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PRAYING FOR THOSE IN POWER (January 2018)
When Teresa May became Prime Minister, I, like many people, was impressed by the speech she made on the steps of Downing Street. She set out her commitment to work for a fairer and more just society, where the benefits of prosperity would be "for the many and not just for the few". However, in December, it was announced that the members of the Government's Social Mobility Commission had taken the decision to resign. This included its chairman, the former Labour minister Alan Milburn, and also the vice-chair, former Conservative Minister, Gillian Shepherd. They both expressed their frustration and disappointment that the Government had failed to seriously address the divisions and inequalities of British society. They said they had no doubt as to the sincerity of the Prime Minister's intentions; but the pre-occupation with Brexit and other pressures, meant that there was no energy and drive in government to tackle issues of poverty and injustice. To be fair, successive governments of all persuasions have failed in the quest to eradicate poverty and give equal opportunities to the most disadvantaged.
There is a widespread cynicism about the motives of politicians. I have recently read Jeremy Paxman's book, "The Political Animal". Even Paxman, this scourge of politicians, believes that most of them start out sincerely wanting to create a better society. So what goes wrong to prevent the rhetoric of healing social division being matched by effective action? Most changes of Government seem to be heralded by great hopes for a new society. In the United States, the election of Barack Obama, the first black President, seemed to be a new dawn for disadvantaged Americans. Yet his term of office ended in disappointment. Many of his reforms were frustrated, and we have ended up with President Trump! None of us will forget the election of Nelson Mandala in South Africa. It was a great moment to witness the long queues of black people at the polling stations. There was such joy that for the first time they could have an influence in the democratic process. Yet there has been disappointment and frustration that this new dawn has not seen the millions of the poorest people lifted out of poverty. In Myanmar (the former Burma) we saw the election of Aung San Suu Kyi, after years of oppressive military rule. But now she is presiding over the ethnic cleansing, or possible genocide, of the Rohingya people. And the Pope in his recent visit did not even dare to refer to the Rohingya. Now in Zimbabwe, we have witnessed the scenes of joy on the streets that the long reign of Robert Mugabe has come to an end. Again, there are dreams of a new era, of freedom, justice and prosperity for all. It remains to be seen whether these hopes will be realised; or whether Mugabe will be replaced by his henchmen, who share his thirst for power and will be seduced by greed and corruption.
THE CHRISTIAN INSIGHT
The Bible has a vision for a just and peaceful society. We see this vision particularly in the prophets such as Isaiah, Micah, Hosea and Amos. The prophetic vision was of a nation where the poor would be protected, the weak would be given justice, and all would live in peace. That vision eludes us as much as ever it did. But as the Bible says, "Without a vision the people perish". Most of the advances that have been made in our Western society have been inspired by that prophetic longing for a better world. And yet the Bible has a realism about human nature. Christian doctrine speaks of our humanity as being "fallen". This means that there is a flaw in our nature. All our noblest hopes and aspirations can easily become corrupted by greed and the love of power. It is only by facing up to this (the Christian doctrine of "sin") that we can deal with the problem. We cannot create a better world by our own unaided efforts; but only through the grace and guidance of God's Holy Spirit.
So pray regularly for our political leaders. They share all the frailties of the rest of us; but have to live with far greater temptations. "Pride of man and earthly glory, sword and crown betray his trust; what with care and toil he buildeth, tower and temple fall to dust. But God's power, hour by our, is my temple and my tower" (Robert Bridges)