A blog by Rebecca Gebauer
This week in Christian Today, I came across a commentary by Tim Farron (MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale and former leader of the Liberal Democrats) in which he raised the important issue of writing to your MP as a Christian.
Under the title “Christians shouldn’t just be another predictable lobby group” he shares his experience of receiving hundreds of emails in the context of the return of the Domestic Abuse Bill which was subsequently passed into an Act of Parliament. Many emails were from concerned Christians who passionately advocated against aspects of the bill, more specifically they advocated against some amendments concerning abortion. Farron clearly states that he agrees with the issues raised and that he would have voted against the amendments had they come to a vote but what he noticed with some dismay was the fact that none of the emails he received focused on the main point of the bill, protecting vulnerable people from domestic violence. The focus of the emails was solely on criticism of some aspects of it but there was no appreciation or at least recognition for the bill as such.
In Farron’s view, this is problematic because it affirms the broader image of Christians as “preachy moralists” rather than as compassionate people who engage with the realities of people’s lives. He is keen to point out that if he as a Christian would feel this way, how much more awkward must it be for non-Christian MPs and their staff to be approach in this way? Nevertheless, he encourages Christians to keep on writing, to keep on engaging, and pushing on behalf of those who cannot fend for themselves. We just need to be very aware how we do it and not become seen as “just another lobby group”.
I do not always agree with Farron but he got me here. I see myself as a progressive Christian and engaging politically is an important part of how I express my faith; but maybe I also fall into the trap of focusing on specific aspects that bother me rather than to try to see the whole picture and to approach issues in a balanced way. And by doing so, I may actually weaken the voice of Christians rather than strengthening it. At the same time, it can be really difficult to find balanced words for all the anger I feel when I witness the abhorrent treatment of asylum seekers, the shambles that is Brexit, and the overall appalling state of Westminster politics.
As I write this blog, I realise that sometimes I treat writing to politicians too much as a therapeutic exercise for myself (if no one else will listen to my political rants they have to!) rather than as an act of advocating for those I am concerned about. In an effort to do better, I looked up some top tips on writing to your MP, MSP, or councillor. Here is what I found:
- Make it personal: Very often lobbying groups or charities provide templates when they ask people to write to their representatives. This might be an efficient way of doing things but it will not make your letter or email stand out. Instead of copying the template 1:1, why not try to add an opening paragraph describing why the issue you are raising is important to you?
- Include your name and post code: Parliamentary protocol stipulates that MPs and MSPs only respond to constituents so especially in emails it is important to remember to add your post code.
- Ask your representative to do something: Tell them what solution you see to the issue and ask them to take action accordingly. This will make clear to them what you expect to be done (even if it might not be possible exactly in the way you wish).
- Keep it short: Try to stay on one page, if you really need to, write a maximum of two pages. You need to be concise and to the point to get your message across and make clear what you want your representative to focus on.
- Request a response: Ask your representative to report back to you on the action they have taken. If you do not hear back, send them a follow up.
- Say thanks: Even when we are angry, we should always try to be appreciative for our representatives’ willingness to serve in public office. If you know about something positive your representative has done, let them know. If you disagree with them, still stay respectful.
The full article by Tim Farron is available here: https://www.christiantoday.com/article/christians.shouldnt.just.be.another.predictable.lobby.group/135172.htm
A useful website to find your representative and email them is: https://www.writetothem.com/