Leaving US politics for a change: from the Methodist Church News Service, the Methodist President and Vice President will join other free church leaders as part of a delegation that will attend all three major party Conferences (Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrats). The article states that ‘The delegation will spend time with Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative politicians, learning more about their processes and decisions in order to better engage and debate with policy makers.’ Stephen Poxon (Methodist President) says,
This will be a valuable opportunity to engage with some of the key decision makers in British politics about issues that matter to the churches, to those in our congregations and to those living in the communities we serve. We will be talking with MPs and party spokespeople on subjects such as UK and worldwide poverty, and how churches work to support the disadvantaged in their communities.
To an American where religious leaders are sought by politicians all the time, this isn’t strange. I note the Q&A with presidential candidates at Saddleback Church and moderated by Rick Warren (of The Purpose Driven Life fame). From what I’ve seen, politicians have done little to worry about what Christians or any other religion think. But, the free churches (basically, any denomination not Church of England or Roman Catholic) in England are quite small compared to the British population, but also compared to the CofE. Methodists alone have only 400,000 members compared to the 60 million people living in the UK (the South Carolina annual conference has 300,000 out of a population between 3-4 million).
I am glad to see the parties willing to listen to Christians of any stripe, but in particular the free churches (or non-conformists as we sometimes like to call ourselves to get the Anglicans riled up). I think we present a different view from the established CofE. Still, not understanding UK politics very well, I don’t know what to make of this. Methodists have tended to lean more toward Labour, but have become unhappy with them in the past few years (as many have), but there isn’t a real alternative. They aren’t going to turn to the Conservatives (Tories) or the Lib Dems in any mass number. I will be interested to see, with Labour’s dropping popularity, will either the Tories or the Lib Dems try to court the Christian vote.