Thursday, 30 November 2017

The Trouble with Trump

Prime Minister Theresa May and President Trump
Credit: Jay Allen. Crown Copyright. Under Creative Commons License
Yesterday, when President Donald Trump retweeted videos from the far-right and fascist organisation, Britain First, his actions were met with fury and disbelief by British people  across the political spectrum. It seems that nothing can unite the British people like their collective opposition to a man who is called the leader of the free world. Condemnation of Trump’s actions was universal. The Archbishop of Canterbury condemned his actions, as did Brendan Cox, the widower of the MP Jo Cox, who was murdered by a man shouting ‘Britain First.’ Condemnation was forthcoming from the opposition parties, from the media and even from Trump supporter, Piers Morgan. Most striking however was a rebuke from the Prime Minister herself. Theresa May's spokesperson said last night that Trump was ‘wrong’ to tweet these videos. Of course it is important to add that these videos from Britain First, which purport to show Muslims engaging in acts of violence, are there to stoke religious and racial hatred in the UK. However, it also has to be said that the content on these videos has not been verified, and could be what Trump himself calls 'Fake News.' Indeed, even the Dutch Embassy in US has said that the video said to show a 'migrant' committing a crime was actually of a Dutch national.

However, if the President’s tweets weren’t bad enough, this morning he tweeted again, this time lashing out at the Prime Minister herself who is caught in the unenviable position of having to condemn Trump’s actions and also having to work with him as our closest ally. Speaking for herself this lunchtime, Mrs May has again stated very clearly that Trump was 'wrong' to do what he has done. I’m sure that officials in both Washington and London are tearing their hair out over this most unsavoury and unorthodox president. Imagine the furore if Theresa May had retweeted videos from the Ku Klux Klan.

In a sense we shouldn’t be surprised by President Trump’s actions. He has shown time and time again that he conducts himself that is wholly inappropriate for the elected leader of the world’s most powerful country. In a blog post last year, just before the Presidential Election, I repeated Hillary Clinton’s words that Donald Trump is ‘temperamentally unfit to be President of the United States.’ Never has a truer word been spoken. 

Trump bashing is very popular - both on the left and the right in today’s politics - but hatred is never the answer. We should hate what Trump is doing but when we start hating another human being then we’re on very dangerous ground. To be honest, there is part of me that does feel sorry for Donald Trump as a human being. After all, people who peddle hate are often very broken people themselves. 

However, putting aside the outrage of what Trump has done, what really troubles me about Britain First and other far-right groups is the way in which they try and appropriate the Christian faith for their narrative of hate. Again I don’t want to demonise another human being; after all, we have to remember that everyone - no matter how abhorrent their views or their actions - is loved by God. However, when Britain First try to dress up their racist views using Christian symbols they are committing blasphemy. We read in Exodus 20 that the third commandment given to Moses on Mount Sinai was ‘you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.’ When racist groups use crosses on demonstrations or speak of ‘Christian patrols’ or of standing up for ‘Christian values’ they are guilty of taking the Lord’s name in vain and committing the sin of blasphemy. 

Blasphemy is one of those old fashioned religious words but for me it encapsulates what the far-right are doing. Anyone who uses God's name to espouse hate is getting themselves into big trouble. For while the far-right, and any other extremists for that matter, may be roundly condemned by the media, by politicians and the public, they are also opening themselves up to the condemnation of a much higher power. 

This Sunday is Advent Sunday. In the Church, Advent is not a time for Christmas shopping, office Christmas parties and decorating our homes but is instead meant to be a time of preparation. One of the key themes of Advent is also the Last Judgement. What is certain is that sooner of later each of us will stand before the judgement seat of Christ where we will have to account for our actions - whether we are the President of the United States, members of a far-right group or ordinary people like you and me. And for those who purport to stand for ‘Christian values’ but who do not know of the transforming love of Jesus, Jesus himself has a chilling warning: ‘Not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.’ (Matthew 7:21)

Jesus calls all of us to turn away from what is wrong in our lives and live lives filled with his love. So let's not fight hatred with hate but allow God's love to transform our hate-filled world.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Shock Election Result: 'Another fine mess!'

Reflecting of today’s shock election result - and most of us really didn’t see it coming - the words of Laurel and Hardy come to mind when thinking about how the Conservatives - and perhaps the country as a whole - must be feeling about Theresa May: ‘Well, here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into!’ 

Prime Minister Theresa May announces she is
forming a minority government.
What I think we’ve learnt in these fractious days that we seem to be living through is that there is no point in making predictions any more (though to be fair to pollsters YouGov their final poll was more or less spot on). If we’ve learnt anything from the past few years of going to the polls it’s simply that we should expect the unexpected. While the ‘Yes’ campaign lost the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014, no-one starting that campaign would have guessed that it would have been that close. A year later, in 2015, everyone thought we were heading for another hung parliament but David Cameron defied expectations and won a small majority. Then in 2016, while it was going to be close, no-one actually thought that ‘Leave’ would win the EU Referendum, and across the Atlantic who would have guessed that Donald Trump would beat Hillary Clinton in the race to the White House. So, going into this year’s snap General Election, we really ought to have read the runes and worked out that there was no way Theresa May would ever get a thumping majority. Incidentally, perhaps May should have read her history books more carefully - Edward Heath called a snap election in February 1974 thinking he would increase his majority but ended up with a hung parliament.

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn
dramatically cut May's majority
It seems sacrilege to say it but I’ve had enough of going to the polls. Three major polls in three two years (four in three years if you’re Scottish) does seem be overdoing it slightly. And before anyone starts bellowing ‘…but people died so you could vote’, after another election that appears to have created more problems than it solves, I’m not sure frequency in polling is actually a good thing (though I will say that a large youth turnout amid a high turnout in general is something we should celebrate this year). Unfortunately, what I've noticed is that each of the recent polls in 2014, 2015, 2016, and perhaps now in 2017, has in turn created a new problem that has then led to a new poll: the 2014 Referendum is still being played out in every poll Scots have had since, the 2015 Election meant that Cameron had to go through with his manifesto promise to hold the 2016 Referendum, which in turn has caused May to seek her own mandate for Brexit in this election - and we are arguably in a worse state as a nation because of it. 

Now don’t get me wrong. Being a healthy democracy is a good thing. The people should choose those that govern them. However, a democracy is not something that should be held in too high esteem. After all, democracy is imperfect and is a reflection of the people who cast their ballots. What our elections have shown us is that instead of a unified nation with a common purpose and identity I see a nation that is ill at ease with itself. We are a nation that seems fragmented and rudderless. Our recent multiple elections haven’t solved anything and have simply highlighted the deep division we have in the United Kingdom. By going to the polls again and again and again (and I’m hoping we don’t get another election in the autumn when or if Theresa May’s minority government falls apart) all we are doing is getting the results that a divided nation will get - yet more division. The problem with democracy is that it often covers difficult truths about ourselves as a nation and how we relate to the ‘Other’ - whoever the ‘Other’ is to you. We are a nation that is desperately in need of healing.

So despite what the Tories in Scotland or Labour in England might say, there really are no winners in this election. As the legendary psephologist, Professor John Curtice has said

‘Almost everybody lost. This is a result that brought disappointment to all parties:

The Conservatives lost their majority.
Labour suffered its third defeat in a row.
The Liberal Democrats found themselves treading water.
The SNP’s independence bandwagon came to a juddering halt.
And UKIP imploded.

It is not only the Conservatives who will be asking why Mrs May changed her mind about holding a snap election.
The only winners are perhaps the DUP - to whom she seems to have awarded the role of kingmakers.’

So what would I like to see next? Constitutionally, it's the right of the largest party to attempt to govern and it looks like this is what is happening - though there is no way that Theresa May can pretend that nothing’s happened and she needs to listen to what the result is saying. However, I would also want all parties to try and work together in the national interest. In leaving the EU, the British people are facing an almighty challenge that is unprecedented and has the potential to harm us all. We are where we are in terms of the election result so I would hope that all parties - especially the two larger ones - would put aside petty party politics, attempt to act like grown-ups for a change and work together - yes, together - in the national interest. Governments of national unity happened in the early twentieth century and the Conservatives and Labour worked together to govern during the Second World War, so why can’t May, Corbyn and the rest of them start behaving like responsible adults and work together for the common good as we enter Brexit talks?

I know it probably won’t happen because the parties - and too often their supporters too - loath and despise the other. But surely that would be the best way forward for the country?

Monday, 22 May 2017

'Not another one?' The 2017 General Election

When Theresa May announced a snap General Election last month it was Brenda from Bristol, who featured as a vox pop on BBC News, who appeared to sum up the mood of the nation. When told about the election Brenda exclaimed: ‘You’re joking?! Not another one? I can’t stand this. There’s too much politics going on at the moment.’ 

I too have some sympathy for Brenda’s reactions as I too have election fatigue. In the UK we’ve been to the polls an awful lot within the space of a few years. If you’re Scottish then you had the 2014 Scottish Referendum - of course while the rest of the UK couldn’t vote a vote for independence would have had an implication for the whole country. Then there was the 2015 General Election and a divisive and bitter EU Referendum in 2016. Added to our elections and referenda we’ve also been subjected to the impotency of watching a car crash of a US presidential election last year too.

Prime Minister's Question Time
Photograph © UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor. 
Under Creative Commons Licence
But while I’m not overjoyed to be going to the polls yet again I do think that unwelcome as it is this election is necessary. After so much uncertainty following the vote for Brexit it does feel like the political landscape is completely different to the one voted for in 2015. Though let’s hope its not a hung parliament as that will add to uncertainty - worse still, if no-one forms a majority we might have to go to the polls yet again!

Though this election may be necessary, in a world that has seen Brexit and Trump in the last twelve months there is part of me that is worried what will happen next.

I am not apathetic towards politics. I do have political views and it’s probably fair to say that these views probably don’t fit neatly into any of our political parties. There isn’t a party that I could honestly say that a feel at home in. However, unlike some other clergy who share their party political views, I personally don’t think it’s right for church leaders to express their party political views; the vicar and Guardian columnist, Giles Fraser, for example, has always been very willing to nail his colours to the mast as a Jeremy Corbyn supporter. (In the interests of balance I should name a Tory supporting clergyperson but there are far fewer examples to draw from. However, while not run by the clergy, the Archbishop Cranmer blog is an example of a Christian commentator that supports the Conservative Party). Now, I don’t mean that the Church shouldn’t get involved in politics. It absolutely should air its political views (whether that’s a concern for the poor or the plight of persecuted minorities) but I don’t think we should publicly show preference for any political party or leader. Apparently that’s why elections aren’t held on Sundays in the UK - so that clergy can’t influence their flock how to vote on polling day! Though as an aside, it's interesting to note that any intervention into an election campaign by the Church of England is normally seized on as being partisan. In 2015 the House of Bishops letter to congregations was seen by some Conservatives as being too pro-Labour whereas this year the Archbishops’ letter has been criticised by some on the Left as being too pro-Conservative - the Bishops’ can’t really win! Sadly, the truth is that sometimes people read bias into something just because they disagree with it.

While my party political views are private, I will say that I do have some anxieties about what we will happen after 8 June. But I think people of all political stripes will be anxious about the outcome of this year’s snap election - and come May 9th there will be some very disappointed people out there, as there always is when the results come in.

However, the sad truth is that whoever is in Downing Street for the next five year is likely to make mistakes that harm ordinary people - all prime ministers and governments have done so, no matter what their party colour; think Blair and Iraq or Thatcher and the Poll Tax. Yes, we should vote, yes, we should care who governs us and yes, we should hold our leaders to account but ultimately any government - no matter how powerful - is temporary. They are here one day and swept away the next. 

In these past few years when we have seen so much political instability and turmoil, one of the verses in the Bible I keep coming back to is from Psalm 146:3-7. It says: 

‘Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God. He is the maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them - he remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free.’

As a Christian what is important is the bigger picture. If we believe that God is sovereign and that God is our true King then it ultimately doesn’t matter whether we are ruled by Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn. In the not too distant future both May and Corbyn will find that the power they had has slipped from their grasp and neither will have made the impact that they hoped for. Yes, as Christians we should be engaging proactively in democracy but in doing so we shouldn’t lose our perspective on the bigger picture. 

The big picture is the Kingdom of God - which belongs neither to the Conservatives nor Labour nor any other party. The Kingdom of God is where God’s rule of peace and justice prevails. It is where men, women and children discover the love that God has for them and their lives are changed through encountering Jesus Christ. Coincidentally, the week leading up to the General Election is the week between Ascension and Pentecost and the Archbishop of Canterbury has launched a  global wave of prayer called Thy Kingdom Come. He wants Christians from all over the world to pray for more people to come to know Jesus, for that is ultimately how we will change the world and change people’s lives - not just for five years but for eternity.