Friday, June 29, 2007
George Herbert suggested that 'Storms make the oak grow deeper roots' - I think he may have been right - many a storm has passed this way of late, (my dad says it 'poshed' it down - not sure what he means) let's hope he was....(right that is, I mean Herbert not my dad).
Of all the places I have travelled in this world, there is one that moves me more than all the others put together and it's right here in Guernsey.
Walking up the steps of Tower Hill has become a very sobering experience. About half way up the steps is a plaque and its inscription describes the terrifying events of a day in July 1556 when three women were burned at the stake. What happened that day is a chilling rminder of what any religious right is capable of when given total control and power over communities.
Why is it many people shy away from mixing politics and religion? What is it that causes so many to keep these two sides of the same coin seperate? One could argue that maybe some people only entertain small talk and don't want to engage in a conversation of such potential diversity that the party might be spoilt.
The other night such an occasion arose. I suppose with Mr Blair moving on and Mr Brown moving next door, politics was on everyone's agenda as the boys tucked into chillied beef with udon. With a few religious convictions thrown in, it wasn't long before strongly held opinions were flying across the table.
The big disagreement stemmed from my opinion that state and Church should always be kept apart. Some, due to their belief that faith does in fact have real political implications, met this with great indifference. I don't disagree: you only have to look at someone like Martin Luther King Jnr to see that there is an integral connection between faith and politics; it's just I firmly believe that religion should inform politics not control it.
My worry is that the religious right has an obsession with taking over the world and I for one don't think this is at all theologicallly sound. The Church should be concerned with how it seasons the world rather than becoming its self-proposed dictator. In other words I believe the Christian mission to be more about quality rather than quantity. My point is that the Church's missionary vision should be one of a kingdom, not an empire - a subtelty which the Church has not always observed (again I refer to the plaque).
The big difference is that, and we see this all too clearly in todays world, an empire seeks to increase its own power and territory; a kingdom (God's anyway) does not need to gain the world, for that world is already God's. For me, it's more about dwelling within and carefully moulding culture. Didn't Jesus liken it to yeast working through a batch of dough, or a seed growing in secret (back to Coupland again)?
One of the main reasons William Temple was one of the most remarkable archbishops Britain has ever seen was because he proposed a pattern for society based on kingdom not empire values (personal freedom and dignity under God). His vision was based on a new partnership between government and faith groups.
So, in our contemporary context, this means the Church would reach out in respectful partnership with other faith traditions, inviting a new dialogue between religion and state about social and political morality. As for democracy, I agree with Jim Wallis, that, 'the biblical view of humanity suggests power and decision making should be decentralised and accountable, not because people are good but because we so often are not.'
A renewed ecumenical community has the ability to assist governments with new visions for a society desperately in need of them. Historically, religion has been a source of guidance for spiritual values and a brush with transcendence should call us to accountability. I remember a while back some timely comments from Rowan Williams regarding his desire to inspire a moral sensibility with ethics rooted in a transcendent reality. His comments were kindom comments not empirical ones.
What I have no desire to return to is what Philip Jenkins describes in his book 'The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity' - that the hugely influential roles and church leaders now play in the internal politics of American and African states draws 'telling comparisons with medieval Christendom.'
And after once more reading the plaque on Tower Hill, I am not sure that is a journey I want to make.......