Turn us from every shallow judgement

“God of salvation, we stand before you on holy ground, for your name is glorified and your mercy revealed wherever your mighty deeds are remembered. Since you are holy and forbearing, turn us from every rash and shallow judgement to seek the ways of repentance. We ask this through Christ, our deliverance and hope, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, holy and mighty God, for ever and ever” (Collect for the third Sunday Lent).

As with Scripture, so too with prayer, sometimes a word or phrase jumps out and embeds itself on my mind. This was my experience the other Sunday. “Turn us from every rash and shallow judgement”. As Caroline keeps on telling me, by nature I am an impetuous character, and I confess that all too often I am guilty of “rash and shallow judgement”. But at least I am mostly self-aware – so hopefully that acts as a break on my behaviour.

By contrast in the count-down to the forthcoming Referendum on the European Union, it seems to me that many of our politicians are guilty – with a vengeance – of “rash and shallow judgment”. The present political world in the UK is like a church meeting out of control! It is not an edifying sight. As a result I have become deeply disturbed. So I wrote to my local Member of Parliament.

I am perplexed and saddened by all that I see, hear and read in the media of the Conservatives tearing themselves apart in the Referendum debate. The debate – if that is the word – seems to be characterised by rash and shallow judgments, and underlying jealousies and ambitions. I personally feel that David Cameron has come up with as good a deal as could be got – and should be supported. It was clear from the outset that most of those now advocating Brexit were wanting out long before the negotiations began, and in my opinion the way in which many are marshalling their arguments appears to lack integrity. I am not sure where you yourself stand on these matters, but thought you might be interested to hear the views of an ordinary ‘punter’.

Almost by return I received the following reply:

Thank you for your email, and I couldn’t agree with you more on all the issues that you mention in your email. I personally will be voting to stay in the EU and I just wish that some of my colleagues would shut up or simply agree the merits of the case without it degenerating into a brawl.

Although I too will be voting to stay in the European Union, I recognise that there is not one Christian viewpoint. There is no Bible passage which unambiguously points to Britain staying in the European Union – although I would maintain that the Little Englander isolationist spirit apparent in some surely cannot be reconciled with Scripture; similarly the desire of some to leave the European Union in part because they wish to wash their hands of all responsibility for refugees from places like Syria and Iraq surely runs directly contrary to the parable of the Good Samaritan. But what is clearly unacceptable is the way in which the debate is often being conducted, and where apparently rational arguments are camouflage for human ambition and rivalry. As I was reflecting on this my mind went to the ‘sins of the flesh’ listed by Paul in Galatians 5. I opened my NRSV and read:

“Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing and things like that” (Gal 5.19-21a).

Although Paul was writing to a group of churches, it seems to me that his words are relevant to some of our politicians too – especially if one adopts Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase in The Message:

It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing every-one into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable additions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.

All very interesting, somebody might say, but what has this to do with the over-all title of your blog, Church Matters? Everything I say, for as churches we need to be concerned for the Kingdom, and the Kingdom lays claim to the world. As I argued in my PhD thesis of many years ago, whenever the first Christians proclaimed Jesus as Lord, in the first place they proclaimed him as Lord of the world, and only secondarily as Lord of the church. Ministers, I would maintain, may not be party political in pronouncements they make from the pulpit, but they may be ‘political’, concerned for the affairs of the state. Indeed, there is much to be said for helping people to avoid ‘shallow and rash judgment’ in the coming weeks.

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