Decision Day

It’s almost time to vote in what is being described as one of the most important political decisions that we face as a country in a lifetime. Do we stay in the European Union or do we leave? Have you made up your mind yet? I have, although I’m going to refrain from commenting on my choice here – you’ll have to ask me if you’re interested, I’ll happily talk about it as long as you’re willing to share your views with me too.

I’m hoping you’re still reading. I fear you may not be as you’ve seen that this is a political piece and turned off. There are those who believe that politics and religion shouldn’t mix, indeed I got harangued by a member of the crowd after one Good Friday talk I did in Hoddesdon which touched on this very issue. To me, I can’t see how they can’t mix, after all our faith is not just about where we go when we die, it’s very much about how we live with and relate to each other both as Christians and with the world at large now. That to me is the very definition of politics. Love one another – that’s a political statement in my book! But this is not the reason I fear you’ll have switched off. The reason I fear you’ve switched off is because you’re sick of the debate, or rather the manner of the debate. I know I am. I’ve had enough of innuendo, name calling and besmirching. I’ve had enough of the bad or disingenuous use of statistics. I’ve had enough of scare tactics and political broadcasts that treat us as if we are three year olds. I get that no one knows for sure what lies ahead, and that all we have are opinions based on experience etc. that’s fine. All I want is to hear some non-sensationalised constructive reasons for why we should either remain or leave, so that I can think through for myself what my opinion is. That’s not too much to ask for is it? Short of one or two notable exceptions, I’ve heard very few examples of this.

But why am I putting this in the church newsletter? It’s not just to get that rant of my chest, although it does feel better to have done so. No, it’s because I believe God calls us to engage with politics and to do what we can to make this a fairer, more loving and less oppressive world. It’s also because I think we can learn from this referendum; after all we have our own campaigning to take care of too: do you want to be in or out of God’s Kingdom. This ultimately is what mission is all about. But it’s not just the question that is important, it’s how we ask it, and how we make our case. I hope we can do it better than both sides have done in the Referendum campaign so far.

Church newsletter 19.06.16

Clegg, Farage and the Samaritan

On Wednesday there was the second part of a debate between the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg MP and the leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage MEP over whether or not Britain should stay in the EU ahead of the election of members of the European Parliament on the 22nd May. Of course this isn’t the only vote taking place this year, the other being the Scottish Independence Referendum in September. Of course, it’s not my place to tell you how to vote when and if you are eligible to, although inevitably from time to time my political leanings will show. But as a Christian I do believe it is important to be involved in politics because Jesus’ teachings are political in nature. Now I’m not saying he spoke about policies and legislation all the time, and the merits of different ways of governing and philosophies such as democracy, capitalism, communism, monarchy etc. but he did have a lot to say about power and wealth and most importantly our relationships with each other – and at the end of the day that is what politics is all about.

Reflecting on Jesus’ teaching and politics, one story out of all of them comes to mind, the story of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10:25-37. In a discussion about the command to love our neighbours as ourselves, Jesus is asked how we know who our neighbours are. He answers with a story, the sorry tale of a man on the road to Jericho who is mugged and left for dead. Three men see him lying there. The first two are fellow-Jews; a priest and Levite. They hurry past, afraid of being mugged themselves or somehow becoming unclean. The third is a Samaritan. To say the Samaritans and the Jews did not get on would be an understatement and yet it is the Samaritan who stops and cares for him. Jesus ends with a question leading to a deeper and more important answer than the one the man sought, who was the neighbour to the man? The answer given was the man who showed mercy. Jesus’ follow-up instruction was simple and yet demanding, ‘Go and do likewise.’

I can’t help but wonder if Jesus is being subversive here, trying to change the nature of our relationships and our politics, moving us away from the question of how can I secure the best outcome for myself or for my people or for our country, to how can I secure the best for others, especially those less privileged or more vulnerable than myself? This doesn’t directly give us the answer of who or what to vote for when elections come, but cuts to the heart of the questions we need to be considering as we weigh up our options on the ballot paper, and indeed in our daily dealings with those around us in office, church and family politics.

Church Newsletter article, 6th April 2014

In, Out, Shake It All About…

‘…Do the hokey-cokey and you turn around, that’s what it’s all about!’ So goes a favourite song of our church Toddler Group, not that they are always so sure about which is in or out, let alone left or right!

I’m going to risk talking politics for a moment. This week David Cameron announced the much expected news that the Conservatives promise a simple in/out referendum concerning our membership of the EU at some point in the future. This has been welcomed by many who are sceptical about the benefits we get from the EU over the perceived costs. Others have expressed concerns about the simplistic nature of an in/out vote and the potential confusion and harm that could be caused by our uncertain situation over the next few years before the vote – a bit like our toddlers crashing into each other as they try to work out which arm they should be waving and where it should be waved!

My concern is a different one. It reminds me of a well known conversation about the Old Testament command to love our neighbours. Jesus was asked how we can know who our neighbour is. His response was the famous story, ‘The Good Samaritan’ in which he turned the question back on itself, saying don’t ask who your neighbour is but be a good neighbour. It makes me wonder what he would say regarding our future referendum. I have a sneaky feeling he would side step the question and ask not are we getting best value from our European neighbours, but, regardless of how we vote, how can we be a good neighbour.

God’s Vote

On Thursday we had the chance to go to the polls to vote in the local council elections and to vote in the referendum about the voting system our country uses.

I suspect you, like me, have heard it said before that faith and politics don’t mix. This is a country where both these things are kept private, things we don’t talk about in company. I fear, however, I am with Desmund Tutu who said, “I am puzzled about which Bible people are reading when they suggest religion and politics don’t mix.”
I believe that it is extremely important that we get involved in politics as Christians. Why? Because of what the Bible says. Psalm 122 calls its readers to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, to seek its security and prosperity in order that God’s people can live in peace. Romans 13 charges us to submit to authorities as it is God which has permit them to exist. The Prophets tell us that God holds them to account for their rule and us for how we respond to their authority, and repeatedly they, and Jesus himself, call God’s people to practise justice and to stand up for the orphan, the widow and the alien. All of this is politics.

Of course, the tool of democratic politics, the vote, is at the heart of God’s saving work. In Ephesians Paul writes:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ… For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will … to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. (Ephesians 1:3-10)

I took a while before Thursdays vote to weigh up the options, and came to a firm decision not so long before writing the X on the paper. It could be said that the Cross is God’s polling slip, upon which God made known his yes to us, his love, but unlike me, he had made up his mind how to vote long before then. He decided to seek us out to make us his children (the theological term for this is ‘elected’) even before the world was created. His love for us has never been in doubt.

Theologians have debated the extent and nature of this election throughout the centuries. Personally, I think verses such as John 3:16 are key. There it tells us that God so loved the world that he sent his Son; the word for world being ‘cosmos’ in the original Greek – in other words God’s love extends beyond us, the church, to the whole of creation.

This is where God’s vote in Ephesians 1 is directed. This passage tells us not only who God has chosen, us, but also why, to work towards bringing unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ, reconciling all things in him and through him.
Church newsletter article for 8th May 2011