NEWSLETTER for Sunday 28 August from our Team Rector, Peter Reiss

Religion and Politics don’t mix!   Actually they do – they always have done, because politics mixes with everything. They can’t not, because opting out of politics is itself a political decision – not to get involved is a decision as much as getting involved is a decision. Even the religious hermit has made a political decision.

I was fortunate, very fortunate, to be able to do my research in South Africa and looking at how the church responded to apartheid, an extreme political movement, and one which some sectors of the church had actively supported, whose architects were avowedly Christian; And it was also Christians in the lead (with others of other faiths and none) who opposed apartheid with the same Bible but very different views, a very different reading of the same Bible. The Bible was contested, and how we should live and respond was equally contested – but that did not mean ‘do nothing’. Not everyone was right, but how to know? It was too important to pretend it didn’t matter.

I am a vicar in the Church of England which means I have to make vows of obedience and loyalty to the monarch and her successors; there are bishops in the House of Lords and the monarch is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England; Church Law has a standing with civil law in this land. As a result those who live in the parish, the ecclesiastical parish have a right to baptism, marriage, a funeral and burial in and through the Parish Church. My role is politically constituted even before I consider my response and the church’s response to local and bigger issues.

In the Old Testament the narrative is so much about Kings and prophets and what God says to the nation, even the surrounding nations. The Temple sets a tithe tax on the people, the Temple system that was still going at the time of Jesus, but by then the Romans were in charge of the land; Jesus has some choice comments to make, and his life, teaching and death are all in the context of who is the true Lord, who is the true Prince of Peace, where is your allegiance ultimately!

Religion and economics don’t mix! But they do, not least because economics and politics are mixed. Over the last several weeks the gospel readings from St Luke have been about wealth, riches, the poor, and how we should live. And Jesus’ teaching is very challenging, and his concern for the needy and for justice is a deep passion, not a passing whim. Apartheid was as much an economic policy, a way to protect the life-style and benefits of a small minority, as it was a political ideology. That is partly why, despite the political dismantling, the inequalities that were so entrenched continue to this day for so many. political power inevitably benefits some materially more than others. Economic privilege is deep rooted.

And in this country as a new Prime Minister will shortly take over, in their intray will be so much on the cost of living, acceptable pay-rates, windfall taxes on energy companies (or not), lowering or raising taxes and for whom; and in the background will be the ever-increasing gaps between the poorest and the richer nations and the ever-increasing power of multi-nationals, the largest of which have budgets and resources greater than many small countries.

When speaking out, prophets will claim to speak with authority, but others will contest that authority; just as others may be wrong, so it may be us who are wrong. A quote attributed to Oliver Cromwell:  “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, to think it possible you may be mistaken..”
Many would say Cromwell was horrifically mistaken in some of his actions, but the quote still stands.

At the heart of our faith is prayer and at the heart of prayer, one key strand, is
“Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”

Politics is the art of the possible, it involves getting your hands dirty, and so inevitable compromise and an acceptance of what you can’t do or don’t do. Church leaders who pontificate from an ivory pulpit or who only point out what is wrong, are not modelling the way of Jesus, and may even be hypocritically self-righteous. But that does not mean that churches avoid the issues or spiritualise them. We must speak out against what is wrong, what is dishonest; in our prayers we pray for leaders to govern us in a “godly and quiet” as the old Prayer Book carefully put it.

We need to speak up, we need to speak out; we should look to be constructive; we need to be understanding, even forgiving. Let us pray for our leaders, not least those we disapprove of, and let us pray for our incoming Prime Minister. If you are not sure what to pray or how, then pray

Your Kingdom come, your will be done, ..
May we be godly and quietly governed for our nation sorely needs the wisdom and guidance and blessing of God.

Rev’d Peter Reiss