Let’s get this straight; I don’t support City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea or Leeds. But I have been recently musing the widespread adulation of Sir Alex Ferguson that has now led to 2 MPs (Tony Lloyd, Graham Stringer) calling for his elevation to the House of Lords. You cannot argue against the proposition that he is one of the most effective football mangers of all time, the facts speak for themselves. But I am concerned that further public recognition will send very damaging signals to society about attitudes and behaviour in public life. He is a person who regularly uses intimidation as a tool to control others. Psychological intimidation is an outrageous abuse of power in any situation and, such is his position, that he usually holds all the cards (e.g. the recent incident of the exclusion of the journalist who dared to ask about Ryan Giggs). Love is the very opposite of overbearing control- it comes from inner security that generates freedom and encouragement. It is not self-obsessed; it cares more about others than its own reputation. Sir Alex Ferguson has shown that when he feels affronted, he withholds forgiveness and co-operation (e.g. The BBC’s investigations into his son’s activities as a football agent that has led to years of non-communication). These may be understandable reactions but they are hugely damaging to everyone concerned and should be challenged not encouraged by further decoration. A friend once said ‘I’m interested in having courageous conversations’. I hope those around him are having such conversations to help see reconciliation as the better way. And in the meantime, elevation to public office seems entirely inappropriate- do we want playground bullies up and down the land to be given a large, public seal of approval?
picture via http://www.guardian.co.uk
A tweet from Tom Harris MP:
The only way Fred Goodwin could be any more unpopular is if his alleged affair had been with Nick Clegg.
It is just over 12 months ago that one man was touring the UK to address crowds of well-wishers, fans and even a few voters in the final stages of the General Election campaign. Buoyed by a strong performance in the leaders’ debates, Nick Clegg appeared to have been elevated to that much envied status of political pop star. How things have changed. After forming the coalition with the Conservatives, embracing deficit reduction plans and U-turning on tuition fees, he is now the object of opposition scorn where MPs compete to see who can be nastiest to prove their tribal credentials. And even those on the government’s side don’t seem to hold a high opinion:
Mr Clegg was mocked by both Tory and Labour MPs as he gave a statement in the Commons on the proposals, which will now be scrutinised by a committee of 13 peers and 13 MPs, with a report due early next year. (Discussing the launch of Lord’s reforms- The Daily Telegraph)
He seems to have gone from Palm Sunday adulation to Good Friday mockery in the course of 12 roller coaster months. But this post isn’t about feeling sorry for the Deputy Prime Minister, rather to learn the salutory lesson of human identity. If we base our identity, our value in the opinions of others, then we will be all over the place in our sense of worth. We will think we can change the world one minute, unable to change the sheets the next. We all make mistakes, we all break promises- it’s just that most of us don’t have them beamed up in the full glare of public opinion. Of course, it’s public opinion that got Nick Clegg where he was 12 months ago and if you can’t stand the heat… But our identity is rooted in the image of God implanted in each one of us and that, for all our foolishness, deceit and self-centredness the man who is God was stuck on a tree. This is our worth. This reclaims our identity if we respond to his act of self-sacrifice. It gives us the strength to cope with the fluctuations of praise and criticism, of respect and contempt.We may not have dog mess posted through our letterboxes but we have sharp-tongued exchanges designed to destroy rather than build-up. And it would be wise to know who we are when we face it.
So the referendum is almost upon us and it’s time to put an ‘X’ in a box. Could it be that next time we go to a national poll we place a ’1′ and possibly a ’2′, ’3′ against the options? This AV debate has lurched from the surreal (‘only 3 countries have it’) to exaggeration (‘it’ll do away with safe seats’) and wild inaccuracies (‘it will cost £250 million’) to tribal abuse (‘the death rattle of a right-wing clique’). It’s been hugely unedifying largely because both sides are desperate to capture some interest when the public are preoccupied with their household finances and the Royal Wedding. So here are my thoughts. I argued before the last general election that safe seats under first past the post (FPTP) are a travesty of democracy (I live in one). I’ve witnessed hustings in marginal seats where the outcome is uncertain and I’ve witnessed them in safe seats where everyone is going through the motions. I’ve even heard candidates from safe seats discuss how much time they spend campaigning in other marginals during the election period. I have never lived in a marginal seat and maybe I would get fed up with endless leaflets arriving at 6am for two months before an election. But I do believe it would better if there were more seats with uncertain outcomes so that candidates really gave it everything they’d got. If they had to think not just about first preferences but second, third and fourth it might put them back into contact with people different to themselves. And they might adjust their views to widen their appeal and be more representative. I don’t buy the line that we will inevitably end up with more coalitions (just look at Canada under FPTP or Australia under AV) but even if we did this is about representing more people, more comprehensively and giving more electors a say in their MP. AV will not do away with safe seats but it will lead to fewer of them and more marginals. It will not lead to every MP working harder for your vote (many do their best already) but it will mean that many will listen to a wider cross-section of their constituents. And it won’t solve our cynicism of politicians at a stroke but it will get more of us involved in shaping the political culture. This is not a horse race, it’s about democracy. I’m hopeful of the possibilities that change could bring rather then fearful of it. So I’m putting a ‘X’ in the ‘YES’ box hoping that in future General elections I will be putting ’1′ ’2′ ’3′.
Reading George Pascoe-Watson’s account of the changes in the Foreign Office led me to thinking about relationships and power. In summary, it seems that due to the decline of UK military might the FO is on a relational offensive to make numerous strategic partnerships to act in concert when world events require a supranational voice. So far, so good and many of us will welcome the downgrading of armed diplomacy in favour of a more consensual form. However, there is a niggle in the back of my mind and it is this: Is there still a latent British superiority that informs our approach to international relationships? If the only reason to get involved is to ‘get our way’ then perhaps we are still a bit too big for our boots. We all know that relationships can be easily manipulated by the more savvy especially when the receiver of this new attention is in awe of their new suitor. Let’s hope that the FO team are as good at listening as they are at sharing. For we in the UK have much to learn about working cross-culturally and understanding the realpolitik of emerging nations. True relationships require the hard yards of respect, time and understanding- building a platform for sharing expertise and experience. The outcomes may be very different from pre-conceived ideas but they have much more chance of being mutually beneficial than hastily-arranged diplomatic trysts. So, FO staff, do your jobs well and we will all be much the better off.
The mysteries of the social media age are still being unravelled but the most obvious conclusion is that they have changed the nature of many relationships. Quite what this change is, to which relationships the change applies and how we assess the impact is something I suspect researchers will be hard on the trail of in the coming years. Recently I had the pleasure of giving feedback to a project that looked at this and one of the most striking aspects was the increasing sense of loneliness amongst one of the highest user groups (18-24 year olds). The social researcher, John Cacioppo commented:
‘We are seeing loneliness increase over time… this is going to be a problem with which we need to deal.’
So the problem is not lack of connection- it is exactly the reverse. It seems that the proliferation of electronic connection masks our lack of real relational depth. (counting your Facebook friends, anybody?) Not only this, but it exaggerates our insecurity as we observe others relating online, perceiving that they are gaining fulfilment and significance whereas we are missing out (and in one study that root of relational meltdown, jealousy, reared its very ugly head). Electronic communication can only do so much, there is a lack of nuance, body language, touch and often the tone of online text-based communication is badly lacking. This often leads to an acute awareness of physical isolation that human beings have never encountered in such numbers before. And so our presumptions are turned on their head – whilst we often think that isolation is a growing problem with advancing age it is now at its most significant when adulthood is only just upon us. Theologically, we recognise that relationships are the way we are made, the God who is relationship creates us for relationship with him and relationship with others. So isolation is the very worst thing that can happen to any of us. It’s time as a church that we start addressing this with community-encouraging initiatives amongst first-jobbers because the consequences of inaction for mental health and life prospects are potentially scary.
I once heard it said that an evangelical was someone who had a sneaking suspicion that someone out there was having a better time than they were. It seems that many in the online community can identify with that.
On Saturday 75 of us gathered at Woodlands Church in Bristol to participate in a number of seminars and sessions looking at ‘Politics: Why bother?’. Hosted by LoveBristol the various sessions included contributions by Christians in Parliament through the SUSA project. It was an inspiring time due to the diversity of all present and the differing focus of each session. There was very much a sense that worship & justice are interwoven into our humanity leading us to connect with our creator and with his beloved creation. We heard from Christians involved in Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Greens, seasoned with observations from an anarchist. We were able to drill down into some of the cut and thrust of elected politics by hearing personal observations and reflections. Stories were told of successes in public policy (e.g. change in law to prosecute those paying for sex with victims of trafficking) and questions were answered about getting to know elected politicians. The feel of the day was very positive, suggesting that change can come about when prayerful, passionate believers follow their calling into the public space. A particular highlight was hearing the testimony of a local youth worker whose impact on her own challenging neighbourhood was truly inspirational- do the police let themselves in to your house to make a cup of tea? And she used to hate them…
For more information about SUSA click here
For more information about LoveBristol click here
The UK government has a great opportunity to opt-in to the EU Directive ‘Preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting victims’. As has been widely commented on, the Coalition Agreement stated that this government would make tackling human trafficking a priority. But at this stage, the government appears unwilling to sign-up to a very sensible series of articles that will update and enhance the protection of the most vulnerable people, including children. When the voting in Europe was more closely examined, it emerged that ALL Conservative and Lib Dem MEPs present voted in favour of the directive. Indeed, when I was over in Brussels recently, one MEP said she wasn’t sure what the objections were in London. And now it has emerged that the Conservative MEP Timothy Kirkhope, speaking on behalf of the European Conservatives and Reformists group has stated:
“It is still not perfect but the directive we have now is far better than the original proposal and, on balance, we felt that the human benefits would outweigh the concerns that we had.”
So, is the government listening to the more coherent voices emanating from its own members in Brussels? Or are they prepared to keep their focus on domestic politics, declaring that they will not opt-in for fear of conceding ground to the EU? If so, it’s difficult to see how they can say that tackling human trafficking is still a priority.
This is a skeleton of a bible overview for helping other Christians in the area of socio-political involvement. It covers a lot of ground so when personal examples are added and more contemporary examples are given [often with video clip(s)] I reckon it’s achievable in 30 minutes. Use as you wish, comment as you see fit.
What does the Bible have to say about politics? [an overview]
Introduction: As Christians we have no hesitation talking about love but we find it more complicated to talk about justice. Sometimes, we fail to see the link.
Dr Cornell West: ‘Justice is what love looks like in public’
Establishing our human dignity
Human dignity is like a golden thread that runs through our approach to influencing public policy. Whether the youngest or the oldest, whether the most able or the most incapacitated, whether the richest or the poorest our human dignity should be cherished, celebrated, protected and nourished.
Examine Genesis 1: 26-28
Making three points
- We are God’s image bearers- we represent Him on Earth
- We are created in His image to be relational
- We are given stewardship responsibilities
Draw in Genesis 2:15-25 to emphasise the relational requirements implied by the two sexes working together
Reflections on Genesis 3
Because of our desire for independent living several consequences follow:
- Our relationship with God is fractured
- Our relationship with one another has become more complicated
- Our relationship with ourselves is diminished
- Our relationship with the rest of creation is demanding
A brief sample of OT examples here can be useful e.g. Jehoshaphat, Nehemiah, Daniel
The legitimate place of government in the NT- Jesus and the paying of taxes. Some distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world is necessary. The bringing in of the kingdom is not a government’s responsibility- that’s the mandate of the church.
Limiting the effects of a fallen world
Romans 13:1-7 helps us to see the relationship between God and state.
The state is established by God (remarkable given the growing hostility between the Roman state and the Christian minority)
- The state is there to do you good
- The state has responsibilities to ensure law and order (limiting the effects of living in a fallen world)
- Christians should be obedient citizens
- Christians should pray for their leaders
The big unanswered question: What happens when the state fails to live up to its requirements? Campaigning is the prophetic witness of the church.
This is a prophetic role, calling the nation’s leaders to minimise the effects of living in a fallen, dysfunctional world. And to allow us the freedom to point to a better way.
Examples: Wilberforce, Jubilee Campaign, Australian family centres for relationship breakdown
We began by discussing justice and love. Justice is what love looks like in public. We don’t expect government to preach about Jesus- that’s the church’s job- we can encourage the government to protect our common bond, our human dignity.
In the hustle and bustle of a BBC cafe (with Shami Chakrabarti to our left) Jeff and I chatted. Well, I asked a few questions and Jeff energetically told his story. Having spent many years in the finance industries of Zimbabwe, Jeff became politically active- firstly through union representation and later through supporting political candidates. At the turn of the century he left- fearing for his safety and well-being. His wife and family already here (staying on a student visa), he eventually applied for asylum but was rejected despite working throughout. He decided to study nursing in the UK and applied for a student visa but was completely ignored by the Home Office. Frustrated and angry (yes, even his MP had no luck with his case) he tried to leave the UK with a forged passport and was arrested and detained. At this point, the Home Office were more interested- but he was still charged and sent to prison (due to the fraudulent documents). Emerging over four months later he went through the process to eventually become ‘legal’ able to remain in the UK, pay taxes and survive. Now he is an active community organiser, a team leader of a Zimbabwean internship scheme with a vision to rebuild the skills bank of that country. He is passionate about preventing the detention of children for immigration purposes and actively advocates an amnesty for those ‘illegals’ who could be tax-paying citizens contributing in every way to our society. Hi work as part of Strangers into Citizens is quite literally giving a voice to the voiceless, advocacy and empowerment working in tandem.
It seems to me that there is much work to be done highlighting this problem- thousands of individuals here without the correct paperwork yet earning a wage, acting responsibly but unable to be citizens. Sadly, the last election campaign degenerated into a bidding war about who could be toughest on immigration- leaving ‘illegals’ out in the cold. Could an amnesty be a win-win where their taxes contribute to sustaining services in our society and their human dignity is validated and nourished by conferring equal status?
for more information look up the work of Strangers into Citizens, a branch of Citizens UK- click here.
There are dirty political campaigns (plenty of them) and there are campaigns so vile that a rarely constituted court is forced to intervene to restore some sense of fair play to the electoral system. In standing with those who believe that a law so infrequently invoked cannot be said to be over-intrusive, I applaud the decision to ensure a rerun of the Oldham East and Saddleworth General Election campaign. True, we don’t want the legal profession deciding our elected representatives but it is surely better to render null and void a result that was so skewed by untruth (The Labour Party accepting that point) that it was meaningless. It brought to mind an occasion when the boot was firmly on the other foot when the Lib Dems were the perpetrators of sloganneering ‘Local Homes for Local People’ in their 1990 campaign in Tower Hamlets- Paddy Ashdown’s inquiry leading to three expulsions. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a political leader look so relieved to see his party lose control of a council as Ashdown did in 1994. This kind of gutter politics has to be challenged to keep us all from being deceived by deliberate lies. My worry is, though, that we may well be in for more of the same in the coming years. As we saw in the General Election campaign, when jobs are scarce then the panic button of immigration is pushed repeatedly. As the cuts bite, especially in communities with large immigrant communities, parties may well be tempted to use the issue as a way to get their vote out. One line of a professor’s article about the future of the Irish economy today stood out:
‘Within five years, both Civil War parties are likely to have been brushed aside by a hard right, anti-Europe, anti-Traveller party’
In the UK our predicament may not be so severe. But the underlying resentment will fester and grow if we sit back and allow a xenophobic agenda to take root in difficult times. If you think I may be overstating my worries, have a glance at a quote from Migration watch issued on Conservative Home today (and don’t read the comments, if faint of heart):
‘Meanwhile, whole sections of some of our cities have become unrecognisable as part of England’
It is probably sensible to monitor and regulate immigration to the UK. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that scapegoating the foreigner- whom I seem to remember was protected in OT law- is a justifiable measure of patriotic behaviour. In recognising Ireland’s utter dependency on other nations in the coming years, Professor Kelly offers no solutions. Instead he closes with this assessment:
‘From here on, for better or worse, we can only rely on the kindness of strangers’
Maybe kindness isn’t such a bad thing.