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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

When politics meets an insuperable challenge

Another tragic migrant story hits the headlines as 39 people from the other side of the world are discovered frozen to death in a refrigerated trailer in Essex. Meanwhile the BBC news website shows a highly disturbing story from Bosnia showing migrants, including unaccompanied children, herded into makeshift accommodation, wholly unsuitable for the oncoming winter. The EU have allocated £10m to the Bosnian government essentially to keep these people out. Even so, the money has yet to be spent. We are living in a time of huge movements of people fleeing conflict and abject poverty. They all want to come here, so to speak. And so what is to be our response? However, Jesus does not allow us the luxury of wishing such people away, of removing them out-of-sight. They are there and they, he teaches us, are our responsibility. So Christ challenges his church, in the words of the parable of the sheep and goats, to care for “the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the poor sick and those in prison.” (Matthew 25:44). As if it were him. The problem is ‘How?” for there is no easy solution facing our government. We could fling wide our borders, not that would be politically possible, only to find we are faced with new but no less urgent problems. Single issue campaigns, however worthy and however popular, have their limitations. Those who campaign tirelessly and rightly for these undocumented migrants have to address the wider context, the bigger picture. Here we cautiously enter the world of politics, the ordering of our priorities through consensus, and here to my surprise I find myself quoting Donald Trump: “One of the key problems today is that politics is such a disgrace, good people don't go into government.” I may have mentioned before but in 2010 I found myself attending a seminar for clergy in the Palace of Westminster, organised by the cross-party group Christians in Politics. What impressed me was that the three representatives of the then main three political parties gave the identical message: Join the political party you voted for at the last General Election. Just opt in. In fact, each year at New Wine I attend the seminar led by Andy Flanagan, of Christians on the Left formerly known as the Christian Socialist Movement. Each each year he gives the same message - join your political party whatever it may be. If you turn up at their meetings reasonably prepared, you will soon find yourself in a position of influence. Two years ago he read out a letter from a participant from the previous year. His seminar had inspired her to join her political party and amazingly soon found herself elected onto her County Council. He then explained to everyone’s amusement that she had joined the Tory party! But why bother? We all know only too well that politics is messy and frequently confrontational. The tabloids may demand WHY WERE WARNINGS IGNORED? (The Mail) or accuse 39 DEAD IN HIS TRUCK (The Sun) – but then the next day move on, even taking the opposite stance. Which brings me to an excellent article in yesterday’s Unheard by Giles Fraser: Why shouting ‘traitor’ is a fool’s game. It’s worth reading: Basically the writer, who is a vicar in the London Deanery where my son-in-law is Area Dean, argues for compromise in our national life. He quotes Lisa Nandy, Labour MP for Wigan, after she voted with the Government: “In my view you betray the people you represent when you believe that your own moral purity and principles come before trying to improve things for others, however hard. I could stand on the sidelines and wave a flag, or make some decisions. I choose to try.” As Christians, certainly as Anglicans, we need to demonstrate when and how to compromise especially in a political standoff. For example, John the Baptist, the most rigorous of prophets, when asked by some soldiers, presumably of the Roman occupying force, “And what should we do?” He did not say “Throw down your swords and reject violence.” Instead he replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” (Luke 3:14). His counsel for them was, at least at that point of time, to stay within the system, a contentious political judgement. The apostle Paul, for one in the New Testament, fought hard to keep the church together. Above all he could discern between when to stay firm and when to give way. It’s something we all need to work on. For Paul the reference point was always the cross of Jesus, earthed in the real world of injustice and suffering. We cannot add to the cross, however hard we try and however worthy our motives. Jesus alone, so to speak, does the job. But then he calls us to bring his healing to the entire world and when we do so in his name, he promises all the resource we need. Not least wisdom and shrewd counsel. And the first step? To resolve to pray - for prayer is not opting out but the very opposite. You never know how God will respond. For to quote the leading theologian of the 20th century, Karl Barth (who stood his ground against Hitler): “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”

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