Controversy is normal and inevitable in politics, even between...
Grace is a word with various meanings. Primarily it has a religious meaning, used to describe the unconditional love that God has towards his fallen creatures. But grace is also used to describe smoothness and elegance of movement as exhibited by some of the dancers in “Strictly Come Dancing”. More inclusively it is also applied to those who act with courteous good will and respect for others, even when they disagree. There are some exceptions but ‘grace’ is not a word that easily comes to mind when thinking about contemporary politicians and the way they conduct their politics.
The current debate about Brexit is an obvious example. It has divided the nation and the two largest political parties, led to Theresa May’s resignation and her replacement by Boris Johnson, who has now split his party and left the Government without a majority. There are legitimate arguments for both leaving the EU and remaining in membership, but neither side seems able to respect the other’s point of view enough to search for a compromise that might reunite the nation.
Neither of the referendum campaigns in 2016 showed much evidence of grace. The Remainers failed to cast a positive vision about the EU and relied too much on the fear factor whilst the Leavers sometimes sounded xenophobic, told lies and failed to recognise the possible costs of Brexit. Those failures continue to corrupt debate and deepen divisions in the country.
The politicians may be setting a bad example but they are not the only ones lacking grace. As our society becomes more secular some people are attacking Christian schools for teaching orthodox Christian beliefs and values to their children. Parents have a right to decide what their children are taught but shouldn’t have sent them to Christian schools if they did not want them to be taught what Christianity is all about. For example, same-sex marriage is lawful in this country but is contrary to biblical teaching. Are Christians supposed to teach what they believe to be wrong? At the same time some Christian responses to what they consider contrary to biblical teaching do not always manifest the grace that is central to their faith.
Stories of sexual abuse of women by men, especially powerful men, which are currently grabbing the headlines, are further evidence of grace abandoned. Similarly, ant-Semitism, Islamophobia and white supremacist attitudes and behaviour also fall into the same category of gracelessness. So too is the persecution of anybody for their legitimate religious beliefs. Whilst it makes sense to seek to prevent terrorist activity there are no grounds for demonising law abiding Jews and Muslims. Both our major political parties have been accused of this.
Whilst lack of grace is certainly not an exclusively political issue, the growing sense that the nation is deeply divided is surely one that should concern our Government and MPs but the fact that they are one of the causes of division makes it difficult for them to act convincingly as unifiers. The Churches ought to play a part in this, and some do brilliantly at the local level but nationally they seem too preoccupied with their own concerns. That is a tragic mistake because grace is the foundation on which they are built as St Paul’s letter to the Romans (5:12ff) makes clear.
The challenge for anyone disturbed by the current state of affairs is to climb out of the Christian ghetto and get involved in their local politics, taking their Christian faith and prayer life with them. Jesus’ salt and light metaphors for Christian discipleship (Matthew 5:13-16) are the model to follow. There are some deeply committed Christian MPs in each of the parties but they need reinforcements. You may not feel called to become politically active but we should all pray that those in politics who profess to be Christians act with the grace that is the root of their faith and ours.