Last week, we attended the Keswick Convention in the heart of the beautiful Lake District. This year was the 148th anniversary of the first Convention, and much thankfulness was given, and praise expressed for God’s faithfulness over nearly a century and a half. The power of God’s word to sustain, encourage and unite His people was a prominent theme during the week, where the main morning bible study looked at the reassurance we have in Jesus’ love and call in our lives, as expressed in John’s first letter. We can have assurance in God’s love for us because His Spirit abides in us, and this flows out in the way that as believers, we show love for each other.
As we listened to the talks and spoke to the many mission organisations which had stands in the exhibition hall, it was wonderful to hear about God being at work, frequently in difficult and hostile situations. One scripture seemed to sum up the attitude of those me met - Philippians 4:8-9. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” These brothers and sisters were fixing on the character and person of Jesus, seeing the good in their circumstances and committing themselves to pursuing His kingdom in their various areas of activities.
So, with this at the front of my mind, it was extremely jarring to see the front page of this Saturday’s Times shouting out its headline “Sunak aims to divide and rule after poll setback”. The thrust of the article was that the Uxbridge by-election result (which should it be repeated nationally would see the Conservatives lose more seats than Gordon Brown did in 2010) showed a promising approach for the government, whereby it would seek to identify specific issues which it could use to foment division and increase further the disharmony that exists in society, which has got much more obvious following the 2014 and 2016 referenda.
It is hard to see how Jesus’ words that peacemakers are blessed can be squared with this approach from the government, which still has nearly a year and a half until it seeks re-election.
The governing party seems more than happy to stoke the culture war, using inflammatory rhetoric against immigrants seeking a new life here, with the Rwanda policy being only the latest iteration of a hostile environment encouraged by successive Home Secretaries, even if not all of them are as honest in their terminology as Theresa May was.
Yet they should raise their gaze and look at the elections in Spain this weekend. While the UK was still in the EU, the Conservative party were allied with the Spanish VOX party and their MEPs sat happily together in the European Conservative and Reformists political group. VOX has positioned itself as anti-immigration, anti-abortion, anti-LGT+ rights and anti-devolution or regional autonomy. Its platform is not dissimilar from that which was on view in London earlier in the year at the National Conservatism Conference, which was heartily cheered on by GB News and some sections of the church.
VOX went into this Sundays elections buoyed by a strong performance in the 2019 elections and excellent results in the regional elections in May, and had expectations of gaining enough seats to be in coalition with the centre-right Partido Popular. In the event, it lost 19 of its 52 seats, with commentators pointing to the persistent hostility of its rhetoric as contributing to the loss of a significant amount of its support.
As Christians in politics, we are challenged to think not just about speaking truth and promoting policies that will bring glory to Jesus, but also to do so in a way that brings glory to Him. A common injunction we are told is to hate the sin but love the sinner. This is where Paul’s command to think about what is true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy comes in.
As Jesus’ followers in politics in particular, we should take great care to become more like Jesus in our words, and seek to build and not destroy.