A Lesson from History and Party Politics

By Curtis K. Shelburne

It was the summer of 1945. Nazi Germany had just been defeated, and the British people, in their first election since the war had begun, thanked Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill by voting him out of office. I’ve wondered why. It seems so ungrateful and wrong.

The British people loved Churchill. They knew that though many millions, to use Churchill’s phrase, had given “blood, sweat, and tears” to win World War II, if one man had to be named who was singly most responsible for winning the war and saving England and the world from Nazi tyranny, that man was without doubt Winston Churchill. But, still, in the June election of 1945, they turned him out of office. Why?

Though I still think it was ungrateful and shabby behavior, I think I know why. They knew that Churchill was exactly the right man to lead England in wartime when “business as usual” Labour and Conservative party politics were suspended and a National Government was formed to save the nation. But he was not a man to be content, or very effective, when the crisis was over and party politics once again would hold sway. He was first and foremost for England and never less suited for a return to party politics than when England had just been saved.

Just as Churchill had been one of the few who before the war recognized the danger posed by Hitler and Nazi Germany, just after Hitler was dead and the Nazis were defeated, he was one of the few to see clearly the emerging danger posed by Stalin’s Soviet Union and Communism’s Iron Curtain. As post-war Europe was being divided between victors who fought because they loved freedom and those who fought only to enlarge their boundaries and the numbers of their slaves, Churchill, was reduced to electioneering. It was a trial to him. As he writes, “The incongruity of party excitement and clatter with the sombre background which filled my mind was in itself an affront to reality and proportion. I was glad indeed when polling day at last arrived.”

It is a high tribute to Churchill that he is not remembered as the leader of a political party; he is remembered as the great leader of a great nation who blessed the world.

Christians can learn something from this. It is probably unrealistic to think that in this fallen world the denominational lines that divide Christians will ever be completely undrawn. But it is just as true, I think, that those who are great in God’s Kingdom are those who know and act on the knowledge that their first allegiance is to Christ, the fully human, fully divine, Son of God and Lord. Anything less is “an affront to reality and proportion.”

As long as your first allegiance is where it belongs, which “party” you belong to matters proportionally about as much as upon which side you choose to part your hair.