Truth, Trust and Democracy

Arriving back in Scotland for a Christmas break I have been plunged into a General Election campaign. This has not brought much cheer. Instead I hear many laments about the state of British politics. A sense of how much is at stake in the election is combined with a widespread conviction that today’s politics lacks the capacity to address current issues in meaningful ways.

Truth and trust are two of the terms that have gained currency in the election debates. When it comes to truth, candidates standing for election have always faced the question of whether they are making their case truthfully. Today, however, a new political culture is being created where commitment to truthfulness is easily discounted. The governing party campaigns on the slogan, “Get Brexit Done” – a duplicitous term that appeals to the mood of one section of the electorate when the reality is that Brexit is a process that will take years if not decades. 

The current Prime Minister, and favourite to win the election, presents himself as a cavalier character who is above the normal standards of truthfulness required of those standing for public office. This has provoked the related issue of trust. If you cannot depend on the truthfulness of the candidate, how are you going to trust them? It has become a running joke in the election campaign that the Prime Minister is not someone who can be trusted. He seeks to make this part of his “lovable rogue” persona but to critics it looks like an attempt to avoid scrutiny and accountability. Power without accountability can soon run to extremes.

Democracy is corroded when truth is disregarded and trust is at low levels. At this point the language of politics and the language of faith meet one another. The Bible has much to say on these matters. So far as truth is concerned, “let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’ (Matthew 5:37). So far as trust is concerned, the faithfulness of God sets the standard (Psalm 33:4). As much as this exposes our fickleness and unreliability, it also inspires us to become people who are worthy of trust. Might we need to retrieve these deep roots of faith in order to renew our democracy? Might it be time for faith and politics to rediscover their deep inter-connection?

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