Ministry · Parish · Politics

What good can come out of Nazareth?

(or What complete Twit-ter!)
 
A few days ago I got to the point where I felt I needed to take a hiatus from Twitter.  This was never going to be a prolonged departure, I value my community of friends too much for that.  But I have over a period of some time got more and more frustrated because I have felt I needed to temper my posts if they were going to be vaguely political, especially if they were going to be in anyway supportive of the current government or Prime Minister.
At this point I need to say that I am politically central-ish but generally I believe that democracy at it’s best allows for change.  In ’97 we had had far too long a conservative government, in 2010 we had more than enough of a labour one. I may have a party I am more likely to support, but I also believe we have a system of democracy in this country that is best served when we vote for our local candidates on the basis of their suitability for the area.
It started last week. No. Actually it started in April 2010. As the general election heated up I started to see a disappointing trend among the Christians, in particular the priests, I follow on Twitter.  
The first thing was the clearly partisan nature of the posts that started to appear. The second was the vehement and vicious character assassination of candidates that followees didn’t like.  I have posted before on some of these issues, particularly around the time of the election itself.
Last week I reached a point on Twitter where I knew I needed to take a break or I was going to blow a gasket. And here is why.
The Prime Minister made a statement, in a  cathedral, to a group of people there to celebrate 400 years of the King James Bible, (I won’t call it the Authorised version as that leads to the question “is my Bible not Authorised and not legitimate then?”).  Cameron in his address acknowledged the importance of the Bible in shaping British History and Culture, he acknowledged the role of scripture in forming our laws, our reputation as a tolerant society and making Britain the place it is today.
I praised the PM’s words.  Not for their theology, not because I felt he had had some sort of Pauline conversion moment, not because I totally agreed with his conclusions but because I was pleased to hear a British Politician even begin to be prepared to talk about the bible or God in public. I was pleased to see a report on the positive impact the Christian faith has had on this nation and pleased to see and hear a public figure say these things without cow-towing to the aggressive atheism and secularism it seems so in fear of usually.
From the reaction my words got from many of my Twitter community, you’d have thought I had suggested that maybe that Satan chap was just a victim of bad PR and he should be given another chance.
It seems, as I said before, the one truly unforgivable taboo left today is to seem in any way supportive of a Conservative government or candidate.
People wrongly assume that to be a Christian immediately means you have to be left wing.  I’ve heard good Christian men and women preach that Jesus was a socialist; which is a heretical as preaching he was a liberal, a conservative, a green or any other political flavour.  Jesus was none of these things, he was and is the Son of God, the creator, the King of heaven and earth.
The unforgivable sin?
The thing is it is inconceivable to many people that that you can be both a person of deep Christian faith and have any Consecrative views.  
As I read the posts on twitter last week I became increasingly saddened by the lack of grace directed towards the Prime Minister. Because he is a Tory politician, because he has policies that many have concerns about,  there was going to be no room for any good will towards him or his comments.  After all he is Conservative.  What good can come out of Nazareth the Conservative party? 
The issue at the heart of most folk’s comments seemed to be not in what he said or that his policies undermine his comments (they don’t as he made no social justice or any other policy comments at all in that speech) but that he is a Conservative Prime Minister.  Therefore, the argument ran, any words about faith were hypocritical or a deliberate rouse to suck up to his audience. 
It seems strange to me that those people who have an issue with the PM’s words never expressed the same views about the previous Government, led for many years by a man who openly told Thirdway magazine that he saw no reason why his faith should have any impact on policy or political views. A government who were candid about the view that faith should have no voice in government.
Frankly I have issues of morality, social justice, protection of life and many other areas that should concern Christians, with all the major political parties.  I do not believe that anyone of them has all the answers or a monopoly ‘rightness’.
To paint the Tories as poor-hating, toffee-nosed chinless wonders and doers of  evil is to fall for the same lazy tabloid journalistic view that paints all Christians to be Aaron sweater clad, sandel-wearing hypocrites or all priests as closet gays or paedophiles.
Part of the problem of course is that the dichotomy between left and right has become so extreme, it is becoming harder and harder to acknowledge the good polices either have. And therefore we have to paint the other side as the root of all evil.
James Mumford wrote an excellent piece on this in the New Wine magazine back in the summer.  The idea that when it comes to a particular political party you might be pro one policy and anti another is incomprehensible to too many people.  This is particularly noticeable in the USA where to be anti-abortion immediately means that you are immediately assumed to be Republican and therefore also pro-death penalty and anti-gun control.  
This is of course NONSENSE and it is WRONG to pigeon hole people in this way.
I have said before that I am extremely uncomfortable when Church leaders preach party politics from the pulpit.  I am incredibly uneasy with vicars and bishops and pastors who are members of political parties.  Not because I don’t believe that the Church should be involved in politics.  I am actually convinced we are required by the Gospel to be politically minded and active.  It’s when that engagement aligns you to a particular party that I think we make a mistake. I think party membership immediately defines who we are to others and immediately distance us from some of the people we serve.
As an ordained leader in the Church of England I am called to serve all the people of my parish. Regardless of whether they are socialists or Tories, communist or fascist, liberal or green or any shade in-between.  I am not called to like their politics, I am not called to agree with everything they say.  But I am called to serve them regardless.
The moment I pledge myself (openly) to one cause or another I risk immediately alienating myself from one segment of the community I am called to serve.  If I start preaching party politics I nullify my message to a proportion of the community I am speaking to and therefore risk making the gospel inaccessible to them as well.
I am not naive enough to think that leaders should not have party political views.  But my issue is when those values affect the way we preach and become the core of our being.  If we are to be a new creation in Christ then surely this is something that should permeate our political being too.  Not making us opinion-less but perhaps changing the way we engage in politics, making our engagement more Godly and grace-filled. We may or may not particularly like one party or other, but we can choose to engage in that and more importantly the real issues of social justice, morality and other things important to people of faith from a basis of honourable disagreement not rampant anti-conservative or anti-labour ranting.
I am not saying that we should not object to injustice, hypocrisy or oppression.  But I believe that we should also be able to recognise the good that all politicians do despite our party preferences. The good things that any government does while maintaining the neutral high-ground that allows us to break out from our personal preferences and values that allows us to call foul when we need to.
I am in awe of any one who is willing to put themselves in the firing-line by offering themselves for public office.  I know MPs get a bad press, I know that recent scandals like the expenses fiasco have put a bad light on the remuneration they were claiming. But if the were all the self-serving greedy monsters they are portrayed to be, the vast majority would be in the more lucrative private sectors not in public office.  Sure, there are bad eggs.  But there are bad eggs who are priests and Church leaders, there are bad eggs who are social workers and carers. Every profession has people who let the side down.  We should not allow that to tar our opinion of them either. 

So: Mr Cameron I applaud you for your words last week.  Not because it changes any of the things that concern me about the country you are governing, but because you opened up a debate previously off limits in the world of government.

The worst thing of course is that many of you reading this will have decided in paragraph two that I am just some idiot Tory and not worth listening too or reading further…..

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3 thoughts on “What good can come out of Nazareth?

  1. Thank you for saying this. To be honest I have tended to avoid conversations on Twitter about politics for exactly the reasons you state. Glad to see you back on Twitter too!

  2. What Rachel said!What has made me particularly uneasy is that, in general, academic debate in Britain is tolerant of each other's views and is more interested in exploring every side of an argument than convincing your opponent (who is not your enemy). The twittersphere last week seemed to be an unfortunate exception to this rule.

  3. Helpful post and I understand how you must have felt. I agree that Christians, in particular, should be looking for the good in all.I take issue with you only in the suggestion that left and right are far apart. I think that today you can barely get a tissue paper between the right hand of the left and the left hand of the right. That said, Cameron has to keep his far right onside and New Labour its far left. I too was grateful for Cameron's speech and wrote my comments at http://stevetilley.blogspot.com/2011/12/right-and-wrong-speech.html

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