Being a child of the 70s and 80s the ‘reign’ of Margaret Thatcher was the political backdrop while I was growing up. I admire her for being our first and only female Prime Ministers, and for her willingness to do what she thought was the right thing to do, even if it wasn’t necessarily the popular thing to do. Like many of my generation I wasn’t a great fan of her politics, although that may well be down to the tendency of children to rebel against the views of their parents and institutions of their youth –I am not sure that as a youngster I had enough of a grasp of politics to assess them fairly. I think, however, that I was right to be suspicious of the growth in individualism and materialism during that time.
There was much talk in the lead up to Wednesday’s funeral about protests about her politics and the expense of her funeral. In the end the funeral passed peacefully, whatever my thoughts about her views and leadership I am glad about that.
Two responses by those who disagreed with her caught my attention this week. The first was an article in the Guardian by the former canon chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, Giles Fraser. He wrote, ‘Traditional funerals are great levellers, not political rallies. That’s why I won’t turn my back today… I have buried some extraordinary wrong ‘uns in my time: crooks, murderers, wife-beaters and swindlers. But these funerals were never lies, because unlike a secular send-off, where the past virtues of the deceased necessarily take centre stage, the Christian funeral can leave all that stuff to God. It is not, first and foremost, the celebration of a life or the retelling of achievement. It is an unsentimental acknowledgement that death is the ultimate democracy. It comes to us all – the good and the bad, the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak. And with death in a Christian context also comes a recognition that we are all subject to the mercy of God for our failings… Today is the one day that I will not be demonstrating or turning my back. For Thatcher and I share that final description: both of us failed, both in need of forgiveness. It’s the ultimate human solidarity.’
Billy Bragg, singer and political campaigner, believer in ‘compassionate socialism’ rather than ‘Thatcherite capitalism’ also refused to use the funeral as an opportunity to express hate. Instead he tweated, ‘If you wish to express your feelings about the divisive nature of the Thatcher legacy today, do something positive, DontHateDonate.com’ encouraging those who disagreed with her policies to mark the day by giving to causes that care for the vulnerable and promote community.
To me both these examples reflect something of Jesus’ teaching and example, of not judging others whilst remaining blind to our own failings, and being constructive rather than destructive in our dealings with others. One of the great challenges of living as Christians in a fallen world is how we respond to those whom we disagree with. Perhaps there’s something here we can learn from?