As I write for this New year Parish News Comment and Rectors Blog www.stpetersbw.org.uk/category/rectors-blog/ we are still one week away from the General Election on 12th December, so it is hard for me at this moment to know whether what I am writing might be of help as you are reading it now, but I hope and trust it will be…..
With regard to the election, I will be upfront and say that like many I have spoken with, I don’t feel that there is any party that I really want to vote for: to me each stand for a confused and conflicting range of policies; each stand for some things that I think are really good, but also at one and the same time, some things that I think are really bad. I don’t want to vote, but I will still vote, and I hope you will have done too.
Whatever political persuasion you might be, I think that the whole country would agree, that whichever government and prime minister is now elected will not get to the heart of our problems and solutions. Why? because as I have written before in this comment and blog, whilst Democracy is the best system of government that the world knows, it can only ever be as good as the people and the society it reflects. Politics can do a lot of good in helping to run society, but it can never change society. So, if democracy/ politics (and our form of it at the moment) or where else we put our hope (for example, education or technology) is not going to deliver the answers to see change, what will?
Recently I read some wise words from the well-known Christian leader, Revd Canon J John: “What’s gone wrong with the country….and what can we do about it?” and I would really commend what he has written if you have time to read it: www.canonjjohn.com/blog/ or see below.
J John’s analysis of the problem: is that we have forgotten the first commandment ‘I am the Lord your God and you shall have no other gods before me’ with the consequence that in the vacuum of ‘no God’ we just make politics and politicians God’s instead (but they aren’t); and we make ourselves and our ideas as good as God’s (and they aren’t). Politics is a good servant, but a very bad master and the bible calls this kind of thing idolatry.
J John’s analysis of the solution: firstly, morality needs to come before politics; secondly, speaking well is as important as what we say; thirdly, good character e.g., generosity, kindness and peace, need to be honoured before poor character e.g., greed, hate fear; fourthly, true truth is crucial instead of lies, half-truths and ‘relative’ truth; and finally, good must stand against evil.
If all this is a good analysis of what has gone wrong and what can be done, then of course the solution is all about you and me changing one person at a time. Which brings me onto some good news on this front, where I am very pleased to announce that Anna Hartwell has been appointed as our new Family, Children and Youth Worker for St Peter’s and Blessed Mary to help us, along with other leaders in local churches, to support us moving towards being the people, the community and the society we really want to be.
In 2020, Anna is very much looking forward to meeting everyone and getting going in her new role for the communities of Bishop’s Waltham and Upham. In future Parish News, and on our website, Anna will be explaining more about herself and all she will be doing for Families, Youth and Children. If you would like to make contact with Anna about anything, she would be pleased to hear from you. firstname.lastname@example.org 07809207325
As we move into 2020, it would be lovely to do all we can, with God’s help, to be people and families we want to be for the future of our country, ourselves, our children and our young people
With prayers for January and 2020
Revd James Hunt – Rector St Peter’s Bishops Waltham and Blessed Mary Upham
Revd Canon J John’s Blog
What’s wrong with the country…
Everywhere I go I find myself asked the same question. The precise words may differ but the question is identical: ‘What’s gone wrong with Britain?’ In this blog I want to offer a response to that question and in my next blog make some suggestions about how we ought to respond to the situation. And let me give a ‘spoiler alert’ at the start: I’m not going to offer any advice on who you should vote for in the forthcoming election but I will be making suggestions on how you should vote.
Calling a general election during the flu season seems to be appropriate given that the nation seems to be suffering from an epidemic of political and social diseases with dramatic symptoms. One is the presence of an extraordinary bitterness and ill-tempered nastiness. Whereas in the past it was normal to refer to one’s political opponent as ‘someone with whom I beg to differ’, it now seems to be acceptable to label them as a ‘traitor’ or an ‘enemy’. Another symptom is the way the truth seems to have faded away. It’s always been taken for granted that politicians engage in wishful thinking before an election, but this time the promises seem openly detached from reality: no one expects them to be fulfilled. Another troubling indicator of the state of the nation is the way that political appeals seem to increasingly address what used to be called the ‘baser instincts’: greed, hate and fear. A particular concern for the long-term health of the land is the way that there seems to be a move within the main political parties to replace anybody of independent mind with candidates selected, not on merit or integrity, but on their potential to be loyal to the party.
Perhaps the most disturbing symptom of all is, in a country once respected for the gentleness of its politics, the thuggish tone of words and, worst still, of deeds. It does seem that nastiness has become something of a new norm. Surveying the present scene, I can’t help but feel that, in the very deepest and darkest sense, something diabolic is stalking the country. I doubt I’m alone.
That stated, let me offer you my diagnosis of the situation. It may sound novel but bear with me. It is simply this: we have forgotten the first commandment. Yes, that’s the ‘I am the Lord your God and you shall have no other gods before me’ found in Exodus 20:1–3 and Deuteronomy 5:6–7. Let me explain my reasoning. All political systems and societies need an anchor point, some firm foundation upon which the weighty framework of law and behaviour can be cemented so that it will stand firm even when the nation is buffeted by the harshest waves of events and economics. (Incidentally, such an anchorage is particularly important in countries such as the United Kingdom where there is no written constitution.) To neglect, as we have increasingly done over the last fifty years, the supremacy of God in national life has had two consequences.
The first consequence arises because, as we ushered God out of the political arena, restraint went with him. The loss of the idea of an all-seeing God to whom we are all accountable has meant that, as a society, the rulebook is discarded, the barriers are down and the brakes are off. Anything goes. After all, if we are not ultimately answerable to God then why not cheat and lie? Why not utter promises that we have no intention of keeping? Why not undermine our opponents with slander and abuse? Without God, all those codes of politeness, truthfulness and respect that have – at least for most of the time – been a feature of British political affairs for half a millennium, can be dismissed as outdated and inappropriate. Politics has lost its values because it has ignored the only One who can give values. Cut loose from its biblical mooring point, morality is now drifting free at the mercy of the storm, and who knows where it will end up.
The second consequence is more subtle but perhaps even more deadly. Nature abhors a vacuum and in the absence of the true God, pretenders will seek to occupy his throne. The result is that political issues that were once no more than mere ideas or policies have been promoted to powerful ideologies with godlike status. Political goals have become idols that, in return for giving us meaning and motivation, demand our allegiance and obedience. We are seeing the truth of the wisdom that, like so many things, politics is a good servant but a bad master.
I will make some suggestions about how we counter these new idols in my next blog but here I just want to make the obvious one that, in defining the current problem as that of idolatry, we identify the obvious solution: that of rejecting these false gods and making a humble and penitent return to the true God and his tried and tested values.
Let me close by pointing out that it is a characteristic of idols that they demand sacrifices and these are no different. Something must be sacrificed and in this case that ‘something’ is enormous: it is decency, kindness and morality – the very things that make life worth living. ‘What good is it,’ Jesus asked, ‘for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?’ (Mark 8:36 NIV). Let me reverently add to that: what good is it if our cause, whether ‘Brexit’ or ‘Remain’, wins, if in the process we forfeit the soul of the country? Some prices are not worth paying and the everything we hold dear in Britain is one of them.
…and what can we do about it?
In my previous blog on the ugly political and social mood in the UK I suggested that it had arisen because the true God, that all-seeing and all-powerful figure who has dominated British culture for centuries, has been displaced and replaced by political causes which had claimed ultimate authority over us. In summary, we could say that issues became ideologies which, in turn, became idols.
Given this diagnosis we must ask: what can we do about it all? It is certainly tempting in such dark days to do nothing: to disconnect from all news media, find some remote monastery or simply put our head under the pillow and hope that it will all go away. Tempting but, I’m certain, wrong.
So we must act – but how? In the previous blog I suggested that the fundamental solution was a return to a belief in the biblical God and his morality. Let me here go a little further and offer five suggestions for what we can do.
First, we need to reject any idea, however enticingly presented, that says our party or political cause takes priority over morality. One of the most dangerous phrases anyone can utter is ‘my country, right or wrong’ and that applies equally to ‘party’ or ‘cause’. Unless we put morality first then all that we fight for will, sooner or later, be lost. Here, we would do well to remind ourselves of God’s Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2–17, Deuteronomy 5:6–21) with their warnings not just against idolatry (commandments 1 and 2) but against hatred (6), theft (8), lying (9) and greed (10). This is easy to say but harder to do when the false claims, dubious arguments or unfair accusations support the outcome that we personally want. Yet it must be done.
Second, we need to turn down the temperature of the debate. We must remember that maintaining kindness and fairness are more important than winning arguments.
Third, we need to reject all arguments that appeal to that unholy trinity of negative emotions: greed, hate and fear. Instead, we should look towards promoting everything that will encourage generosity, kindness and peace. If there was ever a time where the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3–12) with their appeals to such things as humility, meekness, mercy and above all peace-making were important, it is now.
Fourth, we need to stand firm for the truth. There are many different kinds of lie currently circulating and all need countering. One is the lie of nostalgia. Here an enthralling image of a cosy, contented, friendly Britain with sunlit oak trees, policemen on bicycles, full churches, and doors that stay unlocked at night is conjured up and we are promised that we can have it back. The reality is, of course, that such a picture-postcard world, if it ever really existed, has vanished beyond recovery: the Empire is long lost, we no longer rule the waves and we are simply one of many small nations in a turbulent world. For better or worse, we live in the twenty-first century and we must look to the future not to the past. Another lie that must be challenged is that of the quick fix. The offer is tempting: vote for us, adopt our programme and all will be made well. In 1940, Churchill – whose long shadow still falls over British politics – had the courage to say to the nation, ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.’ Today, in a very different age, we are instead tempted with a peace and prosperity without discomfort, cost or effort. It will not be so. Let us challenge lies – however attractive they may sound – and demand the truth.
Finally, we should pray. I hinted in the previous blog that I felt there was something truly diabolic in what was happening in the country and I mean that. Surely there are ‘powers and principalities’ (Ephesians 6:12) involved here and God’s children should stand firm against them in the name of Christ.
Five suggestions and I can already hear two objections. The first is that it is naive. After all, goes the accusation, we Christians are so few in number that we can do little about the present situation. Well, naivety is an accusation that has been thrown at Christians for nearly two thousand years by kings, emperors and tyrants, but the fact is they have gone and we remain. Indeed, for all its many failures, it is Christians who have shaped the modern world.
The second objection is that it is dangerous. Alas, that is true. But to choose to stand up for the true God against powerful idols always was dangerous. The cross is not simply a reference to the great historic event that allowed us to become followers of Christ; it refers to a principle that should govern every Christian life. In view of all that is at risk, not just at the present but for the future, we need to stand firm against the idols of our time. Given all that is at stake, if doing that requires sacrifice, then so be it. Some prices are worth paying.
5th December 2019