Julia Doxat-Purser knows there is a limit to what Christians can achieve in politics. “If every parliamentarian were a Christian – would unemployment be solved? Would we know what to do with Islamic state? No – the world is fallen, and there are problems and tragedies,” she says.
Yet as the socio-political representative for the European Evangelical Alliance (EEA), Julia says it is vital for Christians to engage in the public arena. And she is excited that a new Cross-Current group is helping young graduates working in politics across Europe to live out their faith in their daily life. “Politics is about what will be encouraged and discouraged in society – we need a Biblical perspective on that,” she said. “Evangelical Christians are not the answer to making it all lovely, but we need people who really understand the issues, who can be a blessing to their colleagues, and who can pray and cry out to God.”
The Cross-Current politics group met for the first time in Berlin in November 2014. Some of the participants are involved in party politics but others include civil servants, campaigners, and members of think-tanks. Julia is co-leading it with Ross Hendry, chief executive of a children’s charity called Spurgeons who formerly worked for the Children’s Commissioner for England, a human rights organisation.
The group will meet six times over the next three years, with members keeping a personal journal in between meetings. “Our vision is for it to be like a church home group for young people in politics,” says Julia. “We will look at some theory but in the end it’s about really looking into the Bible and understanding how we honour Christ through walking with him in political life.”
Group member Joelle Philippe, 23, comes from Spain but is studying for a Masters in International Relations in Brussels. She is interested in social injustice and human rights, particularly women’s rights. "I really like the focus IFES gives to being a Christian in your secular job," she says. "It is especially important because politics in my country is so corrupt. It's good to talk with people who are sharing the same problems, and to get a clear Biblical idea of what God wants for his people.”
Julia, 47, became a Christian as a teenager after a friend invited her to church. Her family had always been very political and she read European Studies at university before going to Brussels to work for IFES with international students. While there she realised that no one was trying to influence the European Union from an evangelical point of view, so after three years the European Evangelical Alliance asked her to open a Brussels office for them. During her eight years in that role her most significant work was ensuring the European Employment Directive in 2000 was amended to grant essential flexibility to faith groups.
Julia says there are various challenges facing young Christians in politics. Christian politicians need to learn how to win elections, convince people of policies, present well in the media – and yet still be able to give the glory for all that to God. So one of Julia’s priorities is to examine Biblical material on how to handle power. “The temptations of ambition and power are the same as in many other careers,” she says. “A stronger challenge in politics is how we give the glory to God rather than keeping it for ourselves, because in politics one is obliged to look good in order to win.”
Julia admits she experienced this temptation first-hand during her time in Brussels. “Power is intoxicating,” she says. “Quite a lot of people walk in a strange way in Brussels - I call it the Brussels swagger. They know about things before other people, so that makes them feel good. But it can also make you feel proud. I didn’t notice that walk when I lived there so it makes me think I walked like that too.”
She also learned the importance of personal integrity. In her early days in Brussels she once tried to organise an event on a popular topic. When the event proved tricky to manage, she reflected and realised that actually her motivation was purely to curry favour with politicians. In the end she concluded it was manipulative to lay something on if her motives were not right. The event was not part of God's plan. “I had to trust God that he would build up the profile of the EEA by me being full of integrity rather than playing games,” she says.
Julia says she has been impressed by watching Christel Ngnambi, the current Brussels rep for the EEA. He is effective as an influencer, but he works in a quiet and gracious way. “He is very clever, and people respect him, but he is different in the way he seeks to influence,” she says. “He is loving – which is not normally a word you use in political circles. But being gentle while knowing your stuff means that people listen. God has given him wisdom, and I see in him that a quiet and gentle spirit can work.”
Other challenges for people in the political sphere include loving your enemies when politics can be vicious, and trusting God with your future, rather than striving and grasping as many others do. In Berlin the group met with a German evangelical parliamentarian who spoke about the freedom his faith gives him. He was a social worker who never intended to go into politics but trusts that he is there because God opened the door and will stay as long as God wants him to be there. That gives him the freedom to be himself, to speak the truth, and allow God to promote him or not.
“I know Christians who work in the European Commission who also have this sense of freedom,” says Julia. “They are not trying to manoeuvre themselves the whole time. They are not in it for the power the reputation or the money. They are in it to serve God in the work they are doing and in how they treat the people around them in loving their colleagues, in being different – in being salt and light.”
The Cross-Current politics group has five more meetings together, and Julia’s prayer is for the group members to enjoy a similar sense of liberation. “It would be wonderful if God honours them because he can trust them with power,” she says. “But I want them to feel free and to have joy and contentment in knowing their identity is in Christ. Whether they succeed in how the world sees success doesn’t matter - that’s for God.”