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Should Christians swear an oath of allegiance?

This week, all MPs in the 2024 Parliament gathered to swear or pledge allegiance to the Crown. This is a ritual required by law that must be done before MPs can speak in debates, vote on bills or receive a salary.

Jeremy Corbyn described the ceremony as “nonsense”, as he waited in line to be sworn in. Others who are republicans or nationalists made much of their disdain for swearing allegiance to the English crown. But in reality all our promises and commitments are made in the sight of a much higher authority than the King of England.

Politics needs more people whose yes is yes and whose no is no

There was a whole range of holy books for MPs to choose to lay their hands on to swear allegiance. Bibles of several translations, the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, the Torah and probably many others that could be requested in this, the most versatile parliament ever.

I did not swear on a Bible but instead chose the option of simply affirming my allegiance. I have been an MP for 19 years now, been elected six times and sworn in seven times (partway into the last parliament we had the opportunity to swear allegiance to the new King Charles after the death of Queen Elizabeth II) . On previous occasions I have sworn on a Bible, but after thinking about it for the last few years I concluded that I would not this time.

Do not swear

In Matthew 5:34-37, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says: “But I say to you: Swear not at all: neither by heaven, for it is the throne of God; or by the earth, for it is his footstool;…And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Simply let your “Yes” be “Yes” and your “No” be “No”; everything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

My choice to affirm allegiance rather than swear on the Bible was based on my understanding of the verse above, and also a sense that God calls us to be truthful in all situations. Swearing on the Bible can imply that these vows are especially sacred—and therefore that other vows are less important. But Christians are called to tell the truth and keep our word at all times. Every word we speak is heard by the living God. There are not certain commitments we make to God and others that are beyond His consciousness or judgment, and for which we are less responsible.

2 Corinthians 5:20 speaks of believers being ambassadors for Christ. This is truly a full-time ambassadorial role and so I try – although often failing – to follow and represent Jesus in all contexts.

Whether I am in a controversial debate in the commons, or in the dining room at lunch, God – for whom I am an ambassador – knows everything true and false I say. In Matthew 12:36, Jesus warns that “people will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.”

All that said, I am not criticizing the Christians who chose to swear on the Bible; one could argue that they perform an act of public witness when they do so.

Compassionate truth

Politics especially needs more people whose yes is yes, and whose no is no. The politicians who have built a brand based on directness and straight talk so often do so with a loss of nuance, respect and compassion for the marginalized.

Join me in praying for a time of compassionate truth in politics – for ministers and MPs who will tell the truth, even – especially – when it’s not popular. For this Parliament, where over 50 percent of MPs are new, to form a culture of “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15).

Also pray for Christian politicians to appear as people whose words reliably match their actions, who do not give in to the temptation to distort the truth and who refuse to dehumanize others with their words. Pray that they will have the courage to tell the truth of the gospel.

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