Reader Writes, June 2017
When the Church lives up to our Lord's radical values and church leaders speak up, there is bound to be a politician who tells the Church to mind its own business. Bishops and archbishops have spoken out against wars, punitive taxes, treatment of the vulnerable and discriminative policies; it's not politics but democracy. Having a view, caring and speaking out are important. But politicians might defend their irritation by pointing to the famous incident in the New Testament when Pharisees came to try and catch Jesus out over the paying of taxes. Is it right to pay taxes to the Roman occupier? Show me a Denarius he said, and duly pointed out Caesar's image; “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and to God that which is God's.” There is a separation of Church and state but nonetheless we may, rightly, hold strong views on how states operate.
Christian ethics don't belong to a small spiritual pressure group calling itself the Church. They are universal values, and they challenge all of us, the whole world, to live up to God's standards. Putting it simply, the Christian life is actually the normal life, the complete life, life in all its fullness, that God intends for all of us to exercise and enjoy. Everywhere in scripture we find issues of justice, and the prophet Micah sums it up pithily: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly before your God.”
If we are made in God's image, and if justice matters to God, no wonder we find ourselves compelled to speak out; no wonder churches are often places where the homeless get fed, where those in anguish find comfort and care, where the arguments and conversations around politics are always in contest. It's true that we are not staying in this world, but for as long as we are here there is a lot of work to be done. I spotted an Indian proverb: “Life is a bridge; cross over. No need to build a house on it.” In Christian language, we are pilgrims, travelling light but caring a lot about the earth and the people we travel with.
So what do we do about the election on 8 June? Get out there and vote! But just as importantly, or even more importantly, encourage others, especially the first time voters, to get to that polling station. It's their future. Politics matter and government matters. Follow Gandhi's maxim, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” We render unto Caesar when we pay our taxes, but we render unto God when we stand up for justice and insist that our taxes are used ethically.
For my part I have consulted the swifts, who by now are raising young under the eaves of Kington's old houses. Soon their family groups will be filling the summer sky with their screams and acrobatics. They pointed out that as citizens of an intercontinental aerial globe, the world they have known for thousands of years is changing, unavoidably, and as far as they are concerned, not for the better. They want us to vote Green, and I shall; but the Green Party shouldn't be necessary. Justice and the environment should be at the heart of every manifesto.