Eleven church denominations and agencies have launched a set of online resources designed to help Christians prepare for the forthcoming UK General Election - which many pundits now believe will be called in May by the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.
The church bodies have worked together to create an electronic booklet and website at www.churcheselection.org.uk, hosted by the official ecumenical body Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI), which includes information on how to arrange a hustings meeting at local churches as well as a downloadable guide offering information on the important questions of this election campaign.
The election materials do not support a particular church view or political party line, but aim to help people engage with a range of important issues facing the country, however they may decide to vote.
Rachel Lampard, Public Issues Policy Adviser for the Methodist Church who worked on the resources produced jointly by Methodist Publishing and Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, explained: “We hope that the website will really help Christians engage with the election. The Faith in Politics booklet covers a whole range of policy issues, written by leading Christian experts and campaigners."
She added: "The website also carries new guidance for groups wishing to hold hustings events during the election campaign, enabling people to register their interest in organising a hustings event and be put in touch with others in their constituency. We hope churches up and down the country will take advantage of these ecumenical resources.”
Faith in Politics covers issues including the economy, environment, health, education, equality and diversity, Europe, migration and sanctuary, poverty and criminal justice. The resource also provides a series of questions to facilitate personal or group reflection on political issues, or which could be used to quiz election candidates.
The Rev Dr Malcolm Brown, Director of the Church of England's Mission and Public Affairs Division, declared: “I really hope these resources will be used by churches across the country to help them get ready for the general election. They provide a rich range of material from which Christians and others can explore policy areas and form questions for their parliamentary candidates. The material points to the breadth of the impact that Westminster politics can have on the life of the nation, and I hope it will stimulate searching questions that will in turn help people make an informed judgement about how they use their vote.”
Meanwhile, the Rev Bob Fyffe, General Secretary of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, added: “These resources will provide a rich source of information for churches and Churches Together groups across the four nations. The combination of these resources, together with the online hustings information, should ensure that Christians around the UK can fully engage in discussions with their prospective parliamentary candidates.
"The fact that the Churches have worked together to provide these resources is a strong statement in itself, and we hope that local churches and groups will fully engage in the democratic process,” he said.
Churches have traditionally hosted hustings meetings in the run-up to elections in constituencies across the country.
The major denominations work hard not to be seen taking partisan stands, but their own policies point strongly in the direction of encouraging social responsibility, restraint on markets in the interest of people, environmental action and work for peace and justice globally.
Most were strongly critical over the Iraq war backed by the two largest parties.
At a grassroots level, people of different faiths have joined those of non-religious convictions in the growing Power 2010 initiative, backed by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, which aims to provide an opportunity for ordinary people to come up with ideas about how Britain's political system may be reformed, cleaned up and made more responsive.
The many proposals sent in online were submitted to, and consolidated by, a 'deliberative democracy' conference, and are now being voted on in an online poll open to all. See: www.Power2010.org.uk/Vote
The churches' resources can be found at: www.churcheselection.org.uk
Also on Ekklesia: 'Your chance to vote for change', by Guy Aitchison - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/11086