Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

“And who is my neighbour?”

9 July, 2017

In light of the divisions in American society that have been exposed and heightened by the US presidential elections, it may be a good time for followers of Jesus Christ to ask again the question: “And who is my neighbor?”

A lot has been written and said post-election, often in an attempt to deepen understanding on both sides. But there’s a real risk of “preaching to the choir,” talking past each other or reinforcing polar positions.

This article attempts to shift the balance of conversation from the horizontal plane to the vertical one. In other words, the intent is to promote our dialogue with—and particularly our response to—our Lord, without undermining our discourse with one another. In a time like this, we need to hear God speak into our situation and to make a right response to him.

To help us with this opportunity to hear God, let me ask you to slow down, reflect and complete the following sentence:

“The group(s) of people I seem to have the most wariness/anxiety over, fear of, or irritation/anger/animosity towards is/are ____________.”

What group do you have the most wariness over, fear of, or animosity towards?

The Shocking Samaritan

Now back to the question… “And who is my neighbor?”

The first time that question was asked, Jesus replied with what is now known as The Parable of the Good Samaritan.

We need to consider Jesus’ response carefully and deeply. But we need to make sure we read it in a way that shocks us like it did those who first heard those words.

The Samaritan in the story was anything but good from the viewpoint of those listening. They were despised, compromised, dishonest, treacherous, contaminants in society, and to be avoided as far as possible.

As New Testament scholar, Prof. Tim Geddert explains:

Jesus’ strategy [in responding to his enquirer] was not to pick a perfect example of merciful loving-kindness and let him demonstrate the right way to treat people in need. Jesus’ strategy was to shock his hearers by taking the least likely candidate… As surely as we link the adjectives “good” or “merciful” with… “Samaritan”, the Jews… would have supplied adjectives like “hateful”, “unclean”, “religiously-perverted”… Perhaps the parable still has the power to shock… if we try to imagine whom Jesus might have lifted out as his hero of compassion today.

Tim Geddert, Double Take: New Meanings from Old Stories

Who Offends You Most?

So how about, instead of ‘Samaritan’, we substitute in:

  • Blinded Trump supporters or blinkered Clinton advocates;
  • White evangelicals who “compromised the faith” by voting for either one of two morally-disqualified candidates, giving their vote away by nominating a third candidate or a write in, or not voting at all;
  • Supposed Christians who by their voting choices are inciting racism and misogyny or promoting corruption and fetal homicide;
  • Christian leaders who have (in essence) taken the Lord’s name in vain, used the Bible for partisan purposes, and – by failing to discern the underlying societal issues – have undermined the credibility and witness of the church;
  • Ignorant, conservative, working-class white males, or equally intolerant liberal elites with no empathy with the common working man;
  • Blacks, Hispanics, or minority groups who expect handouts, take our jobs and undermine our culture;
  • Immigrants (legal or illegal) who are an economic drain on – and a major security risk to – our once great nation;
  • [Your response to the sentence completion exercise above].

Choose a group that is most unlike you, most offensive to you—and then re-read the encounter between Jesus and this God-fearing lawyer who wanted to justify himself (Luke 10:25-37).

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” 

“Love God with everything and love your neighbor as yourself.” 

“And who is my neighbor?”

“The one who showed mercy toward him.”

“Go and do the same.”

In other words, let us go and show mercy (in heart and in action) on:

  • Those most different to ourselves;
  • Those that we feel justified to look down upon and erect barriers against;
  • Those we think would judge and despise us.

It’s interesting what Jesus does here. In his reply to the question “And who is my neighbor?”, he refused to look at the merits of the “Other”. In fact, Jesus led the lawyer to answer his own question. I trust we have done something of that here.

As he so often does, Jesus—whilst remaining deeply practical—moves matters on to a higher plane. He lands the coin on its edge. It wasn’t about who was right or wrong, better or worse. And it certainly wasn’t about who was in or out of our obligation to love. It was—no, it still is—about us Loving God by Loving Others. Jesus moves it beyond our viewpoints, debate and discourse. And made it about our love and our actions. Not how worthy the Other is, but how WE ARE toward the Other.

It’s interesting – hopefully impactful – to note that it inconvenienced the Samaritan to show mercy. He had to change plans and go out of his way. It cost him both time and money.

Here’s the kicker: In a situation where we are missing each other in the discourse—when we hear Jesus speak—the question becomes, “How will I respond to my Lord?”

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This blog post was first published at Missio Alliance under the title ‘Asking “Who Is My Neighbour?” After the Election’ on 9th December 2016.

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Post-referendum reflections – Part 2: Plot holes result in Box Office flop

16 July, 2016

Despite a big budget, a 5-star cast and great special effects, significant plot holes in a storyline can leave movie goers deeply unsatisfied. 

The EU Referendum was certainly like that in at least one respect: 

The Remain camp failed to engage adequately with a major question in the minds of many undecided voters. 

Are immigration levels – the size of the city of Newcastle upon Tyne per year – sustainable? Simply that! That is not a racist question (necessarily); it’s a practical one. I voted to Remain, but this question of sustainable immigration levels was one that I felt was not addressed satisfactorily. (The irony, of course, is that it was and is still unclear what effect exiting the EU will have on immigration levels.)

Unaddressed, this would leave a significant plot hole in the Remain storyline.

Remain, however, did not engage with the question. Instead, as politicians often do, they answered the one they wanted, but even then not very well.  

Immigrants are net contributors to the economy, they said; “they put in more than they take out”.

 But what does that mean? Does it mean that those coming from overseas pay more in taxes than they take out in benefits? Does it mean that their tax contributions or labour more than offsets the demand on the healthcare and education systems? It would have been good to have had that detail.  

Without that detail or an alternate credible narrative, it is easy to imagine the worst – especially when people experience hospital/GP waiting times and competition for jobs, housing and school places – or just personal and societal disharmony and needing something to blame it on.

Without information to the contrary, logic would, for many, argue that it is ‘in fact’ unsustainable.

So the plot hole remained but the country didn’t, as the “Remain” campaign flopped at the Box Office!

EU Referendum – Part 3: Sovereignty, democracy, immigration and trade

22 June, 2016

The first two posts looked at issues of Influence on, as well as the Stability offered by, the EU. In this last post, I highlight some other issues that have been in my thinking.

National sovereignty

I have an instinctive conviction about protecting national sovereignty – and that’s one of the main reason why I’d consider voting to Leave. Unfortunately, there are undemocratic principles and practices at work in the EU, which appear to erode our sovereignty – not to speak of the creeping movement and growing agenda toward closer political union. The changes of name from the EEC (European Economic Community) to the EC (the European Community in 1997, and then to the EU (European Union) in 2009 appears to reflect that journey pretty well. 

Democracy

It seems highly undemocratic that unelected officials are making our laws and interfering with the application of our laws through the European Courts. 

I understand, however, that the UK has only voted against a very small proportion of the bills that made it into EU law. In other words, the vast majority of EU laws supposedly “imposed” on us are those we voted in favour of. 

An independent academic research organisation reports that: “From official EU voting records is that the British government has voted ‘No’ to EU proposals on 56 occasions, abstained 70 times, and voted ‘Yes’ to legislative proposals 2,466 times since 1999.  In other words, UK ministers were on the “winning side” 95% of the time, abstained 3% of the time, and were on the losing side 2%.”

Nevertheless, the “distance” we might feel exists between us and our UK politicians is amplified several fold between us and decision makers in the EU. And where we are represented by MEPs – well, I can’t imagine many British people feeling connected with or empowered by their own MEP, let alone our MEPs as a whole group representing our national interests in Europe. This is an ongoing problem that surely affects the sentiments of some voters.

Immigration

There are many positives of immigration, from within and outside of the EU. Here is a blog piece written by a North East employer discussing what the EU referendum means to his business, including the advantages of being able to employ people from within the EU.

However, annual net migration at a rate of approximately a city the size of Newcastle upon Tyne does not seem sustainable to the rational mind. 

And I can’t help but feeling that the Remain campaign’s approach of ignoring people’s concerns on the immigration issue is not helping. Simply stating that immigrants are net contributors to the UK economy does not ease the unease. 

With pressures increasing on our healthcare and education systems and budgets remaining static at best, are we really to believe that net immigration at around 300,000 per year makes no impact?

For me, this remains unanswered. And neither side is willing to dig down beneath the top line statements of their campaign’s particular position. This has been typical, and is unsatisfactory and disappointing. Ho hum!

Trade

The Leave campaign says that there is no way the the EU will impose trade tariffs. However, I can’t see how we could avoid it, when the EU does with the USA and when other non-EU, European countries have to pay for the privilege  of trading tariff-free with the EU bloc.

Arriving at a decision

In the end, I can see – and in some cases – share both sides of the argument. Some questions remain unanswered for me and the lack of depth and detail on some/many issues has been unhelpful. So, I have chosen (instinctively or rationally) to prioritise some issues in order to arrive at a decision.

What about you? What do you think?

EU Referendum – Part 2: Historical roots and future stability in Europe

22 June, 2016

In my first post on this topic, I discussed the implications of the upcoming EU Referendum on our influence in EU nations, through  the gospel and in other ways.

Here I’d like to highlight two other, interlinked reasons that lean me towards voting Remain. 

One is its historical roots following the world wars to promote peace and stability – through interdependence – in Europe

This powerful, positive message by Gordon Brown expresses my feeling on that particular point much more effectively than I can. It is well worth watching! How refreshing to hear a Remain politician focus on principles, values and the common good, rather than simply the economic argument or the fear of impending doom.

The second is, I guess, the “do unto others as you would have them do onto you” type of principle that Jesus taught. In other words, the question for me is, “Would I be happy for the EU to totally fragment (i.e. for  all EU countries to decide to Leave in time)?” I think not, particularly from in terms of the stability and relative peace that (I believe) the EU has had a role in since the last World War. 

What about you? Whether it’s likely or not to happen, how would you feel about an opt out by all countries, the end of the EU?

Some say that NATO has been responsible for “peace” in our time. I don’t know enough to evaluate that claim. The probable answer is that both have been important.

I recognise that the size of the EU has grown, especially in more recent times. At the same time, the underlying motivation, which has been about stability and prosperity through economic interdependence, has increasingly shifted towards political union (which I am opposed to). The Telegraph has a piece on “What is the EU and why was it created?”

Furthermore, it could argued that freedom of movement and mass net immigration into Western Europe is actually disrupting the cultural fabric of those societies and giving rise to growing nationalist, fascist and extremist tendencies. I don’t know how true that is – or whether that is a result more so of the economic and employment pressure caused by the recession. Perhaps both?!

In the next post, I explore some other issues – mostly concerns with the EU.

In the meantime, I welcome you thoughts. 

EU Referendum – Part 1: The gospel and Godly influence

22 June, 2016

It’s been an interesting process coming to a decision about how to vote at the EU Referendum. I’ve been someone who can see both sides of some arguments for Remain and Leave, whilst being largely turned off by other ones.

This series of posts highlights some of the issues that have been in my thinking while I have journeyed towards a decision (- though not necessarily in order).

Steve Thomas, one of the senior leaders of the Salt & Light family of churches, wrote a helpful blog piece titled “The gospel, the EU and me”.

One of the main things that stood out to me from Steve’s blog was that kingdom (i.e. God’s) influence was going to come from people (not governments or countries):

a) People (missionaries, church planters, mentors) going (or even coming) with the gospel

b) People (Christians) getting involved to influence and help shape the direction and policies of the EU to some degree (though it might take a Wilberforce type figure to do that to any degree?). 

And that in both cases this would be done best by remaining in the EU

Regarding the first, the great advantage is the freedom of movement that is currently possible – a bit like the freedom of movement that saw the rapid advance of the gospel throughout the Roman Empire in the first century. 

To illustrate what it could look like without that freedom of movement – I recently met a Nigerian guy who was a missionary to an Eastern European country. He was there for about 18 months before returning to Nigeria to reapply for a visa. I have a very close friend from East Asia who had to wait almost three years for a missionary visa to an EU country. 

I’ve really appreciated receiving Steve’s perspective – and object lesson – in how to put God first in thinking about complex and emotive matters. 

At the same time, I recognise that there are other aspects or principles that people might focus on in trying to come to a decision about which way to vote. And I also recognise that there is probably no right or wrong vote, just right or wrong reasons, motivations and attitudes for our chosen vote.

In the second post, I will be looking at two other issues that have been prominent in my thinking.


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