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None of the above

A little girl, settling into bed for her father to read her a bedtime story once asked:

“do all fairy tales begin with "Once upon a time"?

The father replied, “No, some begin with – ‘If I am elected’ “

The good news is that at this general election it looks as if there will be more briefings and resources available than ever before, to help churches think about policy from a Christian perspective. The bad news is that thus far such things don’t seem to have made an identifiable di ! erence to the voting habits of Christians themselves.

A wide-ranging and in depth survey by ComRes last month showed that religious

people were no more likely to vote than the wider population, and nor were those self-identifying as Christians more likely to place their cross in a di ! erent place to everyone else.

But there was a cause for hope for those who drilled down into the data. Tucked away in the survey results was the finding that those religious people who described their beliefs as 'important' and having a 'significant impact’ on their lives, were also much more likely to vote Liberal Democrat. Surprising, for some no doubt, as the party is sometimes seen as hostile to institutional religion.

This is not a party election broadcast on behalf of the Liberal Democrat Party. But given the tendency for people to vote ‘tactically’ for only the parties with a chance of winning, it does suggest that those who take their faith seriously are more prepared to see their vote as an act of witness, rather than a bid to control who returns to Westminster.

So on May 6 th , where will you put your cross?

we put our cross are two very di ! erent propositions. The cross of Christ is political, but it’s a di ! erent kind of politics. The cross of Jesus in perhaps better seen as a warning, a question mark, something that reminds us that power has terrible consequences.

Where we put the cross and where

And the cross of Christ reminds us to that it isn’t a case of whether faith and politics should mix. It poses such question as “what kind of faith?”, and “what kind of politics?”

The post-Christendom election

For the best part of 1700 years such questions – about faith and politics - have been answered mainly through the Christendom settlement between churches and government.

Christendom was both a culture and a power structure which dominated Western Europe for centuries. It emerged around the time of the emperor Constantine, and

began its decline at the Reformation and English Civil War. It shaped our theology and our ecclesiology, and it shaped our politics and political structures. And it is only of late that we can properly say that we are emerging from it. The Christendom culture is disappearing, but is legacy is still visible.

What is coming in its place is not yet clear. We are in a time of transition that we might term ‘post-Christendom’. And for the churches this will be a ‘post- Christendom’ election.

But post-Christendom does not mean ‘post-Christian’. Christendom was certainly religious, but some would maintain that what happened during Christendom wasn’t particularly ‘Christian’. There are the obvious injustices in which the churches were complicit – waging wars, persecution, slavery, economic oppression, crusades and inquisitions.

Nor does post-Christendom mean ‘secular’. Certainly there may be less religion around today, but instead of secularism, many have observed a ‘desularisation’ or a resurgence of interest in matters religious and spiritual. The churches may be losing their dominance, but this doesn’t mean religion isn’t around. A book published last year by two American authors who work for the Economist, suggests that ‘God Is Back’. Indeed, in every other part of the world outside Western Europe and North America, it seems religion is growing. There is a bit of a revival going on. There are more Christians in China than members of the Communist Party – and that’s according to o " cial figures. And we will continue to feel the consequences of that revival of religion around the world through such things as migration.

It is perhaps though more accurate not to say that God Is Back, but that religion is relocating. And as part of that there is a new relationship developing between church and state, religion and public life. Post-Christendom is a journey. No one is quite sure where we will end up. But what we can do is observe some of the features of the landscape, and see a little of what it is up ahead.

Stuart Murray has suggested seven features of post-Christendom which I have adapted for a political context, which help to understand what is going in:

From the Centre to the Margins: Within Christendom the Christian story and the churches were often central to the business of Government. Whilst the churches still exert an influence, now they are far more marginal.

From Majority to Minority: In Christendom, those who called themselves Christians comprised the (often overwhelming) majority, and so it was often easy for them to exert political power and influence. But in post-Christendom they are a minority.

From Settlers to Sojourners: In Christendom, Christians felt at home in a culture shaped by their story. They aligned themselves with and took part in the activity of governing. In post-Christendom they feel more like aliens, exiles and pilgrims.

From Privilege to Plurality: In Christendom, Christians enjoyed many privileges, often enshrined in law, and often including the privileges of government itself. In

post-Christendom, they have to exercise influence by witnessing to their story and its implications.

From Control to Witness: In Christendom, churches could exert control over society, perhaps most notably by legal means backed by sanctions for law breakers. In post-Christendom, they will need to exercise influence far more by witnessing to their story and its implications.

From Maintenance to Mission: In Christendom, the emphasis was on maintaining a supposedly Christian status quo, often through the machinery of government and the law. In post-Christendom the emphasis is on mission within a contested environment.

From Institution to Movement: In Christendom, churches operated mainly as institutions, which made it far easier to be part of institutional government. In post-Christendom they must reimagine themselves once again as a movement.

Of course, some vestiges of Christendom will remain, including some that were quite late arrivals. Post-Christendom is a real mix. We have bishops in the House of Lords, one quarter of primary schools are state funded church schools, prayers are said before Parliament sits, the churches preside at major events like coronations and remembrance day, a chaplaincy role exists in hospitals, the army and prisons, Christian acts of worship are a legal requirement in broadcasting and in schools. There is special tax relief for those engaged in charitable activities of a Christian nature. But even these things are changing. There is a fluidity about them.

And for some post-Christendom is undoubtedly a threat. They see things changing and they don’t like what they see. They fight against it, attempting to maintain privileges, opt outs and exemptions for religion in general, and Christianity in particular. For others however it is liberation – a chance for a more equal, free and fair society.

But whatever one’s views of it, this is where we are.

And it is in this context that there are two distinct ways that the churches are seeking to present themselves politically:

Blessed are the kingmakers

One tendency amongst some in the churches, which is a legacy of Christendom, is to seek to portray themselves as kingmakers. These are the people who fight the loss of power and control. Many still believe that they have it.

It was for example, fascinating to see just last month, how a poll of voting intentions was successfully spun by Christians. The ComRes poll I mentioned earlier, found that Christians were actually likely to vote exactly the same way as everyone else. However it was presented by some church groups as suggesting exactly the opposite - that the religious could be swayed as a block, and held the

key to the outcome of the general election. So successful was the spinning that it was featured in the national press and on Radio 4’s Sunday Programme in such terms.

Under such an approach, which appeals to many in the institutional churches, the church sees itself as influential and important. It keeps telling itself that it is. But actually all it is really doing is perpetuating a false consciousness and failing to face up to the reality of post-Christendom.

Strongly associated with such a position is the belief that Britain is a Christian

country. A particular statistic is often quoted, that 72% of people at the last census

identified with Christianity.

therefore Christianity needs to continue to have special privileges and power.

Britain it is argued is essentially Christian, and

Blessed are the persecuted

But there is a second way the church is responding to post-Christendom, and that

is to present itself as a persecuted minority.

been proposed that Christians are being marginalised, being suspended in the

workplace, losing jobs, or being forced to remove religious symbols.

secularism it is claimed, has reached such a point, that Christians are being oppressed.

In the last few years it has widely

The tide of

Quite often a comparison is also made between Christianity and Islam, with the allegation that Muslims receive better treatment than Christians. George Carey, for example, has repeatedly talked about Christian discrimination, often linking it to Islam and migration.

Under such an approach, the state is seen as passing laws which are discriminating against Christians, and the calls increase that Christians should receive special protections.

What are the implications?

The churches however are not the only group to have taken up the themes of ‘Christian Britain’ on the one hand and ‘persecution’ on the other.

Last year the British National Party created a billboard poster featuring a Bible verse and a picture of Jesus on the cross. Quoting from the Gospel of John it stated:

“If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” – John 15:20

The question was posed underneath: “What would Jesus Do?”

The advert related to the General Synod’s motion against clergy and church workers being members of the racist party.

There has been a growing debate within the church about how one responds to extremist candidates, and the church has got itself into a bit of a pickle over it.

Since before the last European elections, Ekklesia has been monitoring the activities of the party with regard to Christianity. It began when I was taking part in a BBC Radio 5 live interview during which the BNP’s press o " cer called the programme and claimed that the BNP was a ‘Christian’ party.

Since then we have been examining in particular it’s ‘Christian Nation’ rhetoric. It soon became clear that the party was making a concerted e! ort to recruit support from those who identified ‘Britishness’ or ‘Englishness’ with Christianity. One of the primary goals of such a strategy has been to increase opposition to Islam, and play on people’s fears over migration. But it has also been drawing support from Christians who feel marginalised and vulnerable.

The BNP’s campaign since has involved the establishment of a new front organisation called the “Christian Council of Britain.” Its founder, the self styled “Rev Robert West” has stood as a BNP candidate.

When the BNP’s membership list was published on the internet we did an analysis. A number of church leaders appeared to be listed, and this briefly made the headlines. But this wasn’t the real cause for concern. Some members were listed as ‘Pentecostal Christians attending an Assemblies of God church. Another was called a Quaker. Still another a practising Catholic. Others were said to be cathedral tour guides, members of the Anglican Society, and supporters of the Evangelical Open Doors charity.

Another was listed as someone who preached regularly in Baptist, United Reformed and Presbyterian churches. One was described as a “committed Evangelical Christian” who attended bible studies and prayer meetings. Others were described as ‘born again’ Christians. One had an email address linked to a Christian bookshop.

I am going to read you a quote. I want you to tell me who you think said this:

“Christianity has been at the heart of the history of this nation. British history, customs and ethos have been gradually shaped by Christianity.

“A recent correspondent suggested that, like it or not, Britishness is rooted in the Christian religion.

“Consider our national anthem beginning with the word “God”, consider the English flag designed using the Christian cross.

“Christianity is the tapestry upon which our country’s heritage was woven. All of this is lost on those who would deny Christianity any place in our nation today.”

the “

message is clear: wake up Christian England!”

Nick Gri ! en? It was actually the Archbishop of York writing in the Daily Mail in February.

John Sentamu is of course a fierce opponent of the BNP, and someone who has su ! ered for his stand against them. You cannot question his anti-racist credentials. But his example highlights a dilemma – the great white elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge, let alone address.

Ideas of ‘Christian Britain’, ‘Christian England’ or the ‘Christian Nation’ play into the hands of the Far Right. It is a toxic mix to then combine it with inflammatory rhetoric about the ‘marginalisation’ and ‘persecution’ of Christians. It is an ideology which many Christians are being taken in by.

The faithful witness

If we are not then to portray ourselves as a persecuted minority on the one hand, or continue on as if Christendom were still a reality on the other, what then should our response be?

It is indeed a terrible irony that the BNP is posing the question which Christians should have asked themselves already. “What would Jesus do?”. The answer which is lost on the BNP and some in the churches is found in Matthew’s Gospel:

“But I say until you. Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who insult you.” (Matt 5;44)

There is a third response which the church can pursue with regard to government. And that is one which recognises that the churches primary calling is not to control, nor to present itself as a persecuted minority, but to faithfully witness.

But this is a huge challenge. And one of the central problem is that witness has rarely been seen in political terms by the church. Too often witness has been privatised, de-politicised, spiritualised, or explained away as impractical or inappropriate for public life.

Turning the Other Cheek

The theology of Christendom hasn’t equipped the church that well for the post- Christendom journey. Whereas for example the Christians of the first few centuries could take Jesus’ teachings about love of enemies, forgiveness and turning the other cheek at face value, such ideas seem ill suited to a version of Christianity that was aligned to the state and had to play a part in defending an empire and waging war. Indeed, as Stuart Murray has pointed out, Jesus was somewhat embarrassing.

It’s time to rediscover the politics of Jesus.

The other day a Rabbi with whom I work sent me an email addressing the activities of those he considered his political opponents. In it he wrote resolutely: “we didn’t turn the other cheek – we decided to take action.”

It is a legacy of Christendom that the phrase “turning the other cheek” remains part of popular discourse. But it is also a legacy that the phrase is interpreted in a specific way. It is usually taken to mean inaction – passivity in the face of hostility. And when it comes to a viable political strategy, not surprisingly it doesn’t often figure. Simply letting ones opponent have another slug is not only impractical, it is downright naive, not to mention painful.

At first reading Matthew’s Gospel seems pretty unequivocal:

“You have heard that it was said: ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’. But I say to you, Do not resist the evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” Matt 5: 38-41.

But when the King James’ Bible was being translated, antistennai in the Greek was translated: “resist not”. A more accurate interpretation would be ‘resist not violently’. But when you are a king, you aren’t going to be keen on any type of resistance – so it is little wonder that the phrase was chosen to rule out resistance of all kinds.

An alternative and now well known interpretation is o ! ered by theologian Walter Wink. He points out that the Gospel writer records quite specifically what Jesus says. “If anyone strikes on the right cheek, turn the other also.

Why the right cheek? Wink points out that in the context, the right hand would have been used. Not just because it is usually the dominant one, but because in Eastern culture the left hand would have been considered unclean. As the Dead Sea scrolls specify, even to gesture with the left hand at Qumran carried the penalty of ten days penance.

But what we are dealing with here is also an insult, not a fistfight. A strike to the right cheek could only take place with the back of the hand. You can’t hit the right cheek with your right fist. The intention is not to injure but to humiliate. It was in fact a way of admonishing inferiors.

As Wink goes onto say: “Why then does Jesus counsel these already humiliated people to turn the other cheek? Because, he says, this action robs the oppressor of power to humiliate them. The person who turns the other cheek is saying in e! ect “Try again. Your first blow failed to achieve its intended e! ect. I deny you the power to humiliate me. I am a human being just like you. Your status does not alter that. You cannot demean me.”

Such a response would create enormous di " culties for the striker. Purely logistically, how can he now hit the other cheek? He cannot backhand it with his right hand. It he hits with a fist, he makes himself an equal, acknowledging the

other as a peer. “But the whole point of the back of the hand is to reinforce the caste system and its institutionalised inequality” argues Wink.

So our witness can be an active and engaging process, not a passive and inactive one. Witness can be political. It’s just that we need to rediscover how to do it.

But we have not often seen it in such terms. Indeed, Christendom in many respects, blunted and changed the political nature of the Gospel message. Kings and emperors aren’t going to put up with subversive religion.

Christians were faced with a bit of dilemma when Christianity became part of the empire that had put their founder to death. How were they to square Jesus’ teachings with their new role as part of an empire that tortured, waged war, crucified and imprisoned? Jesus’ teachings, and indeed his death and resurrection, stood as a challenge to such things.

There were a number of responses:

Privatisation: Jesus was granted moral authority over people’s personal behaviour but not over political or public a ! airs. This for example, sometimes led to Christian soldiers been urged to love and pray for those they killed.

Clericalisation: A distinction was made between clergy and the laity. For Eusebius, pacifism was for clergy, monks and nuns, whereas lay Christians were obligated to defend the empire with force

Separation: An idea particularly prevalent at the time of the Reformation was that faith could be distinguished from works. It was the motivation behind people’s acts that was important, not the acts themselves.

Marginalisation: Sometimes the teachings of Jesus were just ignored completely

But Christendom also brought with it a reading of the Bible, and indeed a perspective on politics which came from a position of power, and identified with the wealthy, rather than the poor and marginalised.

As liberation theologians have pointed out, who we identify with, and how we read a story, depends a great deal on where we read it from – a position of power and wealth, or a position of oppression and hardship.

In the parable of the talents (Matt 25: 14-30) for example, traditional interpretations are challenged when one considers who the hero of the story is, who the villain is, and who is most like Jesus.

There are some challenging questions we can ask and features of the story we can note:

- Who would the hearers of Jesus day, a poor, oppressed group, have most identified with?

- The wealthy man does not deny the claim of the third servant that he is a hard man, reaping where he hasn’t sown.

- What the first servant did – to double his money – begs all sorts of question about how he did it. How would Jesus hearers have thought he did it, through fair means or foul?

- What the wealthy landlord instructs the servant to do, to put his money in a bank and get some interest, was prohibited in the Torah.

- Where is the place of grace and forgiveness?

This is perhaps better interpreted, as some churches in South America have done, that this is a warning against rulers, power and its abuse.

But in this story are revealed our ideas about wealth creation, responsibility, riches, power, justice. How often have we heard sermons preached using this text about the positive e !ects of making our talents grow, or even as a basis for giving to the church? It will a ! ect how we interpret a whole range of issues, not least the banking crisis.

What we conclude tells a great deal about our politics.

A Post-Christendom agenda for public policy

Our job within post-Christendom, is to decide what is helpful to take with us on our Christendom journey and what to discard.

To do this we need a metanoia, a change of mind to see the world with fresh eyes. We need a new vision, a post-Christendom view, with a reimagined policy agenda within the churches.

So what might such an agenda look like?

When Jesus was asked a question about an issue of policy – taxation - he didn't accept the framework around which the debate was constructed.

The political landscape on the issue was shaped by two political groups of the time. There were those in bed with the Romans, believing it was

acceptable to pay taxes to Caesar. Others of a more revolutionary bent believed it would be collaboration to pay taxes. But when asked whether people should cough up for the occupying power, Jesus didn't give a "yes" or "no" answer that we might demand from politicians on Newsnight today. Using a visual aid, like many prophets before him, he held up a coin and asked whose head was on it. It was of course Caesar's. "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's", he said.

The story itself has been spun by many down the centuries (who have often been allied with Governments) as an endorsement for the payment of taxes. To the people of Jesus' day however, his response would have reframed the debate, highlighting deeper questions about allegiance and authority, and in whose interests the question was being asked.

This is what the cross of Christ does too. It subverts agendas. It tells the story on the empire, the political leaders and religious leaders, putting to death the author of a radical social and political manifesto.

Challenging the system

Someone once said: “Don't vote - it only encourages them”

I am not advocating a boycott. But the calls to vote and engage politically during general elections which come from churches, civil society groups and indeed the state beg the question: “On whose terms?”.

We don’t have to simply roll over and accept the political system as it is, or the political agendas that we are o ! ered, as they are. Nor do we have to play the political system at its own game.

Due in great part to the centrality of the Christian religion historically, not just in terms of its relationship with power, but also in relationship to culture, the Christian faith has been closely aligned with the political order.

Bishops still, for the moment, are embedded in the Second Chamber of Parliament alongside appointees which include prominent Christians such as retired bishops and archbishops, former leaders of other denominations, as well as Christian campaigners such as Baroness Cox and Lord Alton of Liverpool. Prayers are said each day before Parliament sits. Indeed, even in the House of Commons, the number of MPs who associate with the self-identifying Christian groupings in the main political parties – the Conservative Christian Fellowship, the Christian Socialist Movement and the Lib Dem Christian Forum – are disproportionately over- represented when compared with the church-going population. We might suggest that such people are ‘nominal’ in their faith, or we may not agree with them theologically, or with the positions that they take. But successive Prime Ministers have also talked about their faith, from Margaret Thatcher, to Tony Blair, and Gordon Brown, the son of a manse, who just last week wrote in a book published by

Christian MPs in Parliament about the centrality of Christianity in shaping his political vision.

Despite the demise of Christendom, faith still plays a central role in the everyday life of Parliament.

But such things work both ways. Because this also means that there is little incentive to challenge or to change the system, when the interests of faith are closely aligned with the status quo.

Where for example have the Christian voices been in the debate that has been

raging over constitutional reform following the row over MPs expenses?

interventions from church leaders have not been particularly radical. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, himself a member of the Second Chamber called for the ‘culture of abuse to stop’ saying that the moral authority of Parliament was being undermined 1 . The Archbishop of Canterbury certainly raised important issues, but they were limited to a call for an end to the ‘systematic humiliation’ by the Daily Telegraph 2 saying that it ‘threatened democracy’.

The

It is true. But there was more to it. The diagnosis from the churches was not systemic. It was limited to the realm of personal morality. How MPs had behaved, or how they were being treated. The only wider implication that was drawn, was that the whole scandal undermined people’s trust in Parliament. No one seemed for example to be picking up on the correlation between the safety of MPs seats and level of abuse 3 , that the less accountable an MP was, the more likely it was for them to be embroiled in the expenses scandal.

Constitutional Reform

The Central Lobby in Parliament may have a psalm around the edge, but a few steps to your left you find yourself in a chamber designed for adversarial and tribal debate, not constructive dialogue.

The apostle Paul warns against ‘party spirit’ alongside idolatry and debauchery. I remember my first trip to the whips o " ce as a young graduate, full of the excitement about entering Parliament. I went to collect some party briefings for a

1 MPs' expenses: Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, condemns 'culture of abuse', Telegraph, 10 th May 2009, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/mps-expenses/

5303149/MPs-expenses-Lord-Carey-former-Archbishop-of-Canterbury-condemns-

culture-of-abuse.html

2 Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams: humiliation of MPs must stop Ruth Gledhill, The Times, 23 May 2009 http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/

3 FactCheck: expenses and safe seats, Channel 4 News, 15 October 2009, http://

www.channel4.com/news/articles/uk/factcheck+expenses+and+safe+seats/3388597

debate. But rather than fair and balanced argument what I found was political ammunition to destroy the arguments of my opponents, and talk up my own side.

Truth is often the first casualty of the political system – yet it should be what our political system is based upon. When Jesus stood before the politician Pilate, he suggested that everyone in the side of truth listened to him.

Criminal Justice

And our endorsement of the political system also spills over into the related area of criminal justice and the role of law. The election campaign will no doubt be dominated by debates about building prisons, length of sentences, the numbers of police on the beat and levels of crime. It many respects these debates reflect the underlying values of the justice system.

The statue of justice that stands above the Old Bailey, but also in the ante-chamber to the House of Lords represents a Greco-Roman idea rather than a Christian one. A sword in one hand, scales in the other, sometimes blindfolded. The symbolism is of

a punishment driven system, rather than a restorative one. A figure who is blind to the poor and vulnerable or for that matter the rich and powerful, and one who is cold and removed, having no relational dimension.

We see this reflected in the way the system works. An o ! ence is committed first and foremost against the crown. The job of the police is to charge a person with breaking the law and amass evidence. The Crown Prosecution Service then decides whether to proceed, and if so, an adversarial system seeks to determine whether a person is guilty or innocent. The victim becomes a witness in the state’s drive to bring a conviction. There result is either punishment or acquittal, with little chance of reparations.

Christian conceptions of justice however have a di ! erent emphasis. There is a wonderful description in the Hebrew Scriptures of how the people came before Moses who was their judge, and we are told “all the people went home satisfied.” There wasn’t a winner and a loser, but a sense that judgement is about making

things better. Even in the cross of Christ we have the sense of atonement – at-one-

ment- where things are made

something cold and removed, Christian ideas of justice are relational. There is a bias to the poor and vulnerable. The focus is on the breakdown in relationships between people, with the chance to make things better.

Justice is restorative. And rather than

A

Christian agenda stand opposed to the one we are o !ered. It would lead one to a

di

! erent approach to criminal justice. It might for example lead us to ask where

the restorative programmes are? Where are the opportunities for victims to confront o ! enders with what has taken place and show them the true human cost of their actions? Where is the chance for o ! enders to make things right again? Why does prison lead to such high re-o ! ending rates? These are very di ! erent

questions to the ones over which the big political parties will slug it out in the next few weeks.

Indeed a Christian agenda should challenge the main parties in a whole range of areas.

Foreign Policy

Perhaps nowhere is the contrast between political parties and Christian approaches more stark than in the area of foreign policy. Each party e! ectively subscribes to the ideology of the national interest, an idea which is fundamentally challenged by love of neighbour that transgresses borders, and the idea that all are made in the image of God and all are of equal worth.

Migration

Post-Christendom, with its lack of emphasis on the equating of Christianity with governments, nation states and borders may liberate the church too to think in new ways about our obligations to those beyond our shores.

There is a consensus amongst the main parties that we need migration controls and

that those controls can be applied to di ! erent parts of the world in di ! erent ways. In other words, people who are born in Europe would find it much easier to enter

the country, than those born in Africa, whose access we restrict.

viewpoint challenges such an ideology which barrs access to resources on the basis of where one is born.

A Christian

Defence

The early Christians often rejected violence, focusing on Jesus teachings about love of enemies, forgiveness and turning the other cheek. When the faith became aligned with the empire it had to explain its part in the waging of war and the defence of the empire. It became less a question of “can we go to war?” and more a

question of “how should we wage war?”.

rationalised, and the centrality of peacebuilding and peacemaking which we find in the gospels was played down.

War needed to be justified and

With a greater distance now between churches and government, peacemaking might once more take a central role in the priorities of the church. This does not mean that the “just war” theory of Christendom will be discarded. But rather the emphasis of churches can shift to models of addressing conflict which are not primarily based on military options.

There are lots of examples we can cite. We see this for example in the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniement programme or Christian

Peacemaker Teams, who have helped unite Shia and Sunni in Iraq. But we also saw it in the way that churches, amongst others, played a part in using nonviolent

methods to overthrow regimes in the USSR.

Christians included are working to prevent conflict from beginning, or deal with it when it does.

NGOs and aid agencies, many

Yet when we compare the budget spent, the Oxford Research group points out that for every pound we spend on conflict prevention, we spend two thousand on military options. The gospel calls us to a reordering of priorities.

The issues go on and on, and perhaps we can discuss them more in the questions at the end.

Conclusion

I want to finish however by quoting a veteran MP. Like him or loathe him, you have to respect Tony Benn. After 50 years of being a politician, when he finally retired, this is what he said. “I am leaving the House of Commons, to concentrate on politics”?

It is a warning that actually the agendas of politicians are very narrow. In many respects this election is a stitch up. The parties are saying very similar things, based on very similar values.

But when I was working in the House of Commons in the mid Ninetees I received a letter from someone advocating a year of Jubilee of debt remission for countries in the developing world. I nearly fell of my chair laughing. I thought that it would never happen. It just didn’t feature on the agenda of anyone.

But five years later the G8 – the world’s leaders - were sitting around discussing, not could the debts of some of the poorest countries be cancelled, but how they should do it.

The reason why things changed in just 5 years was less because of who the politicians were, but more because of the alliances of churches, unions, aid agencies, pressure and cause groups, who shifted the political agenda enough, to allow the politicians to take the idea on board and act.

And of course, it was a Christian idea. A year of jubilee. An act of grace. Unmerited favour. The kind of idea that many would consider ill suited to the business of

Government.

involvement. It is no longer big enough to pull the levers of power. But it can form alliances, and reimagine itself as a movement which acts between elections to set the agendas, as well as once every five years.

But it happened. And this is how the church must view its political