POLITICS are in the air. There is bound to be a General Election soon and everybody is manoeuvring for position. The main parties seem to have woken up to the fact that a significant number of voters have Christian sympathies and they have obviously noted how the Christian vote has influenced events in America over the last few years.
A CHRISTIAN VOTE?
The trouble is none of our political parties have done much to endear themselves to Christian voters. In the blue corner we have the team that flogged the family silver, brought us Sunday trading and fed the cult of individualism. In the red corner we have the team that has mounted a systematic attempt to undermine the Christian ethos on which our society is based. Whether it's Section 28, the age of consent, experimentation on embryos or abolition of the married man's tax allowance, they have set about the task of reforming the delicate structure of society with all the sensitivity of a soldier firing napalm shells.
And who is in charge? The leader of the blue team claims to go to church, and he cites his presence at memorial services and civic services - which let's face it are difficult for a politician to avoid. On Sundays he admits he would prefer to be walking the hills rather than in church because that's where he feels closer to God, which says a lot for his views about the place of Christian service and Christian fellowship in God's economy. He has however offered space at party HQ to the Conservative Christian Fellowship.
The leader of the red team has occasionally been seen at services in Roman Catholic churches, probably influenced by his wife. He is also believed to be a member of the Christian Socialist Movement, though the director Graham Dale, who is an aspiring MP, seems to be a devotee of the social gospel. He seems to think the Christian input in parliament should be something to do with campaigning for more overseas aid, and not so much to do with the moral issues that concern many of us.
So neither of the main parties has got a lot to shout about. On face value Christians might well take a cynical view of politicians glossing over their track records and putting on a Christian veneer simply to con us into voting for them. What if we all say, "A plague on both your houses."?
Well, what would you expect the political parties to do? There's an election in the offing. They need all the votes they can get. The cognoscenti fear the turnout at the General Election could be one of the lowest ever, and Christians' votes are worth as much as anyone else's. They are obviously going to make a pitch for support wherever they can find it.
A SYNODICAL VOTE?
Given that the members of General Synod are engaged in public service, if only through their membership of Synod, it would not be altogether surprising if some of their number were supporters of one or other of the political parties. The new Bishop of Willesden, for instance (who is no longer a member of Synod) had a long career as an "old Labour" member of Haringey Council. Peter Bruinvels was a Conservative MP and Sir Patrick Cormack still is. So just as in any gathering of 550 people, Synod is bound to have some political activists in its midst.
It was therefore most informative to see The Church of England Newspaper headline last week "Labour attack Tory bid to influence Synod" with the subhead "Conservatives work to woo Christian vote before election". Are we seriously expected to believe that both the Conservative and the Labour parties are not trying to woo votes before the election? And as for a Tory bid to influence Synod, well even Tim Montgomerie, the CCF chairman can't be so na´ve as to suppose that the members of Synod hold great political sway back in their dioceses.
LOCH NESS MONSTER
The story, written by Jonathan Wynne-Jones, has all the hallmarks of the Loch Ness monster stuff that keeps the press going in the silly season. And I suppose to be fair, news is pretty thin in the Epiphany season. The basis of the piece seems to be an e-mail sent by a member of Synod to the Conservative Christian Fellowship which somehow fell into the hands of the Christian Socialist Movement.
Ben Bradshaw, the Labour MP for Exeter, who is a member of the Ecclesiastical Committee is reported as expressing "extreme concern" that the Conservatives were funding (his claim) an "exclusive, shadowy and potentially very divisive group" within Synod.
Mr Bradshaw makes no secret of his sexual preferences and would probably be at odds with the Archbishop of Canterbury on nearly every moral issue in the book. Perhaps, like many liberals, he feels it is unacceptable for anybody who does not share his minority viewpoint to be allowed to influence anyone. But I find it quite amusing that he appears to believe that members of Synod could be easily swayed by an operation from Conservative Central Office. And why should they bother? By the time Synod meets again in July the General Election will likely have faded from the memory.
It is quite insulting to all of us really. I've heard it said that it would be pretty hard to get a motion through Synod commending virtue and deploring sin, without it being amended beyond recognition - and there is more than a grain of truth in that. I've put a private member's motion through in my time, and believe me, you have to work very hard to win the Synod over.
Frankly I find it a matter of concern that the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament, which has to approve all legislation passed by the General Synod, should contain someone with as little sympathy for the Christian faith as Mr Bradshaw.
However Mr Wynne-Jones, for some inexplicable reason then goes on to report gratuitous insults from unnamed "senior evangelical members of Synod" describing other evangelical members of Synod as "exclusive and closed-minded" "Evangelical insiders", whoever they are, describe them as "too fundamental and right wing". You could almost think to yourself, "my, how these Christians love one another." It seems that if you don't agree with someone, anonymous mud slinging is the order of the day.
Well just for the record, I have been a committee member of the Evangelical Group of the General Synod (EGGS) for a long time, and I can't think of anyone fitting the description of "senior evangelical" or "evangelical insider" who would make the kind of comments that the CEN printed, and put their name to them. Perhaps we should hope that Mr Wynne-Jones will not, in future, give column inches and free publicity to ill-informed rantings from people with an inflated sense of their own importance, but who wish to hide behind the cloak of anonymity. They must be prime candidates for the "shadowy" group Mr Bradshaw purports to describe.
Gerry O'Brien is a lay member of the General Synod. He represents the Diocese of Rochester.
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