The Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent speech to the TUC (Trade Unions Congress) to mark their 150th anniversary was well received by many who saw it as a wonderful example of the Church ‘speaking truth to power’ and standing up for the marginalised and the oppressed – and particularly workers’ rights. It was also heavily criticised by the Tories as being party political and not the sort of behaviour expected from an Archbishop. Indeed, Phillip Davies MP said“Mr Welby should quit his position as the head of the church and join the Labour Party properly if he wishes to comment on issues of government”, suggesting that the Archbishop“ought to consider removing his dog collar and replacing it with a Labour Party rosette”.
It always amazes me the number of times that we hear people (usually politicians) trot out the old adage that ‘Politics and Religion shouldn’t mix’ as if they have absolutely nothing to do with each other, and of course in reality this statement couldn’t be further from the truth. People of all descriptions have every right to challenge the authorities on political matters whenever necessary and Christians are no different. It’s just that their particular understanding of the world is inevitably coloured by their religious faith and perspective – a perspective which sees all people as equally important ‘made in the image of God’ and loved by him. Although nobody would suggest that Christians have a monopoly on moral goodness or social fairness, matters of mutual love and respect, service and justice are biblical themes repeatedly seen in the lives of the prophets, Jesus and the apostles as they sought to transform a broken and sinful world into ‘the Kingdom of God’. It was Archbishop Desmond Tutu who once exclaimed that “I don’t know what Bible people are referring to when they say that politics and religion shouldn’t mix”, because the Bible is full of politics.
The simple fact is that Christians are not motivated to be a thorn in the side of any one political party, but all political parties if their programmes and policies undermine and speak in the face of Christian values and principles, and in truth this is what being a prophet is all about. It’s about bravely speaking God’s truth into the world wherever necessary without fear or favour, appropriately challenging and encouraging it in due portion. Indeed, the Apostle Paul always felt that his task was to preach on ‘the whole counsel of God’ (Acts 20.27) and he wouldn’t allow any ‘political’ party or those in authority to prevent him from doing so, for usually the people who make the loudest protest about the mixing of religion and politics are those who fundamentally misunderstand the nature of Christian witness and would rather avoid the glare of its inspection.
And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6.8
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