2015, a musical of the general election from the pen of Taylor Swift

From Buzzfeed's '19 photos of politicians improved with Taylor Swift lyrics

From Buzzfeed’s ’19 photos of politicians improved with Taylor Swift lyrics”.

[Opening credits – a montage of campaign rallies across the country, to the tune of Welcome to New York]

“Everybody here wanted something more, searching for a sound they hadn’t heard before.”

“Like any great lie, it keeps you guessing, like any real lie it’s ever changing, like any true lie it drives you crazy.”

[Final meeting of the Quad, to the tune of The Last Time]

David Cameron: “This is the last time I’m asking you this.”

Nick Clegg: “I find myself at your door, just like all those times before.”

George Osborne: “I was there to watch you leave.”

Danny Alexander: “All roads, they lead me here.”

George Osborne: “This is the last time you tell me I’ve got it wrong.”

Danny Alexander: “This is the last time I say it’s been you all along.”

David Cameron: “This is the last time I let you in my door.”

Nick Clegg: “This is the last time, I won’t hurt you any more.”

[Liberal Democrat parliamentary party, no music initially, then into We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together]

Backbench Liberal Democrat MP: “Rose garden filled with thorns.”

Nick Clegg: “Don’t say I didn’t, say I didn’t warn you, so it’s going to be forever or it’s going to go down in flames, you can tell me when it’s over if it was worth the pain.”

Backbench Liberal Democrat MP: “You’ll see me in hindsight.”

Nick Clegg: “It’s been a long six months.”

Backbench Liberal Democrat MP: “It was months and months of back and forth.”

Nick Clegg: “We are never, ever, ever, getting back together.”

Backbench Liberal Democrat: “You go talk to your friends, talk to my friends talk to me.”

Nick Clegg: “I used to think that we were forever?”

Backbench Liberal Democrat MP: “No.” “You chose the Rose Garden over Madison Square.”

[Conservative strategy negotiations – in CCHQ, to the tune of Style]

David Cameron: “We never go out of style, we never go out of style.”

George Osborne: “Are we out of the woods yet, are we out of the wood yet, are we out of the woods yet, are we out of the woods, are we in the clear, are we in the clear?”

Lynton Crosby: “Looking at it last December, we were built to fall apart, then fall back together.”

David Cameron: “Remember when you hit the brakes too soon?”

George Osborne: “You were looking at me, oh, you were looking at me.”

Iain Duncan Smith [behind a closed door]: “Why’d you have to go and lock me out when I let you in?”

David Cameron: “Stay, hey”

Iain Duncan Smith: “You say you want it, back now that it’s just too late.”

[Election debate – to the tune of Bad Blood]

David Cameron: “This slope is treacherous, this path is reckless.”

Ed Miliband: “You made a really deep cut.”

Nick Clegg: “Did you have to do this? I was thinking you could be trusted.”

David Cameron: “Did you have ruin what was shining, now it’s all rusted?”

Ed Miliband: “Did you think we’d be fine?”

David Cameron: “Long handwritten note, deep in your pocket.”

Nigel Farage: “Now we got problems, and I don’t think we can solve them.”

Ed Miliband: “You made a really deep cut.”

David Cameron: “Band aids don’t fix bullet holes.”

Nick Clegg: “You live like that…”

Ed Miliband: [interrupting] “You say sorry just for show.”

Nicola Sturgeon: “So don’t think it’s in the past, these kinda wounds they last and they last now.”

Nigel Farage: “And I could go on and on, on and on.”

Natalie Bennett: “You always knew how to push my buttons.”

Leanne Wood: “Did you think it all through? All these things will catch up to you.”

Nigel Farage: “It’s so sad to think about the good times.” “It’s like driving a new Maserati down a dead-end street.”

Nicola Sturgeon: “I knew you were trouble.”

Leanne Wood: “You’re drowning.”

[Living room of undecided voters, to the tune of How Your Get the Girl]

[News report of day’s campaigning playing on TV]

David Cameron: “She’ll open up the door.”

Ed Miliband: “Here we are, see my face, hear my voice:”

David Cameron: “You were too afraid to tell her what you want.”

Ed Miliband: “That’s how it works. They don’t want you to know”

[Camera pans to Nigel Farage addressing a UKIP rally]

Nigel Farage: “Remind me how it used to be.”

Undecided voter #1: “He’s so bad, but he does it so well.”

[Back to David Cameron]

David Cameron: “Say you want me. I’ll put it back together.”

Undecided voter #2: “His voice is a familiar sound.”

Undecided voter #3: “We are alone with our changing minds.”

Undecided voter #4: “I can’t decide if it’s a choice. ”

[Labour party election broadcast, to the tune of Red]

Soundtrack: “And that’s why he’s spinning round in my head. Comes back to me, burning red.”

[Voting, montage of voters at polling stations, to the tune of Blank Space]

Voter #1: “I’ve got a blank space baby and I’m going to write your name.”

Voter #2: “So I punched a hole.”

[Election night, to the tune of 22]

Commentator: “It feels like a perfect night for breakfast at midnight.”

Jeremy Vine: “It’s 2am.”

John Curtice: “It’s miserable and magical at the same time.”

Jeremy Vine: “I don’t know about you.”

John Curtice: “It seems like one of those nights.”

Jeremy Vine: “We won’t be sleeping.”

Commentator: “Everything will be alright.”

Jeremy Vine: “You look like bad news.”

John Curtice: “Tossing, turning, struggled through the night.”

[Cuts to count where heavy favourite has lost]

Reporter: “And you were just gone and gone, gone and gone.”

Defeated candidate: “Heaven can’t help me now”

Defeated candidate: “There was nothing left to do.”

[Coalition negotiation part 1, to the tune of All Too Well]

Nick Clegg to Ed Miliband: “Here you are now, calling me up, but I don’t know what to say, I’ve been picking up the pieces of the mess you made.”

Ed Miliband: “I wish you would come back, I wish I never hung up the phone like I did.”

Nick Clegg: “You know baby we’ve got bad blood. Take a look what you’ve done.”

Ed Miliband: “Say you’ll remember me.”

Nick Clegg: “In your wildest dreams.”

Ed Miliband: “Maybe we got lost in translation, maybe I asked for too much.”

Nick Clegg: “This thing was a masterpiece until you tore it all up.”

Ed Miliband: “You remember it all too well.”

[Coalition negotiations part 2, still to the tune of All Too Well]

David Cameron: “I walked through the door with you”

Nick Clegg: “Something about it felt like home somehow

David Cameron: “I’m never going to risk it.”

Nick Clegg: “Realising all you ever wanted was right in front of you.”

David Cameron: “This love left a permanent mark.”

Nick Clegg: “You come back to what you need.”

David Cameron: “Flew me to places I’d never been.”

Nick Clegg: “Your sweet disposition.”

[SNP strategy meeting, to the tune of I almost do]

Nicola Sturgeon: “It takes everything in me not to call.”

Alex Salmond: “I bet it never occurred to you.”

Nicola Sturgeon: “We made quite a mess, babe.”

Alex Salmond: “It’s probably better off this way.”

Nicola Sturgeon: “Want to try again?”

Alex Salmond: “I almost do.”

Nicola Sturgeon: “Without me?”

[Coalition negotiations part 3, to the tune of Stay, Stay, Stay]

Nicola Sturgeon: “You think it’s funny when I’m mad, mad, mad.”

Ed Miliband: “All those times you didn’t leave; it’s been occurring to me I’d like to hang out with you.”

Nicola Sturgeon: “I think it’s best if we both stay.”

Ed Miliband: “I’ve been loving you for quite some time.”

Nicola Sturgeon: “You took the time to memorize me: my fears, my hopes and dreams.”

Ed Miliband: “You have given me no choice but to.”

Nicola Sturgeon: “Put my name at the top of your list.”

[Outside No 10 Downing Street]

Prime Minister: “This is the golden age of something good and right and real.”

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Easter: I don’t think that word means what David Cameron thinks it does

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I’ve hesitated for a few hours, but I can’t managed to hold back any longer. David Cameron’s Easter message is dreadful. I’m used to the charm-offensive-say-something-nice-to-Christians-at-Christmas-and-Easter type of message, but this is in a league of its own. Here are a few extracts and my only slightly restrained commentary.

In a few days’ time, millions of people across Britain will be celebrating Easter. Just as I’ve done for the last five years, I’ll be making my belief in the importance of Christianity absolutely clear.

As Madeleine Teahan has already noted, it’s not clear whether it’s David Cameron’s belief in Christianity or the importance of Christianity that he’s making clear. And by the end of the piece the reader is still not clear what Cameron is making clear, perhaps other than the fact he has a confused understanding of Easter and wants you to vote for his party.

But I’m an unapologetic supporter of the role of faith in this country. And for me, the key point is this: the values of Easter and the Christian religion – compassion, forgiveness, kindness, hard work and responsibility – are values that we can all celebrate and share.

I’m not going to try and suggest that compassion, forgiveness, kindness, hard work and responsibility are not values driven by Christian belief – I believe they are – but this is an incredibly reductionist and secular attempt to read the Easter message in a pliable and acceptable way.

But even so, in the toughest of times, my faith has helped me move on and drive forward. It also gives me a gentle reminder every once in a while about what really matters and how to be a better person, father and citizen.

This is the bit designed to show the personal, honest, side of David Cameron’s faith, and it has been paraded as such. Everyone has their own beliefs and I’ll let him have his. But I have one question that rears its head whenever David Cameron talks about Christianity: he talks about faith as though it is an end in itself, faith in what, faith in the role of faith, faith in the importance of Christianity, or faith in Jesus?

As Winston Churchill said after the death of his opponent, Neville Chamberlain, in the end we are all guided by the lights of our own reason. ‘The only guide to a man is his own conscience; the only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions.’

Way to go Dave, imploring relativism in an Easter message to an audience committed to the timeless truth of the death and resurrection.

This government has consistently taken decisions which are based on fundamental principles and beliefs.

Vacuity 101: everything we do is based on some sort of fundamental principle and belief. When I leave the house I walk on the pavement because of the belief that cars will stay on the road. The more important question is what those beliefs are, whether they are good ones, and whether actions match up to the principles they are supposedly based on.

Easter is all about remembering the importance of change, responsibility, and doing the right thing for the good of our children.

No. It’s not. My four year old niece has a better understanding of Easter than Mr Cameron. Maybe I’ll get her to lend the Prime Minister her VeggieTales DVD and fuzzy felts from Sunday School.

I have no problem with politicians appealing to any audience they can get in front of them, and I appreciate their warm thoughts about the contribution Christians make to the country. But an Easter message without mentioning God, Jesus, the Cross or the Resurrection is an incredibly poor effort.

And when it is done to suggest that he is ‘one of you’ (even if a lazy and not a very good one) the crime is even more egregious.

Is Britain a Christian country?

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Is Britain a Christian country?

David Cameron thinks so, and the British Humanist Association think not. The latter part of that surprises exactly no one.

Following the Prime Minister’s Easter reception, video message and article in last week’s Church Times the argument has rolled on and on. I came to his defence, but then suggested he was suffering from a little religious illiteracy. One thing I have not wanted to do is question his motives.

I read his remarks about the experience of pastoral care from his local vicar and I read of a man grateful for the support of the church. I see a man witnessing the work done by churches in villages, towns and cities after other services leave and amazed at the effectiveness of it.

I don’t think all that this government has done is good, and I don’t want my appreciation for his words spoken to cancel out criticism of his actions. Nor do I want to be blind to political reality, that a government criticised by churches for not doing enough about food poverty and criticised for introducing same sex marriage, is keen to find words to restore relationships and appeal to an important sector of society.

I believe the Prime Minister is sincere in his words, and real in his appreciation, and restoring relationships that have been fractured should not be ignored. I can also overlook the inevitable political environment and clumsiness of his phrasing to be grateful for a government committed to supporting Christians at home and overseas – especially in those places where their faith costs them the most.

But is he right to say that Britain is a Christian country?

Constitutionally yes, theologically no, and demographically maybe.

The Queen is the head of the Church of England and is defender of the faith, the hierarchy of the Church of England are part of our legislature and their church’s laws are made by parliament. That history and constitutional arrangement may not be liked but cannot be denied: in some legal sense at least, we are a Christian county.

The demographics of Britain are changing, there are less people identifying as Christians than before, lower attendance and more people of other faiths and none. The 2011 census shows a majority still identifying as Christian but other surveys show lower levels of fidelity, as Nick Baines, bishop of the newly created diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales, comments, you can pick your own statistics. What cannot be argued with is that church attendance is a minority pursuit – and has been for quite a while, but it is not a dwindling activity. Despite doom mongers and pessimistic projections there is life in the church yet, and resilience where irrelevance was expected. If your definition of whether Britain is a Christian country is based on the faith of the people in it, then different people will answer differently, some will look at all those who hold the label – regardless what it means to them – and say yes. Others will counter that many, if not most, of those claiming the label haven’t experienced personal salvation and therefore are not Christians, and therefore as a country we are not Christian.

All of this deliberation happens without any consideration of what makes something Christian, and whether a country can be Christian. In days gone by the king, queen, emperor, or whatever guise the absolute ruler came in, declared the religion of the country and the people, and those were two and the same. The religion of a country was also something not easy to change – a landmark for religious liberty was the idea that a king could choose the religion of his country.

But salvation does not come through regal fiat.

And it is not in the power of an earthly king, however absolute his rule, to make a people children of God. God took a people and called them his own, he gave them a land, when they asked he gave them a king, he gave them commandments – a way to live by – and they took off their jewels, melted them down and turned the gold into a god they crafted in the form of a calf, which they could feel and touch and which had no power.

The God who has power now calls us to be his children. His family is not defined by race or nationality by constitutional settlement or political sentiment. It is defined by whether we place our trust in the saviour who hung and died and called us his own. And the King who triumphed over the death we have no power over.

The kings of this world will perish. They will fade and be replaced. People will come and go, statistics will change and be interpreted this way and that. Activists will lay claim to what they want and speak for many they do not. Politicians will court politically important groups, they will divide and rule, they will strategise and stigmatise, they will call some in and others out. They will want faith for what it can give and push it away for what it challenges.

And I hope more politicians will come to know Christ as their saviour. As the King who loves them. As the risen Lord. I hope they will encounter the work of the church, I hope it will reflect the love of God and I hope it will change them. And I want this country, as well as all others, to be places that honour and glorify God and are witnesses to the lives and faith of the resurrection people who find their home there.

Countries cannot be Christian, that misses the point of salvation. I want many more people to know Jesus, know they are loved, know that they can be made whole through him. But no matter how many people experience that, no matter how closely laws honour God and his creation, that will not make Britain a Christian country. And just because it makes the secularists annoyed that’s not a good enough reason to pretend it is so.

Should we mock David Cameron on twitter?

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David Cameron has done it again.

He’s tried to be nice to Christians and it went a bit wrong.

But this time my annoyance is not with him.

From time to time the Prime Minister makes comments in statements or interviews about his faith and the role of Christianity. He might compare his belief to being like listening to the radio in the Chilterns, fading in and out. He might suggest that the Bible is not a bad moral guide.

And we might pick holes in what he says, criticise the understanding of the Christian faith. I did.

On Wednesday various Christian leaders went to Number 10 for the Prime Minister’s Easter reception. There were church leaders, evangelists, anti-poverty campaigners, those working with the persecuted church and victims of trafficking.

Normally such events are little more than a PR exercise, they’re press released and managed to present the Prime Minister in as good a light as possible. This one feels a little different. There was no press release, no prepared speech, and only belatedly a transcript of the Prime Minister’s remarks.

Those there swiftly reported what David Cameron had said. A single news story led to many others and by the evening the Prime Minister was being mocked on twitter.

When I read the full version of what he said I squirmed slightly at how evangelism was expressed (as little more than doing good). And yet the words I read were an encouragement to the church across the world frequently persecuted for their beliefs, and to the church in the UK to be dynamic in bringing life to communities across the country. A boost for parish priests who canoed through villages during the storms earlier this year.

The words were warm, and Cranmer notes: “clearly coming from the heart, it reveals rather more about the Prime Minister’s spirituality and appreciation of the Church of England’s ministry than anything he has previously disclosed”.

Unfortunately David Cameron doesn’t make it hard to be mocked, comparing himself to Dyno-rod was an unusual analogy. But it was the Big Society (yes, with capitals) that got the ball rolling. Perhaps appropriately for an Easter message, the Big Society is a concept that refuses to die. As Christian Guy tweeted:

This is where my sympathy for David Cameron goes into overdrive. He was trying to give the church credit for their work and respond, as he has repeatedly done, that all his packaging did was take what the church has been doing for centuries, millennia, and get more people involved.

As reported in the Times, a No 10 spokesperson commented: “The Prime Minister has long made the point that he may have coined the catchphrase but he didn’t invent the concept. All sorts of organisations from different faith backgrounds have made a positive contribution to society, including schools and charities.”

When the Big Society was first announced, churches jumped up and down yelling that they’d be at it for ages. Now he agrees the response is: stop thinking you’re doing God’s work. He can’t win.

You might consider the Big Society to be a cover for cuts, you might think it is painfully hard electoral message to sell on the door steps.

But I think there is a challenge to us all in how we respond to politicians, how we engage with them, and how we judge their beliefs and actions. I am certain we should not sycophantically praise politicians to get an invite through the famous black door. I don’t think anyone there got there by doing that. I think there is a vital prophetic role for the church to speak truth to power, to tell when the least are forgotten, when the abandoned are cast away, when the stomachs of the hungry groan, when the shelter for the weak is not there.

There are many things we can criticise the government for. We can say their welfare changes are pernicious, we can say their changes to marriage undermine the family. We can criticise governments for taking us to war, for favouring business over caring for the environment.

The bible tells us in Psalm 146 to put critical distance between us and our leaders, to be reluctant to place too much trust in what they can do: “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.”

And we should remember that politicians are fallible, they are like you and me, they make mistakes, they have mixed motives, they put priorities in an order that fails to reconcile heaven and earth.

But maybe because of that, criticism should not be our only posture, in fact, I don’t think it should be our primary posture. It is useful, it is vital, we must critique what is unjust, but we shouldn’t start there.

Political leaders, like all other leaders, are taking responsibility, they are exercising authority, and as such, in a way that is always limited, never absolute, they are exercising God’s authority.

Jesus, before Pilate, asks where his authority comes from.

Jesus tells the challenger seeking to trap him, to give to Caesar what is his, knowing that the image of Caesar on a coin demanding fealty is itself an image reflecting Caesar’s creation in the image of God.

Paul writes to the Romans reminding them that the governing authorities only have authority because God has given it, and that those in authority are God’s servants.

In 1 Peter we are challenged to do good and honour our rulers: if that is a challenge today what must it have felt like to those under Roman oppression?

And in 1 Timothy asked to pray for those in authority – that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

This is not a weak prayer, a surrender, it is a challenge. It is a hard task.

There is a responsibility given to leaders that should provoke respect but not blind loyalty. There is an authority to rulers which we should live under but also challenge.

And when we turn to twitter (admittedly there were some funny tweets) to mock leaders who express gratitude to the church for the work they do, and stand with Christians persecuted for their beliefs across the world, I got annoyed. But more than that, I was also saddened because I think it undermines the prophetic voice we should have. A voice that respects, but is not cowed, by authority.

Watch the Prime Minister’s Easter message:

A 14 point bluffer’s guide to Cambodian history

Today I’m off to Cambodia with Tearfund as part of their blogger’s trip, information about how you can keep up with all we’re doing is at the bottom of this post. But first, I thought it might be handy to share with you some of my learning about Cambodia. It’s not a country I knew a great deal about, so, without further ado, here is my bluffer’s guide to Cambodian history (mostly thanks to the BBC).

  1. Cambodia was historically part of the Khmer Empire, which also included parts of present day Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. If you’ve seen anything from Cambodia it is probably the Angkor Wat temple complex which was built between the ninth and 13th centuries by Khmer kings. Cambodia was historically part of the Khmer Empire, which also included parts of present day Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. If you’ve seen anything from Cambodia it is probably the Angkor Wat temple complex which was built between the ninth and 13th centuries by Khmer kings.
  2. Between 1863 and 1953 Cambodia was a protectorate of France and subject to its colonial rule. This rule was disrupted between 1941-45 when Japan occupied Cambodia.  Between 1863 and 1953 Cambodia was a protectorate of France and subject to its colonial rule. This rule was disrupted between 1941-45 when Japan occupied Cambodia.
  3. Norodum Sihanouk ruled Cambodia in various guises between 1941-1970, first as King under French rule, then as King in his own right, then resigning in favour of his father to become Prime Minister, and then after his father’s death as head of state.Norodum Sihanouk ruled Cambodia in various guises between 1941-1970, first as King under French rule, then as King in his own right, then resigning in favour of his father to become Prime Minister, and then after his father’s death as head of state.
  4. In 1969 Cambodia allows North Vietnamese guerrillas to set up bases on their
    territory to fight against the US backed South Vietnamese government. The US
    begin a secret bombing campaign against these bases.In 1969 Cambodia allows North Vietnamese guerrillas to set up bases on their territory to fight against the US backed South Vietnamese government. The US begin a secret bombing campaign against these bases.
  5. Prime Minister Lon Nol seizes power in 1970 and sends troops to fight the North Vietnamese forces in Cambodia. The Cambodia army lose territory to the North Vietnamese and communist Khmer Rouge guerrillas.Prime Minister Lon Nol seizes power in 1970 and sends troops to fight the North Vietnamese forces in Cambodia. The Cambodia army lose territory to the North Vietnamese and communist Khmer Rouge guerrillas.
  6. Pol Pot, and his Khmer Rouge guerrillas, occupy Phnom Penh. Year Zero is declared, all city dwellers forced into the country side, freedoms stripped, and religion is banned. Over the next four years hundreds of thousands are tortured and executed, including those who starved or died from disease or exhaustion up to two million people lost their lives.IMG_7267 S21 PAINT
  7. The Vietnamese take Phnom Penh in 1979, but UN refuse to recognise the pro-Vietnamese Kampuchean People’s Revolutionary Party and the government-in-exile maintains its seat at the UN. For over a decade Cambodia, now known as Kampuchea, is plagued by guerrilla warfare.kampuchea2kak1979rv
  8. In 1991 a peace treaty is signed, former king Norodom Sihanouk returns as head of state and becomes king in 1993 when the monarchy is restored. The Khmer Rouge government-in-exile loses its seat at the UN and thousands of guerrillas surrender in an amnesty.8. In 1991 a peace treaty is signed, former king Norodom Sihanouk returns as head of state and becomes king in 1993 when the monarchy is restored. The Khmer Rouge government-in-exile loses its seat at the UN and thousands of guerrillas surrender in an amnesty.
  9. Hun Sen, prime minister since 1985, mounts a coup in 1997 and ousts his co-prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh and executes ministers from the royalist party.
  10. Pol Pot is tried, found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. The following year, in 1998, he dies in his jungle hideout.polpot_grave2
  11. Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party strikes a deal with the royalist Funcinpec party to break the political deadlock. In 2004 Cambodia re-enters the World Trade Organisation and King Sihanouk  (below) abdicates and his son Norodom Sihamoni takes the throne.
  12. In 2007 UN backed tribunals question Khmer Rouge suspects on genocide charges. The senior surviving Khmer Rouge figure, Nuon Chea or ‘Brother Number Two’ is arrested and charged with crimes against humanity. His trial ended in October 2013 with a verdict expected this year.12. In 2007 UN backed tribunals question Khmer Rouge suspects on genocide charges. The senior surviving Khmer Rouge figure, Nuon Chea or ‘Brother Number Two’ is arrested and charged with crimes against humanity. His trial ended in October 2013 with a verdict expected this year.
  13. Tensions on the Thai-Cambodia border, focused around ancient temples flare up between 2008 and 2012.13. Tensions on the Thai-Cambodia border, focused around ancient temples flare up between 2008 and 2012.
  14. The 2013 elections see Hun Sen’s CPP retain power amid claims of irregularity. Protests in Phnom Penh accompany parliament’s approval of a further 5 year term for Hun Sen.14. The 2013 elections see Hun Sen’s CPP retain power amid claims or irregularity. Protests in Phnom Penh accompany parliament’s approval of a further 5 year term for Hun Sen. How to keep track with what we’re doing in Cambodia

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Where are all the Anglican Tories?

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Theos have published a fascinating report analysing the role of religion in voting behaviour and political attitudes. I’ve provided an overview of the main findings elsewhere, and following a briefing last week when I, along with others, got the chance to question the authors I’ve now consumed the full report.

The headlines of the report are that Anglicans are more likely to back the Conservative Party and Catholics support Labour, minority religions generally vote Labour except for Jews who support the Conservatives and Buddhists who back the Liberal Democrats.

Firstly, this is a report full of really interesting data and there are literally hundreds of findings worth pulling out, weighing and considering. Secondly, there is a lot the report doesn’t do. Repeatedly during the briefing Nick Spencer and Ben Clements, who wrote the report, had to apologise that they didn’t have the answers to the plethora of fascinating supplementary questions many wanted answering. Thirdly, this is not a report that considers causality, it doesn’t tell you why someone voted one way or an other, or why they might take a particular view on welfare, censorship or the death penalty.

What it does provide is an indication of association, so for example, among the most interesting findings is that attendance at services matters a lot, but even if you don’t attend it matters what label you give yourself. Those who nominally hold a religious identity (any) but never attend services are likely to be more authoritarian in their outlook than any other group. Likewise, those who do attend services are likely to be more proud of the welfare state and support higher benefits even if their taxes go up.

There are findings that are surprising and those that are patently obvious. The look on an Anglican official’s face when the graph showing support for the death penalty revealed as Anglicans consistently the most supportive was priceless. When the data is subject to more detailed scrutiny it sometimes allows our shock to recede, as in this case where nominal Anglicans distort the figure with their high support while frequent attenders are much less likely to back capital punishment. On other occasions it reinforces the picture presented at first sight. For example, the support for the Conservative Party among Anglicans is not undermined when it is looked at by age groups, 42 per cent of voters under 30 voted Conservative and only 26 per cent Labour.

Other findings that are understandable but surprising all the same include the very high level of support for the Labour party among minority ethnic groups. In 2005 the lowest supporting group were Hindus with 68 per cent, and all though this dropped to 49 per cent in 2010 all other groups still exhibited high levels of support with over four out of five black Pentecostal Christians supporting Labour.

What struck me with greatest force when the report was released was not any of these findings, it was not the very small number of Christians who considered morals or a lack of family values as the most important issue at the 2010 election. Instead it was the reaction to the findings, and in particular the idea that Anglicans tend to support the Conservative party.

There was a wave of astonishment across twitter, ‘what!’ they cried, ‘that can’t be true, I’m a Christian and I vote Labour. And so do all my friends’. Of course the immediate response is that in the Anglican church there are many who voted for the Labour and Liberal Democrats, as too are there Catholics who voted Tory (especially those over 65). The second response is to wonder why this provoked such a shock.

Is it because the Church of England, and particularly through their Bishops in the House of Lords and their public statements make it seem that the official position of the church is on the left of politics? Is it the echo of dissent from Margaret Thatcher’s policies of the 1980s heard through those now in lofty positions detached from the views of the congregations in their pews? Is there actually a silent majority of right wing Anglicans failed by their leadership?

The support for welfare policies among those who attend frequently paints a more complex picture, and the individual statements which are used to plot the position a group on the three axes (left-right, libertarian-authoritarian and welfarist-individualist) also support this more complex picture but Anglicans still often come out with what would be considered positions more aligned with the Conservatives.

The report doesn’t provide evidence for the Conservative party to target their next election at the Church of England to lock up their chances of election. The support is simply not that significant, there are still plenty who vote otherwise. But perhaps it is slightly more salutary sign to the church to listen a little harder to what the views of their congregations are.

One aspect of this debate over political affiliation of Christians has struck me recently and been reinforced by the response to this report, why do left wing Christians feel more able to be public about their views while right wing Christians keep quiet? Could it be a response to the reputation of Republican Christians in the States, and a fear that if they come out as Conservatives they will be branded likewise? Is their a norm of acceptable views among Christians that leave some feeling as though their support for one political party is something they should hide?

These are only questions, but the silence of Christians on the right and the protest from those on the left was the most notable feature of this report’s publication. With a General Election a little over a year away Christians will be thinking more and more about politics, and across the church there needs to be a space for Christians to explore how they will vote and consider the way their faith impacts their politics. It’s a task for the church to set itself to, it’s a task that requires maturity and respect for a range of political opinions. And a task that requires sight on the bigger vision of a kingdom.

A Safe Bet? Gambling on a conflict of interests

Gamble,_I've_already_rolled_the_diceMP takes donation from business man. It’s a bit of a dog bites man news story.

Except when that politician has previously spoken out against the practice at the heart of said businessman’s interests.

Chuka Umunna, Labour shadow business secretary, is in the news this morning for taking a £20 000 donation from Neil Goulden. Neil Goulden was Chief Executive of Gala Coral Group, still provides some consultancy for them, and in an aspect missed by most of the papers is the current and active Chairman of the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB).

What makes this donation newsworthy are comments the Streatham MP had previously made about betting shops in his South London constituency: “I know there is huge concern that some streets in our area are steadily filling up with betting shops and payday loan companies that take advantage of our community, rather than help us.” He also promised “new powers to control the number of betting shops”. Continue reading

Beliefs that dare not speak their name

I’ve hesitated long and hard about whether to say anything about the debate over gay marriage and the government’s proposals. I’ve held back for a couple of reasons. My work has a view on this. And it seems impossible to say anything that casts doubt on the validity of allowing gay couples to marry without being denounced as a homophobe and a bigot.

Because I don’t think that the plans are a good idea. And that probably makes me unpopular, both with those outside and some inside the church.

Today on twitter I’ve observed a lot of people despairing at the Church of England’s response to the consultation in which they urge the government to rethink changing marriage in the way that is proposed.

Because that is what the government are planning on doing. Whether you support the proposals or not, if these plans are implemented marriage will be different in a couple of years time to what it is now.

I want to make a few scattered comments about this whole escapade. I want to do so in the carefullest possible way as this is a subject that is not detached from people’s individual lives, emotions and identity. Maybe it would help by pulling out some of the slightly spurious points often made against those who would prefer that marriage remained as between a man and a woman.

I believe that there are ways to live that are better than other ways to live. And I know that this means that for some people it will seem as though I’m criticising the way that they choose to live. But I think that sexual relationship should only take place between men and women, and between one of each in the context of marriage. And marriage matters because it is placing the union between two people before God and under his authority. It is about submitting not only to each other but principally to God.

And as far as I can see that means we must do our best to live lives that honour God. Even if that means doing things we find hard, and not doing things which otherwise we may choose to do. For devout Christians who experience same sex attraction may well choose to put their belief in and devotion to God before that, and choose to live another way. This is not something I pretend to understand. It is not something that I pretend is easy. It is not something that I would pretend is not counter to the way that the world would choose to order things.

But as Peter Ould tweeted earlier today, “The moment you argue that Church should ‘catch up with society’ you demonstrate your theology is of man and not God”. Because while the church has so often got so many things so very wrong, and in it’s dealing with gay and lesbian people at times its actions have been horrific, that does not mean it should adjust its view because something is deemed out of fashion, or even intolerant.

The church is accused of inconsistency, and it has so often been guilty of that, but that’s not a reason to drop all of the values it holds to and rush towards a lowest common denominator that does its best to keep everyone onside. The church is told to not think that something is wrong, all the while told to stand stronger against other things that are wrong. Told to worry more about poverty and the injustices of the world because holding a view on sexuality will make people think the church is out of touch. It’s curious that at a time when morality is coming back into vogue, when questions are being asked about the value of money in our lives, or the isolation created by ongoing technological  advancement, the church is told to pipe down.

Many have commented today that the church accepts divorce but opposes gay marriage. Often that’s the case. Divorce isn’t what God wants, but sometimes it’s the best way out of difficult circumstances. Confusing? Yes, but often handling the tensions in the way that we live will look like that. God is redemptive, and although marriages should stay together many will not. So there is hope in the hardest of situations, which is why divorce should be allowed. To introduce gay marriage is to create something new, and in doing so change something old.

And then there is the West Wing argument. About shellfish and mixed fabrics. It’s a neat little charge but it misses any attempt to understand the purposes of different Old Testament laws. This isn’t the place but I think a decent case can be made for those laws to keep people clean before a holy God and therefore not needed since Jesus’ death and resurrection have made us all clean; those laws given to aid the governance of Israel (many of which we can learn from without direct application), and those laws which give us moral guidance on how best to live.

The particular proposals that the government make suggest that a distinction can be made between civil and religious marriage. That’s nonsense, there are civil and religious weddings but they are just two different doors to the same room.

The proposals also allude to the fact that some people are banned from marriage, that’s just not true, anyone can get married, but only to someone of the opposite sex. Trying to allow gay couples to marry is trying to make marriage into something that it simply is not. On one level marriage will always be marriage, and nothing that the government says will change that. It’s like trying to suggest that the government should pass a law allowing two floor bungalows to be built.

A big part of me wants to stay quite about this debate. I want to shut up. Turn off my computer, deactivate twitter for a while and stay away while the government push their case, opponents dismiss it and are subsequently tarred and feather in their virtual stocks.

But that’s actually what makes me speak up and say my piece because I shouldn’t be shamed into silence. It is what worries me most if these proposals go through: that I won’t be able to hold, and promote, a view that marriage is and should be between a man and a woman. I’m not expecting every one to agree with me, much as I don’t expect everyone to agree with many of the things that I believe. When they do perhaps I’m a little too closely following the crowd.

Do I think that the world will collapse if gay marriage is constructed ex nihilo within the legal system? I don’t. Do I think that sometimes Christians have used language in their opposition that has made the charge of bigot stick a little easier? Yes.

But I don’t think that the church, and other opponents, should stay quiet when the government are introducing something which isn’t in keeping with what they believe is best for the world around them. And a world in which Christians are committed to making God’s kingdom come. That means fighting poverty and promoting relationships that reflect God’s desire. It means speaking truth in a way that people see God’s love and truth in the content of what you say and in the heart that lies behind it.

And this is not easy. And I’ve not really dealt with many of the issues in play but this is already plenty long enough.

More information about this topic and a briefing on the Evangelical Alliance’s position can be found here. And you can respond to the consultation here.

What do you think, do you think Christians should back gay marriage? Should they stay quiet about their views? Or loudly make their opposition know?

A biblical framework for understanding politics – part 4

[update: the full series is available as a PDF here]

In the final post in this series we will take a step beyond considering how we should view politics and government and set out in hazy terms what such a government should do.

If you’re only just joining us I would suggest taking a moment to catch up. In the first post I explored the key characteristics of political authority, in the second how we should view government, and in the third what the Lordship of Christ meant for all this.

The purpose of government

We’ve already looked at government as an ambiguous concept, caught in the tensions between it’s created status and its fallen nature, and between it’s legitimate role and it’s evident limits.

The exercise of political authority is often equally dubious. These tensions exist in what the government seeks to do and how it does it.

But we’re invited to the task of living in these tensions and working to bring the redemptive hope of Christ into the outworking of government and across all of society.

Here are three broad areas which the Bible suggests should be within the scope of government.

Commitment to human equality

It’s astonishing that the church has let the concept of equality be snatched from its grasp, because equality is such a fundamental part of biblical teaching.

We are all equal under God, this is true in our created status. It is true in the universality of sin, and it is true in our universal need for redemption.

Jesus was radically inclusive in his ministry, he deliberately sided with the poor and the disenfranchised. He overturned the social order and he overturned the tables of those who would profit from the poorest.

But that wasn’t were equality began. In the laws for Israel there was a strong seem of justice running through them. The laws for the ownership of property and slaves ensured that intergenerational social mobility was not hampered.   Israel was warned against taking a king and the prophets railed against the injustices perpetrated by them.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he exhorts them to generosity, and he uses the old Testament portrait of the manna provided in the desert to point out that those who gathered much did not have too much and those who gathered little did not have too little.

For the common good

All governments promote and seek some form of common good. What this looks like is different in different contexts and sometimes gets lost in the pursuit of just judgement.

Thomas Aquinas noted that the common good existed for the good of the people and not for the good of the ruler. For much of history this was not the way that political authority operated.

The concept of the common good is based on the idea that a community is more than a series of disconnected individuals, it works upon the coming together of those people and their working together for a common cause.

While Christianity has often emphasised individual choice, especially in relation to salvation, it has also affirmed the need for community structures that enable us to live fulfilled lives as part of wider society.

It is the role of government to promote such structures while making sure that they do not dominate them. When the common good comes to the fore it makes sure that no one suffers permanent social exclusion.

This means that particular attention should be paid to those who are liable to experience such exclusion. David McIlroy comments, “The weight of the classical tradition is solidly behind the prioritising of the needs of the weakest, in whom it has been recognised that we see the face of Christ with special clarity.”

Exercise of just judgement

The third core function of government, alongside a commitment to equality and working for the common good is the exercise of just judgement.

The Christian tradition has long acknowledged that the Christian ruler must discern the requirements of Christian moral teaching within and for the complex realities of the society that has to be governed.

This means that there are very few absolutes of what a governing system should look like. I think if we cast our minds through history we can see the rights and wrongs of political systems of every hue. Including those who explicitly reject Christian teaching, and those claiming to govern in its name.

It is not possible to take judgements in a neutral space. It is simply one of the myths of contemporary political thought that there exists a space where all prejudices and conceptions of the common good can be removed and a judgement reached that abides by the rules of justice and nothing else.

Instead, we have to accept that there are many competing claims to subjective morality, and these require us to offer a substantive argument for why the values we hold, and the truths we believe, are for the common good.

And we need to keep one eye on the fact that human concepts of justice will only ever be limitedly just. This means that that the capability of government to promote the good, and exercise judgement, while present, is limited.

Conclusion

The apostles chose to reinforce the radical message of Jesus’ death and resurrection and refused to accept the absolute claims to authority that the Roman Empire demanded.

But they didn’t reject the fact that it had authority, they just saw its authority as limited. They continued to remind the authorities of their duties and responsibilities and reflected the role of the prophets in the Old Testament.

We must remember that neither tyranny nor anarchy are what God desires. The institutions of political authority have good in them as they reflect the nature of our created God. But they are also fallen because they are formed by fallen humans.

But most of all, we must hold to the hope for the ultimate redemption of all things and how we are commanded to have a role in that rebuilding.

A biblical framework for understanding politics – part 3

Government in the New Testament

In the first two posts in this series I set out firstly the concept of political authority in theological terms, and then in yesterday’s post what this meant for how we should view government: as both legitimate but limited. I’ve also briefly touched already on the position of government and political authority in New Testament teaching, but here I want to delve a bit deeper. In particular I want to explore what impact a full understanding of the Lordship of Christ has on our engagement in politics.

Tom Wright has written extensively on this subject and a theme he returns to time and again is that Christianity has underplayed the political purpose in Christian thought, and as a result misread key aspects of the gospels and epistles.

This revolves around an incomplete understanding of what Jesus achieved through his death and resurrection.

If we understand Jesus as Lord, and subsequently understand that Caesar, or what ever contemporary ruler has taken his place in different times and contexts throughout history, are not Lord, we are free to step back and take a broader view of what Lordship means.

We’ve already referenced Jesus before Pilate, and his declaration that whatever political authority he exercised had been given to him.

 

You see, Israel wanted a liberator. They wanted a saviour who would vanquish their foes, free them from oppression and enforce the laws that were ignored.

But the coming king did not look like that.

Jesus did not ride into Jerusalem with chariots to overthrow the Roman oppressors. The Messiah who for hundreds of years they had awaited did not back the Pharisees and insist that the law, in all its detailed regulations governing every aspect of daily life, was strictly enforced. This king did not even remove himself from the enemy occupiers to create a kingdom on earth without blemish.

For Jesus those who broke the rules and those who enforced the rules were both equally wrong.

He confounded his critics and he confused his supporters.

The way that Jesus engaged in public life was completely different to anything they expected.

So when Jesus came before Pilate we see very clearly the meeting of two different kingdoms, the kingdom of the Roman Empire and the political authority that it exercised. And the Kingdom of God fully represented in the person of Jesus.

The point that Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world does not mean that it is instead an entirely spiritual one.

No, Jesus’ kingdom is not derived from this world, but it is designed for this world.

Tom Wright puts it like this: “Precisely because it is the kingdom of the wise creator God who longs to heal this world, whose justice is aimed at restoration rather than punitive destruction, it can neither be advanced nor attained by the domineering, bullying fighting kingdom methods employed in merely earthly kingdoms”.

This is how Jesus redefines what Lordship means.

Yet at exactly this point he also declares support for the existence of earthly rulers. In affirming that Pilate does have authority he is advocating government over anarchy.

The worst form of government is not dictatorship but no government at all. I’d suggest that even the very worst ruler is better than a world where we are all our own tyrants and the weak are crushed in our desire to achieve the best for ourselves that we can.

God did not send his son to destroy the world but to rescue it from evil. And the structures of human society are part of the good of creation that he came to redeem.

During Jesus’ ministry the disciples squabbled over who would get to sit on his left and his right, and Jesus sees all this as an adventure in missing the point.

He radically restates that the rules of this earth lord it over their subjects but under his kingdom the greatest must be the servant. Mark 10.45 offer the conclusion to this dramatic reversal: “The son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”.

This is more than just a statement about the work of Jesus on the cross.

It is a radically counter imperial statement. To quote Tom Wright once again: “it is an invitation to understand the atonement itself … as involving God’s victory not so much over the world and its powers but over the worldly ways of power.”

Romans 8 gives us a fuller picture of our hope for a new creation. It upstage the hope of Rome that is entering a new stage of its fruitfulness. It goes beyond our wildest dreams as to what a new creation could look like.

And this links back to what we’ve already considered: the ultimate recourse of an earthly authority is to take away life.

Jesus’ victory over death, and the promise of a future resurrection, makes this exercise of power somewhat futile. Death has, after all, been defeated.

The Lordship of Christ needs to be considered alongside the biblical themes of creation and judgement. Together, in harmony, they show us the good news. That the God who made the world now rules the world through his son Jesus.

In the closing section of Romans, 15.12, Paul echoes Isaiah 11 saying “Jesus is the one who rises to rule over the nations, and in him the nations shall hope”.

This Lordship is not just over heaven, it is not just for the ultimate future when everything will be restored to Him. It is also for the present time, for this penultimate future where we catch a glimpse of God’s coming kingdom.

And in response we are called to be the bringers of hope. The carriers of healing to a broken world. And show that Christ’s rule is good news for all.

Read on: the fourth and final part in the series