View from the Vicarage
On the odd occasion when I have mentioned politics in sermons I know that it is quite likely that someone will come up to me after the service and tell me that church and politics shouldn't mix.
I don't agree...
In fact I would go so far as to say that it was the politically challenging things that Jesus said and did which contributed to his crucifixion, and if we are his hands, feet and mouthpieces now, then we need to be prepared to follow suit. And in terms of determining who we choose to vote for, it strikes me that we need to consider which party most seems to have his values. It will never be a perfect fit, but we need to ask the difficult questions.
For example Jesus treated women as equals, making friends with them and speaking with them, treating them as disciples and going so far as to ensure that it was a woman who was the first witness to the resurrection and was tasked with taking the message to the other apostles, thus earning our patron saint the title, 'Apostle to the Apostles.' The authorities constantly frowned upon him for these actions. Which party do you think most stands up for the rights of the excluded, of those at the bottom of everyone's priority list?
He treated the law with contempt too if he felt it meant that the downtrodden were kept excluded. Many times we read about Jesus breaking the strict legal code about the sabbath, that one should never do any work, and yet time after time he healed people when they came and asked for help, regardless of what day of the week it was. He was criticised by the powerful for this too. Which party do you think will change laws in favour of the downtrodden and those who need help and healthcare?
Jesus made the outsiders and the immigrants a priority. In every Gospel we find an account of Jesus overturning the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple. What is so significant about this is that they had set up their tables in the outer part of the Temple known as The Court of the Gentiles. This was supposed to be a place where people who were not Jewish by birth could nevertheless come and take their place amongst the people of God. But of course they couldn't find peace to pray there because of the cacophony created by the buying and selling going on there. Jesus was on the side of the outsiders when the legal system had been twisted in favour of the ruling classes. Which party do you feel is on the side of the outsiders?
I am not going to tell you who to vote for. That is not in my remit as vicar and would be counterproductive. But it is definitely in my job description to remind you of what Jesus was and is like, and that his priorities haven't changed.
Jesus seemed to go out of his way to do whatever he could to reconnect people into the web of society. For example, when he healed lepers he told them to go and show themselves to the priest. Why? So that the priest could pronounce them clean and allow them to rejoin their home community. When he cast the demons out of the man who had named himself Legion he would not permit the man to come with him on his travels but sent him home, clothed and in his right mind, to rejoin his community. When he healed the little girl he gave her back to her parents for the same reason. Healing and the subsequent restoration of people to their communities was and is a priority to Jesus. Which party do you think is making the restoration of community a genuine priority?
This was brought into a sharp focus for me on a recent occasion when three of us tried to help a homeless man into 'the system' only to discover how inherently difficult it is for those who have hit hard times through no fault of their own to get help. The multitude of forms to be filled and boxes to be ticked makes it almost impossible for anyone without a masters degree to figure out how they can even access help. So it appears they fall out of the system, disappear from the numbers, with the result being that the statistics seem to indicate a fall in number accessing 'the system'. It sounds like good news to those uncritically reading the newspapers, but the reality on the ground may tell a different story and goes hand in hand with the growth in foodbanks. Which party do you think will deliver a country free from the need for foodbanks and where the down-at-heels can be helped without a bureaucratic nightmare?
So how are you going to vote? I'm merely posing some questions and each of us will have different ideas about which party is most likely to be able to solve these issues. In the kingdom of God the last will be first and many who are first will be last, so which party do you think most closely follows the priorities of heaven's kingdom? Please don't just tick the same old box without thinking about it. Vote after consideration of what you think Christ would do because we are his hands and feet on the ground. Read all the different papers this week, not just your own favoured one, even if doing so makes you grind your teeth. Once I started doing this I found it remarkable how much I learned of the other sides to any story. I don't consider myself to be a member of any political party but have tried to vote according to which party seems to have the same agenda as Christ. No single party can make that claim but we can make conscious choices about who, at this point in time, seems to have priorities which are closest to those of Christ.
So we might wish to ask ourselves, who are the lowest of the low in our society? Who are the dispossessed? Who are the poor? Who are the immigrants? Then instead of judging them for how they got to be into their predicament it strikes me that we should do as Christ did; to look for ways of helping them out of it, and ask which party genuinely seems to us to be making their needs the top priority.
For more thoughts on this I strongly suggest reading the letter written by the House of Bishops which you can find at https://www.churchofengland.org/media/2170230/whoismyneighbour-pages.pdf Don't worry if it loads up as 50+ pages; the typeface is very large!! You may not agree with it but it will help you question where best to cast your vote.