your neighbours?
Check out #MeetYourMP on social media to be encouraged by churches who have already done so, and our Meet Your MP series of blogs.
For more resources on Meet Your MP go to: http://jpit.uk/meetyourmp