Four More Years
Hugh Baker says "Stop bleating about the Bush – learn the lessons"
My mother’s mother died during the Second World War, and my mother’s father married, at War’s end, a lady from a farming family from Repton, Derbyshire. On their way home from voting at the Election that saw in Clement Attlee’s Government, Grandfather’s new wife mentioned in conversation she’d done something which comes naturally to farming folk, and voted Tory. Grandfather (who hailed from a family of coal miners from Bersham, near Wrexham) SAW RED. A public lecture (long remembered by onlookers) was delivered on the evils of Toryism, the fact that Winston Churchill had ordered the troops to shoot at striking miners at Tonypandy......and so on and so forth.
I am happy to report that, subsequently, Grandfather and his new wife enjoyed a long and happy marriage. On election nights thereafter, nothing was said...but Grandfather saw to it that they slept in separate beds.
The decline of Socialism as a System of Belief has been paralleled by a decline in passion in our national politics, and a subsequent rise in apathy. If we bother to vote at all, we vote not so much out of the expression of conviction as from convenience: which of the competing political supermarkets will give us the best financial deal? Consensus rules: no one believes in anything, much.
The recent American Presidential Election may, therefore, have come as something of a puzzle to us. Seemingly, the incumbent President won, not because of "supermarket" issues (his record on the economy being pedestrian rather than outstanding), nor on any gung-ho overspill from the Iraq War. He won on moral issues. He won, seemingly, on his stance on abortion, stem cell research and Gay Marriage. A division showed itself in American society: these were that division’s markers. Card carrying Christians, historically apathetic about party politics, had turned out to vote for "our man" George W. in sufficient numbers to confound the Democrats’ belief that an increase in voting numbers would favour John Kerry.
In Europe, we have seen not an Election, but a Selection. The European Union is not a democratic body: Its distant oligarchs are sure they know what we need, and what’s best for us. It is run by an unelected body called the Council of Ministers, whose composition has to be endorsed by MEPs. Europe has set itself to be tolerant: a multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-dimensional society is going to bless us all, and will enable us to live in peace and prosperity together. But what’s this? An Italian by the name of Buttiglione opposes abortion, stem cell research and Gay Marriage! Further, he thinks that domesticity (as opposed to that essential for modern fulfilment, a paid job) is an honourable career for women! In our super-tolerant society, this is… intolerable. Signor Buttiglione’s crime, of course, is to be a firm Christian believer who believes that morals, far from being a matter of personal eccentricity, no more significant than how many sugars we have in tea, are fundamental to our well-being as a society. Expressing beliefs which would have been thought unremarkable fifty years ago, Signor Buttiglione was lampooned as a homophobic, Fascist extremist. Could he, like President Bush, look to a body of Europoliticians to support him in this? No, he could not, and president Berlusconi had to shove him off stage to restore order among Europe’s great and good. From this we may conclude that, as far as the grandees of Brussels are concerned, abortion, stem cell research and Gay Marriage are here in Europe to stay… whether you, I, or God like it or not.
What, if anything, can we do about this at present? Nothing. The church’s trumpet is blowing not so much an uncertain note as a whole medley of dissonant, contradictory tunes. As long as the present status quo is maintained, every denomination is a rag-bag Liquorice Allsorts collection of diverse opinions thrown together by little more than accidents of history. Standing for everything, they stand for nothing. The lunacy of the Ecumenical Movement as we knew it on the ground from the 1960s onwards was that it imagined that bringing all these ragamuffin regiments together would produce "unity", of such compelling attractiveness that the world would queue up outside our doors to join our wonderful Love-In. Such attempts at "unity" wilfully ignored the fact that the "traditional" divisions in God’s army, between High and Low and Church and Chapel, were becoming less important, and seemingly conquerable, precisely because new and more fundamental cracks were appearing. The old divisions were being left behind as the society which produced them was disappearing astern over the horizon. The new divisions – marked by the steady growth of the Pentecostal and House churches – were contributed to by the Ecumenists’ avoidance, certainly at local level, of difficult questions: What is the nature of the Church? What is the authority of Scripture? Folk looking for depth or certainty in these matters, if they found their local church silent or woolly on them, looked elsewhere.
If a Third Province emerges, it could be something far more positive and dynamic than just a Game Reserve for endangered Ecclesiastical species. It could have a distinct character, a body of beliefs it actually believed in, a pastoral policy that implemented those beliefs. Such a Unity would have to be worked hard for, particularly if it included the various kinds of conservative Evangelical the C. of E. now gives a home to. However, I would far rather wrestle with the problems of practical unity amongst the Orthodox than, as we are doomed to at present, try to make the best of a failing marriage to the Doctrinally Flexible.
Suppose, just suppose, it happened… a Third Province could join forces with Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, house church networks and conservative non-conformists on issues such as… abortion, stem cell research and Gay Marriage. Such matters are, I believe, more central to the nation’s spiritual and practical well-being than we may imagine. How can the Holy Spirit move on a nation and bring them to know Christ as Lord when there arises from it the stench of millions of slaughtered foetuses?
Were I an American, I would have had reservations about voting for Bush. He seems to me too cosy in his relations with American big business, and consequently complacent on matters ecological. Even so, he held the values of American evangelicals sufficiently clearly to get them to turn out and vote for him, and their support won him the Election. The appeal of a specifically Christian alternative to the grandchildren of The Man on the Clapham Omnibus may be greater than we think. I discover a widely held perception among my Parishioners that their Parliamentary representatives are living on a different, liberal, do-gooding planet, where Sin and personal accountability are no more. The tragedy of their parallel disaffection from the Church is that its Orthodox element actually espouses the fundamentals they would like someone to express politically. Put simply, they’d vote for us.
Hugh Baker, an obscure cleric from Staffordshire, in his wilder moments imagines how he will run things once a grateful nation pronounces him President-Archbishop for Life.
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