Graham Tomlin (2009) calls it provocative. Chesterton (1908) calls it paradoxical. Paul calls it foolishness (1 Cor 1:23). Living out the Gospel story is an act of faith, hope and love (1 Cor 13:13). It is not always an easy task. The children in Bethlehem are killed (Matt 2:16). Stephen is stoned (Acts 7:55-60). In the Middle East today Christians are under threat of their lives. Jesus Christ may be the answer but we still have to provide the questions in the life we live. Depending on our circumstances we talk about liberation theology (Gutierrez 1988), narrative theology (Hauerwas 1983) or contextual theology (Bevans 2004).
If you are a parish priest a life of faith, hope and love includes moving chairs for events in the church hall, photocopying service sheets for Sunday morning and week-by-week sermon preparation. When it comes to moving chairs and photocopying the task seems endless. When it comes to sermons the drumbeats for the General Election are beginning to sound.
The Election comes at a crucial point in our history. In the Second World War we shot at each other. Afterwards we set up trade agreements to keep the peace. Global trade became the order of the day. With Brexit we are rethinking the role of the nation state within globalism. We vote to take back control of our borders and become poorer as a result. The next generation will be the first generation, in a more than a century, to be materially worse off than their parents and home owning congregation members have been a part of the political process that has made this so. Generation Rent who show no signs of ever being able to afford the costs of housing ask with some justification ‘when are the rich old going to stop oppressing the poor young’.
We are to be hot or cold but never lukewarm (Rev 3:15). In Election terms this means that we might be joyful or sad, delighted or angry at what is happening but apathy and cynicism are not an option. I am uneasy at how we seem to have become a one party state with a lack of any serious opposition to the Tory Party. I am upset at how we allow immigrants to be served up as scapegoats for how uncomfortable we are with ourselves. Last year we has the anniversary of the Somme, the publication of the Chilcott enquiry and the results of Brexit all happen within a few days of each other. I am excited at how this gives an opportunity to the Church to reimagine different ways of us being together in society.
Christians end as they begin looking into the face of Christ. Provocative (Tomlin 2009), paradoxical (Chesterton 1908) and foolishness (1 Cor 1:23), it is faith, hope and love that drives our political engagement. EU Referendum voter turn out in the 18 – 24 year old category was 36%. Local elections voter turn out was around 36%. This level of political disengagement is not an option for Christians. I tell my congregation to decide for themselves how they will vote but at the least to make sure that they do so. We are so used to seeing revolutions happen across the world that we fail to realise that we are in the middle of one ourselves. “We are”, says Archbishop Justin, “to engage with sweeping economic, political, social and cultural changes and to be the answer that God provides" The work to make this happen carries on Sunday by Sunday in the Church pews.