CAN EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS NO LONGER BE IN POLITICS?

tim farron

Naturally, our hearts go out to all the people that were caught up so tragically in the fire that destroyed the Grenfell Tower in North Kensington. We pay tribute to the fire and other emergency services and we applaud the amazing generosity, love and charity demonstrated by the people of the local community. We pray for all affected and hope that lessons will be learned to prevent such tragedies in the future.

However, on the same day another interesting story took place when Tim Farron announced that he would be standing down as leader of the Liberal Democrats citing the pressures that had been placed upon him by the media due to his Christian convictions particularly over the matter of ‘Gay Sex’. “A better, wiser person may have been able to deal with this more successfully, to remain faithful to Christ while leading a political party in the current environment. To be a leader, particularly of a progressive liberal party in 2017 and to live as a committed Christian and to hold faithful to the Bible’s teaching has felt impossible for me,” he said.

The irony of all this was that Tim Farron’s voting record had been exemplary in the support of gay rights and as a politician he had publicly and passionately supported peoples’ rights to live in whatever way they chose, regardless of his own personal thoughts or opinion. Knowing that biblically and theologically speaking, the bible does regard gay sex as a sin (it’s hard to come to any other conclusion if you read the Bible honestly) the media saw this as a stick to beat him with and wouldn’t let it drop, despite the fact that Tim Farron had represented all of his constituents with integrity to the best of his ability (even though the Office for National Statistics itself believes that the gay community only represents 1.5% of the population). It’s interesting to note that the media didn’t bully Muslim MPs in the same way, even though the whole matter of gay sex is just as contentious in the Qur’an and Islam as it is in the Bible, which once again is an example of systematic media bias and spin.

The problem with our society is one of an extremely bad and intolerant ‘political correctness’ which doesn’t only wish to restrict any form of language which might offend, marginalise or disadvantage people on grounds of race, sex or religion (which is good) but actually stifles debate in the process (which is bad) and is intolerant of anyone who doesn’t hold the commonly held party view, regardless of its failings.

Over the years many Christians have faithfully and passionately sought to serve their communities with ‘love and devotion’, seeing it as part of their Christian and political vocation to make the world a better place. We have a proud Christian heritage which has shaped many of our laws and influenced the way we govern ourselves and look after one another, based on mutual understanding and the traditional Christian values of love, justice, equality and the intrinsic worth of the individual made ‘in the image of God’. It would therefore be such a shame and a real detriment to our communities if Christians were discouraged from entering politics or thought that their contributions to society were of little value or worth.


“Love the Lord your God with all your heart … and love your neighbour as yourself.” Luke 10.27

GOOD MORNING, MR PRESIDENT!

donald-trump-e1484933490944

By the time, you get to read this letter, Donald J Trump will have been sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America, and life, it seems will never be the same again. Adopting Ronald Reagan’s campaign slogan, Donald Trump will set about ‘making America great again’, but not without some controversy. Will Donald J Trump build a wall between the United States and Mexico? Will he impose import taxes on US companies that create product intended for the US market whilst using foreign workers in foreign plants? Will he continue to stir up controversy with China whilst seeking to improve relations with Russia? Will he continue to denounce the workings of the American Intelligence agencies, and with regard to Russia – is he politically compromised? The list of controversial questions seems to be added to each day with a flurry of response being sent on Twitter.

But can President Trump ‘make America great again’ and is he really that powerful? Well, in a sense the answer is both yes and no! As President, he certainly commands a lot of power, but in theory even he is subject to the higher authority of the American Constitution. It is this document which is so sacred to Americans which is considered to be the ultimate resort. Congress may make laws, but it is the American courts which interpret them according to the Constitution and determine how they should ultimately be applied – a system designed, it is said, to prevent any one person having too much power or being subject to corruption. However, this means that ultimate power can be said to reside with the unelected members of the Supreme Court. To counter their influence American Presidents are able to appoint a number of ‘Justices’ to the Supreme Court according to their political persuasion; Republicans tend to appoint conservatives or ‘originalist’ judges and justices who will always try to interpret the law according to the Constitution as it was originally understood by the ‘founding fathers’. Democrats will say that the Constitution is a ‘living document’ which needs to be interpreted according to the issues of the day and so will appoint Liberal or ‘activist’ judges and justices, and try to promote their own particular agenda on modern day issues of concern (e.g. abortion). This is one of the main reasons why Presidential campaigns become so messy as everyone wants to get their candidate elected so that they might be able to shape and influence society and politics not just within Congress but through the courts. The problem with Donald Trump it seems, is that because of his outlandish statements and apparent policy making ‘on the hoof’ he’s been quite capable of upsetting both Republicans and Democrats and so his candidacy as President hasn’t always been easy for either side to settle with or predict.

So where does this leave us? Well, the Christian response has always been to pray for those in authority that they will govern wisely and well for the benefit of all people, and do all that they can to support and encourage them in that task. Equally, in a period of so much change and uncertainty, we are encouraged to think about what do we consider to be our ultimate guide and authority? For many Christians that guide would be the Bible, which has been the foundation and backbone of so many of our laws and legal frameworks within British Society for countless generations, but the constant task is of course, not only to understand the context in which the Bible was originally written, but how we can also best apply it to today’s modern society. We may call ourselves Great Britain, but in my own humble opinion, our national status would be greatly enhanced if we were to spend a little more time quietly, prayerfully, and intelligently reflecting upon some of the biblical and Christian principles which have served us so well in the past.


 “Pray for all people … kings and all those in authority, that we may live a tranquil and peaceful life in all godliness and dignity” 1 Timothy 2.2


 

POLITICS, LEADERSHIP AND AUTHORITY – WHAT A RESPONSIBILITY!

Tony Blair

They say ‘a week is a long time in politics’, but it’s taken seven long years for the Chilcot Report to be published. The Inquiry into the Iraq war may have been announced by Prime Minister Gordon Brown on 15th June 2009 but the final report published on the 6th July 2016 with its ‘damming conclusions’ about the ‘decision to go to war’ and upon what basis the nation did so, immediately shone a light, once again, upon his predecessor, Tony Blair. The media were waiting with eager anticipation as to what he would say – and whether he would apologise for the deaths of 179 British Servicemen and many others killed during the conflict.

The pros and cons of such a debate are far too long and complex for me to consider here, but they do raise some interesting questions about power, leadership and authority, and raise the conundrum of what do we do when the people that we vote into government (often with large popular majorities), do things that we rather wish they didn’t? Frequently the cry is for firm leadership – but what happens when our leaders firmly direct us in the wrong direction? Understandably many people will have a view on Tony Blair, and hindsight as they say is a wonderful (and occasionally cruel) thing, but perhaps it should be noted that despite his many failings Chilcot does not say that Tony Blair wilfully deceived Parliament, rather that he honestly believed the flawed intelligence that had been given to him, and despite many people marching in protest against the war, polls showed that at the time, public opinion was overwhelmingly in support of military action. All of which goes to show how easy it is for us a nation to be led up the garden path, unless we ensure that all the appropriate checks and balances are in place. This is all salient, because once again we find ourselves as a nation at a crossroads, and once again ‘firm leadership’ is called for as the Conservative Party elects a new leader and Prime Minister. In homage to Margaret Thatcher, Teresa May and Andrea Leadsom are already being touted as the new ‘iron maidens’ for our generation but they will need to be careful that in their desire to provide firm and positive leadership in the light of the nation’s decision to leave the EU, that they do so collegiately and with the full support of their cabinet, colleagues and party members or else they too in future years could find the swathe of public opinion against them. Firm leadership is not always about getting one’s own way, but taking sound advice and acting in the best interest of others.

It’s interesting that there is a sober lesson to be the learnt from the pages of the Bible, because at one point the people of Israel were so unhappy with their current system of leadership, that instead of the historic train of prophets ruling over them, they demanded a king so that they might be like all the “other nations” having a king to govern them and go out before them and fight their battles (1 Samuel 8). The prophet Samuel saw this as a rejection of God’s voice and authority administered via the prophets and warned them about all the disadvantages of having a king and the possible corruption that came with it, but the people wouldn’t listen. So Samuel prayed to God about it who graciously let the people have their way. The lesson is that sometimes God grants us the very thing that we wish for, but then not only do we have to take responsibility for our actions but we sometimes also have to live with the consequences.


And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with your God. Micah 6.8


EU REFERENDUM – SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?

eu referendum shutterstock_392967421

In the light of the EU referendum on the 23rd June, “The Clash’s” 1982 song Should I Stay or Should I Go (complete with backing vocals in Spanish) seems to sum up the mood of the moment as people struggle to decide which way they will vote ( ‘this indecision’s bugging me’ – esta indecision me molesta ). How do we decide? The problem is, of course, that a good case can be made either way. Most people would consider the ‘Common Market’ to be a good thing and initially thought that this was what they were joining, but over the years the EU has changed beyond recognition, becoming a vast bureaucratic machine (some would say empire) that has power and influence over most aspects of common life, from weights and measures, to rights of employees, to the environment. Over time, the size of the EU has also changed from the original six nations in 1957, to nine in 1973 when the United Kingdom joined, to the current twenty-eight, with other nations such as Turkey wanting to join at some point in the future. Many of the benefits have been considerable; cheaper products; greater choice and opportunity; stronger ties with European partners leading to a greater sense of mutual understanding, co-operation, stability, security and peace. The economic, corporate and personal opportunities have also been immense with the free movement of individuals across the continent seeking work and a better way of life.

Equally, as ‘the club’ grows bigger the disadvantages have become more apparent (and some would say irritating). Britain’s influence isn’t what it once was as it tries to negotiate with 27 other partners. The ‘one size fits all’ approach of Brussels doesn’t always seem to make allowance for exceptional or national circumstances, resulting in a perceived lack of sovereignty and a reduced ability to determine one’s own future (or even manage one’s own borders).

So, what IS the answer? Well, in some ways it’s hard to see ‘the wood for the trees’ as nobody really knows what life would be like if Brexit occurred. There are naturally a lot of fear stories and some things said which simply don’t appear to be logical. Why, for instance should our security arrangements be changed, because we decide to make the political and commercial decision to withdraw from EU? Collaborative working in this area seems only natural and no one is seriously suggesting otherwise.

David Cameron and Boris Johnson might be clashing with one another but in reality it seems to me that we have two choices! We either stick with the tried and trusted with all its imperfections and try to reform things for the better from within the EU, recognising the value of international co-operation – or we say that the EU is impossible to reform and has become simply too big for its own good, weighed down with its own bureaucracy hindering the creative talent, and well-being of individual nations such as ours. It’s a big decision and a difficult choice but it’s still our choice, and so I would like to urge you to do your best and think around the issues, be bold, courageous and use your democratic freedom to the best effect and vote. Vote not just for yourself or for what will benefit you in the short term, but vote for your children, grandchildren and their children, vote for future generations – what will give them the best chance of living in peace and prosperity? Vote for the nation!


“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29.11


THE DILEMMA OF VOTING FOR THE RIGHT KIND OF LEADER

500

This week the Labour Party will start to elect its new leader and many will breathe a huge sigh of relief to think that at long last it’s nearly over. Whatever one’s political view, it’s hard to pretend that this particular Labour Contest hasn’t thrown up a few surprises. Who would have thought that Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy would have proved so popular? It’s even been dubbed Corbynmania by the press as this most left-wing of the four leadership candidates throws the election contest wide open to the astonishment of the Labour party’s political elite and former leaders. With 610,753 people registered to vote, many see Jeremy Corbyn as the new fresh voice of traditional, socialist Labour values; whereas others warn that his leadership will be a disastrous move for the Labour Party, rendering it practically unelectable as its moves away from the centre ground which proved so popular under Tony Blair and ‘New Labour’. I guess we shall just have to wait and see which of these political perspectives comes out on top, but surely Gordon Brown was right when he argued that the main thing all political parties needed to offer the electorate is hope!

One of the privileges of living in a democracy is the fact that we get a chance to say who we would like to represent us. Sometimes this process can be quite challenging, daunting and uncomfortable – ‘I would like to vote for you but I most certainly wouldn’t want to vote for you’. How do we cope when we feel that our trust has been misplaced or the person representing us doesn’t adequately share our vision? We want leaders, but only when they agree with us! It was precisely this sort of dilemma that faced people when Jesus first burst on to the scene. At first he was taken as a radical, someone who would challenge the authorities, kick against the establishment, and give power to the people. He spoke about a kingdom that was ‘breaking in’, being established before their very eyes, but not just any kingdom this was ‘the kingdom of God’! It all sounded very revolutionary, but was Jesus the king? Was he the long awaited and eagerly anticipated Messiah? “Who do people say I am?” Jesus once asked his disciples. “Some say John the Baptist; others Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets” was the general reply. Only Peter had the courage to voice what no doubt many of the others were thinking – “You are the Messiah” he said. There it was, out in the open, the Messiah was here! Well done Peter! But almost immediately hopes and dreams were turned upside down as Jesus explained that he was required to go to Jerusalem, face suffering and rejection and even death, culminating three days later in his resurrection. This was astonishingly dismal! What about all those hopes and dreams about the cleansing and restoration of the Jewish Temple; defeating the enemy (namely the Romans) who threatened and oppressed God’s people; and the long awaited longing for justice and freedom – were all these hopes and dreams to be horribly broken and terribly smashed? Surely Jesus was mistaken and Peter rebukes him. It was unthinkable that the long awaited Messiah and King should face suffering, rejection and death. The problem was then (as it is today) that so many people want a leader, but not a leader like that!  Not one who was so completely at odds with their long held vision, dreams and values. Now, I’m not remotely suggesting that Jeremy Corbyn is the ‘saviour’ of the Labour Party, but it is this clash of perspectives and ideals which I find most fascinating.

Peter was in turn rebuked by Jesus who accused him of not having in mind ‘the things of God, but the things of men’. His vision was simply too mundane and too small to comprehend all that God had in store. I don’t know what lies in store for our nation or the Labour Party, but biblically speaking, the ministry of Jesus achieved something way beyond our human imagination, for it provides us all with the possibility of a new start, a new and restored relationship with God which provides us with new possibilities and encourages us to work towards a more loving, fair and just society, with rewards not just for the present moment but for all eternity. That’s what Jesus the Messiah meant when he spoke about the Kingdom of God breaking in and this is a cause of much joy, celebration and hope. Naturally, he wins my vote – what about yours?

‘but what about you? He asked. “who do you say I am?”’ Mark 8.29