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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

How to disagree when everything is at stake

"Yellow ribbons everywhere." Not a Tom Jones song but what you can see here in Catalunya, the Catalan 'autonomous community' in north east Spain. You see them everywhere: on trees and lampposts, bridges and on roundabouts. They are a sign of rebellion against Madrid. It seems that the Spanish electoral authority has ordered the removal of these yellow ribbons in support of those Catalan independence leaders on trial in Spain's Supreme Court from the front of public buildings - but some local councils, like here in Tossa de Mar where we are on holiday, are refusing to give in without a fight. Clearly this is a hugely emotive issue which goes back centuries.?? However, the Spanish central government in Madrid has chosen to take a heavy handed approach, for so much is at stake for the state. As we drove from Barcelona along the E15 we passed under several motorway bridges manned by protestors with their yellow ribbons each with a large banner (in English) "Free political prisoners." You may remember just two years ago how the Catalan parliament against strong opposition from Madrid organised a referendum on independence.?? It was hugely controversial with the anti-independence parties calling for non-participation. The national government sent police from the rest of Spain to suppress the vote. Images of violence with some riot police beating voters were a gift to the Catalan cause, a PR disaster for Madrid. Without going into any detail (after all, I am on holiday) Madrid crushed the revolt, dissolved the Catalan parliament and arrested most of its leaders. Catalan President Carles Puigdemont fled to Belgium from where the Spanish government tried and failed to extradite him. Currently a group of 12 Catalan leaders are on trial in Madrid - hence the motorway bridge protests. The problem facing the people of Spain and Catalonia mirrors that of our own Brexit dilemma in that this would seem to be a binary decision: independence or not. There does not seem to be any middle ground - essentially, you're in or you'e out. And this leads to strong views with polarisation and the temptation to demonise those on the other side, even to charge them with treason

So what may the disciples of Jesus contribute, here in Spain and back home with Brexit which has completely taken over all political conversations??? How can we be distinctive?

The heart of Jesus' message is a stark challenge: “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news !”(Mark 1:15). The choice is ours - to enter God's Kingdom or stay outside. The good news is that everyone is welcome and no one is excluded, least of all the weak and vulnerable. This is a binary decision - essentially you're in or out. In the parable of the wedding banquet, it is your choice whether to respond to the King's invitation to the feast - no one is going to frog march you into his banqueting hall. (What a lovely drawing of a train, Jack! Our five-year-old grandson has just got up to join me at this table!) The original guests simply refuse to attend.?? So the King responds: The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.' (Matthew 22:8f) At its heart this story is about the dignity of the individual to choose, a free decision only I can take. No one can take it for me.?? And my choice is respected, even if it does mean a very unusual guest list of people invited from the streets, 'the bad as well as the good' (v10). This emphasis on free individual choice is at the heart of democracy, even when there are going to be huge consequences. This implies debate rather than coercion, persuasion and not the exercise of brute power. However, Jesus shows us a generosity of spirit. His disciples were quick to exclude people. So in one episode we read John comes to Jesus with a stark request. "Master, we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”(Luke 9:49). His response? “Do not stop him, for whoever is not against you is for you.” And in the very next paragraph Jesus refuses their request to call down fire on a Samaritan village because they refused to welcome him. So Luke relates: "But Jesus turned and rebuked them." (Luke 9:55). It can be too easy to vilify other groups, on those who refuse to go along with us. Certainly the use of force to produce a political settlement only polarises and over the long term be counter-productive. How we get there is as important as that we get there, the process as important than the product. Otherwise the repercussions will be with us for generations. So we are to show respect wherever there is political disagreement.?? That may seem pretty basic, even obvious, but we live at a time when the basics are being ignored. If nothing else we Christians we need to show how to disagree and how to engage in persuasion, rejecting all forms of intimidation. Imprisoning your political opponents, whether here in present-day Spain or internment in 1970's Belfast, can only be a short-term fix. The long term consequences, however, can be disastrous. (I am being summoned for breakfast on the terrace - must dash) As disciples of Jesus we need to show how God's Kingdom functions, where everyone is valued and where no one is excluded. ?? We all count.?? No need for yellow ribbons when Jesus is King.

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