Sunday, June 18, 2017

Clergy need to have more in common

The other day I was involved a minor twitter spat with one who we shall describe as "a well-known blogger". I say minor because, honestly, it would not even feature on the Richter Scale of such altercations. It was more an exchange of slightly grumpy tweets followed by what each party imagines to be a dignified silence (note to self - don't engage with well-known bloggers at 10 pm at the end of a long and gruelling week).

The cause of the dispute, you ask? The said well-known blogger was objecting to the number of clergy online who are joining the call for the resignation of the Prime Minister in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster and, well, everything else. I tried to question whether he would be equally disgusted if they were to give the same treatment to a Labour Prime Minister, whereupon he immediately took me to be one of the pitchfork-wielding mob, and sent me to Coventry.

The irony is that, on one point at least, I agree with the w-kb. The sight of Priests and Bishops lining up to call for the Prime Minister's head, in such a nakedly partisan way, makes me very queasy. Should Christian Ministers campaign for the interests of a political party? It's long been my opinion that they should not, and in the current situation I feel that more strongly than ever.

Of course, the Christian gospel is highly political. Anyone who reads the Bible and maintains otherwise is either missing half the pages or is being selective to the point of myopia. But what you won't find in the Bible is the manifesto of any particular party. You'll find some things which match the aspirations of any mainstream party, and other things which would make them extremely uncomfortable. Anyone who maintains otherwise is either missing half the pages, or is.. anyway, you know the rest. And Politics is a noble profession. I don't subscribe to the notion that politicians are all venal, mendacious chancers. Most are motivated by the desire to serve the public and to change things for the better. But, being duty-bound to keep to the party line, or at least to maintain the pretence that they are right and the other lot are wrong, they operate in an oppositional and abrasive way. This is not the calling of the clergy, or anyone who is in Christian ministry.

If my calling is to be a representative of Christ to people (however you understand that), how can I possibly be, if I alienate more than half of them by attacking their politics? And if I am called to preach Christ (again, however understood), isn't it confusing, to say the least, if I also preach the [insert name] party? It seems to me that this vocation demands that we are political, with a small p, but to eschew Party Politics, at least in public.

The Church of England has established a role for itself in critiquing the Government of the day, a role which perhaps began with Faith in the City, which so famously annoyed Mrs Thatcher. Recent examples including the Feeding Britain report, in which the Bishop of Truro played a leading role, and the ministry of Justin Welby, who walks the tightrope with great skill. But this role demands a political independence which is compromised if we start to cheerlead for one side (or the other).

Recently many people marked the anniversary of the murder of Jo Cox by celebrating her words, that "we have far more in common with each other than that which divides us". Perhaps, not for the first time, the church needs to heed a message from outside in order to communicate its own message more effectively.

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