Just two more Prime Ministers until Christmas
It was a case of “Yes, Prime Minister” meets “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Such was the resignation of Liz Truss, now consigned to be an answer in countless pub quizzes.
Both tragic and inevitable, giving the impression that our nation is unable to govern itself. As the New York Times observes: “With the government in chaos, Britons are wondering what the instability at the top of the government could portend for a country battling double-digit inflation and widening economic malaise.”
But there’s a bigger picture, for this political malaise is not only infecting our country. The United States too is experiencing dysfunctional politics as Trump would engineer a comeback. What is truly frightening is that poll after poll shows that about 70% of Republicans say that Joe Biden stole the 2020 election.
Ruling parties in so many countries are being trashed, in France, Germany and most recently in Sweden. The recent electoral campaign in Italy ended up for the third time in nine years rewarding the party that seemed to best oppose the establishment.
As Winston Churchill famously said: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
But it’s not just the western democracies. Putin is on the slide while China’s Xi Jinping is facing major problems in his vast country. Meanwhile Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is facing down a massive challenge to his authority.
Something is happening to our world – and I haven’t even touched the failure of the Arab spring or the corruption rampant in so many less developed countries. Long gone is the heady optimism of the 1990’s. People are fearful, politicians inadequate to the task. Disillusionment reigns.
There are all kinds of factors at play here, some just specific to our own country.
Massive people movements caused by oppression and poverty are putting a huge strain for many countries, even liberal Sweden.
And the way that technology is transforming our economies is making a small percentage of the population very rich while most are no better off than they were at the end of the twentieth century.
Stress is rampant in the employment market. Only last week I saw an Amazon delivery man running with his parcel the length of Liverpool cathedral, such is the pressure to complete his round.
Added to this is the toxic mix of ageing populations and intergenerational theft along with the rise of individualism - each of us doing our own thing in our own way. So membership of voluntary societies, be it trades unions, Rotary clubs or churches, has been steadily declining over my lifetime.
This is especially the case for political parties. Today the Conservative Party has just 172,000 members. In the mid 1950s it was around 3 million.
Something is clearly amiss but at an even deeper level. To return to Winston Churchill, not usually known for his theological insights, he began the quote I referred to above by saying: “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe.”
That’s the problem: Sin, which the Bible sees as an-almost personified power that would wreck God’s good creation. The tragedy is that we are powerless to resist. That’s God’s department and through the amazing grace of Jesus’ cross, sin is dealt a mortal blow.
But we are not there yet as we wait for the culmination of Jesus’s victory. However, the good news is that, as the apostle Paul explains for thrones or powers or rulers or authorities (or any political system): “(Christ) was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment.” (Colossians 1:16)
Here we are talking about God’s providence, not something we often talk about today. Theologian John Piper explains: “God is not a passive participant in a world that exists without his sustaining it. Wherever God is looking, God is acting. If God perceives, he performs. If he inspects, he effects.”
Sin may be at work undermining our political institutions but God is equally at work repairing and renewing. How? Essentially through us.
It was US President Jimmy Carter who would often quote theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: “The sad duty of politics is to establish justice in a sinful world.” As a Christian politician Carter understood only too well what he was up against but also knew where he could find resource.
We live in an age of disinterest, a refusal to get involved. But as ever Christians are called to be different. Jesus calls us to be salt and light, to exert an influence far beyond our size or number.
Some years back I attended a seminar in the Palace of Westminster hosted by the Christian parliamentary officers for the three main political parties. Their joint message was clear: Get involved and join the party you voted for at the last election.
And that message has become even more urgent. Inspired by the Holy Spirit we refuse to be disillusioned: we get stuck in wherever God may call us to serve. Next time you say “Someone has to do something about this!” that’s your summons.