to vote or de-vote?

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This week I voted. It did not take long. It was not difficult. It was an election for my local Police and Crime Commissioner. The ‘campaign’ has been very low key around here – no leaflets, no phone calls, no posters. I had to look up the candidates for myself in order to make a decision about where to put my ‘x’. If I hadn’t had a polling card I would not have known there was an election at all.

It was tempting to think that my vote won’t make a difference: why should I put myself out by walking around the corner to the local school that was hosting the polling station – it’s only one vote, after all. That thought did cross my mind this morning, but then I dismissed it. Not just because if we all thought like that then nobody would get elected, or even the thought that there are countries where the people are denied that privilege, and when they are given it they vote enthusiastically. There was a bit more thought than that. I have written to my MP several times recently: about the clearing of part of the ‘Jungle’ in Calais, about the way that our Government could do more to help those fleeing persecution, and most recently about the ‘Dubs amendment’ to the Immigration Bill. But if I don’t participate in the democratic process as fully as possible (with whatever flaws I might think it has) then it’s much more difficult for me to voice my opinion with as much integrity as I would like. If my voice is to mean anything then I feel that I should vote.

Of course democracy is not really mentioned in the Bible. Nobody voted for Moses or Joshua, or the Judges, or the absolute monarchs of the Old Testament. In the New Testament nobody voted for Caesar, or any of the Herods, or even Pilate, Felix, Festus or King Agrippa. And the appointment of the early church leaders seemed to have more to do with whether they had known Jesus and the length of a straw (or whatever ‘casting lots’ meant) than democracy.

I believe that democracy has no place in the church (even though it’s the best (or least worst) political process). Don’t get too hot under the collar just yet, please read on because, as we all confess as good Baptists, I believe that if we vote in a Deacons’ or Church Meeting we are not voting democratically (although it looks similar) we are seeking to express what we are collectively discerning to be God’s will. Deacons’ and Church Meetings, at their best, are places where we can disagree agreeably, discuss graciously and then seek to discern wisely what God is saying to us.

In the book of Acts there are two contrasting approaches to discerning God’s will. The first is from the mouth of Gamaliel in the Sanhedrin when they were working out what to do with Peter and the Apostles who had been arrested (Acts 5):

34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honoured by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35 Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: ‘Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.’

I have often heard Gamaliel’s wisdom commended as a good example of how to deal with a tricky situation. But to me it seems like a cop-out. He did not commit himself to discerning God’s will, he hedged his bets: he uses ‘if’ twice in the last two verses. (As an aside I note that the Sanhedrin had the apostles flogged before they released them, just to make a point and the Apostles rejoiced because they had been considered worthy of suffering for the Gospel).

Then there’s Acts 15 – the Council of Jerusalem – where the Christians tried to work out how Jewish God wanted you to be to follow Jesus. People of opposing views shared their opinions and then they discerned together (we don’t know how) and decided:

22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. 23 With them they sent the following letter:

The apostles and elders, your brothers,

To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:

Greetings.

24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorisation and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25 So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul – 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.

I love the phrase “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” as that, to me, seems to capture the essence of how a Deacons’ or Church Meeting should come to a conclusion. Whether or not votes are cast in order to help us discern, at the end we should all affirm “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” and then work to put that into action – even if it’s not our own personal preference – because we believe we have collectively listened to God through each other and heard what he wants. And that’s where Gamaliel’s words, with a slight alteration, make more sense: “But because it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

Be blessed, be a blessing.

An open letter to the UK after the General Election

Dear UK

child drawingFirst of all, thank you  to so many of you for taking part in the General Election. There are many people in the world who would love to have the opportunity to express their views in the way that you have.

To those who will be in government, please remember that what you have been given by the people of this country is a gift – you have been given the opportunity to serve, not to rule.

To those who are disappointed not to be in government, please remember that prophetic voices usually come from the margins.

To those who are rejoicing about the result, please remember that you have won an election, not a war, and those in parliament serve all of their constituents whether or not those people voted for them.

To those who are saddened by the result, please remember that you can still work to try to bring about some of the changes for which you have hoped and voted.

And to all of you, regardless of which political party you voted for, God is for you and would welcome the opportunity for a chat.

Be blessed, be a blessing

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the x factor

Last Thursday I attended a wonderful prayer vigil at Chelmsford Cathedral (thanks to all who clearly worked so hard on it) where we were provided with opportunities to pray about a number of different issues related to the General Election (tomorrow, in case you didn’t know!)*.

Praying for housing and homelessness – the books in both scenarios are ‘Great Expectations’ – lovely touch!

We were also offered the following prayer, which I think sums up my aspirations when I take part in the ‘x factor’ and put my ‘x’ in the box and put my paper with the ‘x’ in the box in the box. How will you be voting?

Lord God,

You are sovereign over governments and nations, you care for each individual, for those who are powerless and for those on the margins.

You created us to live, not in isolation, but in society and in harmony with all creation. So we pray for wisdom and discernment as we prepare to vote. Help us to see the issues that confront us in the light of the values of your Kingdom.

May we vote not in our own interests but in the interests of others; those in our communities, in our nation, across the world and the whole created order.

We pray for all those standing for election, that they may speak and act with honesty and integrity, and we pray that those called upon to serve as MPs may do so in the spirit of servanthood and in the interest of the common good.

We ask that you will enable us to play our part in building a just and peaceful world in which all people and all living things may flourish.

We ask these things in the name of Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*I also had the opportunity to pray for the election on Radio Essex alongside our local Bishops!

do the hokey votey: in, out, or shake it all about?

X In CheckboxIt was an election day yesterday. I had the opportunity to put my kiss* on a piece of paper to declare my democratic love for a local council candidate and some candidates for the European Parliament.

I was surprised when I was handed the ballot paper for the European Parliament to see just how long it was. They almost had to give it to me as a scroll! Alongside the traditional mainstream parties were some new parties, some single issue parties, some extremist parties, and some parties I have never heard of before. We’ll have to wait until Sunday before we find out who has won as the rest of Europe is still voting in their own European Parliamentary elections.

But based on the local election results so far there is an expectation that the UK Independence Party (UKIP) will have done well. I am not going to tell you exactly who received my electoral love* (it was one of the older established parties) but the long list got me wondering. And the success of UKIP in local elections crystallised my wondering into pondering:

Is it just me, or do you see the irony of a party that was founded to get the UK out of Europe sending candidates to participate in the European Parliament – the very organ of democracy they want us to leave? How can you be engaged in the EU if you don’t want to be a part of it?

And that’s when it hit me. That’s just like the way that some Christians see ‘the world’. They see it as inherently evil: to be shunned, avoided, and only engaged with at arm’s length. They see it as something to come out of and withdraw from. They see it as something that will tarnish them.

But that’s not what I see Jesus doing when I read the gospels. In fact, I see him doing exactly the opposite. He throws himself in headfirst. He engages with and confronts evil. He seeks to undermine and destroy injustice. He affirms the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalised. He criticises the religious people who want to withdraw. He goes all out to affirm (as Genesis 1 does) that God’s world is inherently good. Yes, it is no longer as he intended it. Yes we can see evil things happening and evil people at large. But God’s idea, embodied in Jesus, is to redeem and renew his world not to abandon it.

Jesus came into the world not to bring us out of it but to shake it all about so it could be more like God planned it to be, and one day that work will be complete. He asks us to get involved in that process today. What might that look like?

Be blessed, be a blessing

*X