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Aggressive Political Engagement?

Today, I received an email today from the Evangelical Alliance (to which I belong). Its main business was to promote their Christmas message, but it trailed other things, too. One was the latest snippet from their ‘21st Century Evangelicals‘ project. This was on political engagement. Here’s what it said:

The latest in the Alliance’s 21st Century Evangelicals research series looks at the question of how Christians are communicating as the world changes, bringing new technologies, new media and new ways in which we speak and listen to the world around us.  The research shows that Christians are engaging in politics to a far greater degree than the average British citizen, and their weapon of choice is social media.

Clearly they’re pleased with evangelicals being more politically engaged than most citizens. That in principle is good. There’s just one problem. Did they mean to use the word ‘weapon’? Did that deliberately convey a confrontational approach to politics by evangelicals? Was it an unwitting testimony to the way many of us in the evangelical tradition campaign politically – as badly as the mainstream politicians we criticise? Was it just accidental, in that they happened upon the familiar phrase ‘weapon of choice’?

Let’s hope it was just an accident. Because ‘our fight is not against flesh and blood’.

Christmas Is Really For The … Er, Politicians?

More and more this year I’m hearing people say that Christmas is really for the children. Which always seems odd to me, however much I enjoy seeing the festival through my children’s eyes. Didn’t Jesus come for us all, and for all creation?

Many years ago, the poet Steve Turner identified this in his poem ‘Christmas Is Really For The Children‘:

Christmas is really
for the children.
Especially for children
who like animals, stables,
stars and babies wrapped
in swaddling clothes.
Then there are wise men,
kings in fine robes,
humble shepherds and a
hint of rich perfume.

Easter is not really
for the children
unless accompanied by
a cream filled egg.
It has whips, blood, nails,
a spear and allegations
of body snatching.
It involves politics, God
and the sins of the world.
It is not good for people
of a nervous disposition.
They would do better to
think on rabbits, chickens
and the first snowdrop
of spring.

Or they’d do better to
wait for a re-run of
Christmas without asking
too many questions about
what Jesus did when he grew up
or whether there’s any connection.

Yet if Easter is political, so is Christmas. In an article published ten days ago in the Telegraph, Dr Stephen Holmes of St Andrew’s University argues that the Christmas story is irreducibly political.  And while some may moan, even – especially! – in the same publication, surely Dr Holmes is essentially right, even if some might query certain details. The criticism to which I have just linked ludicrously puts Dr Holmes in the same categories as those who have previously poured sceptical waters on the supernatural elements of Christmas. Dr Holmes would be rather surprised by this, as someone theologically conservative enough to have been engaged at times by Spring Harvest and serves on the Council of the Evangelical Alliance!
He is right to protest against Victorian sentimentality that removes the contemporary force of the Christmas story. Mary was a single teenage mother, even if the circumstances were different. Joseph and Mary with the young Jesus were asylum seekers in Egypt. The politicians oppose Jesus. The religious establishment doesn’t get it. Power is inflicted ruthlessly upon the poor in the mechanics of the census.

Of course, some of the politicians will try to own Christmas, but they will do so with trite and inane clichés, if past form indicates anything. They too will seek to empty the story of its force.

There’s an N T Wright quote doing the rounds among Christians on Facebook right now that seems to get it right, in my opinion:

Christmas is not a reminder that the world is really quite a nice place. It reminds us that the world is a shockingly bad old place… Christmas is God lighting a candle; and you don’t light a candle in a room that’s already full of sunlight.

As the old slogan puts it, if Jesus Christ is not Lord of all, then he is not Lord at all. That includes politics, and the whole shebang.

Banning the Make Poverty History TV Ad

OFCOM, the regulatory quango, has banned the Make Poverty History TV ad, with celebrities clicking their fingers every three seconds to mark the death of another child. You can read their decision here.

Various sponsoring bodies of MPH are furious. (And you’ll have noticed from the banner on this blog that I support the campaign.) Ekklesia has condemned the decision as effectively partisan: why is it OK to ban MPH from TV commercials on political grounds but not those companies whose products cause the very problems MPH is campaigning against? Anthea Cox of the Methodist Church points out that decisions on poverty are necessarily political and involvement in the campaign by Christians has been a direct consequence of their faith.

All of which means the MPH ads are banned on the old grounds of religion and politics. You’re not supposed to talk about them in public if you’re British. Or so the theory goes.

OFCOM argues that MPH’s goals are ‘wholly or mainly political’ and maybe they are, but as Anthea Cox replies above, how can you avoid that? Furthermore, they say the commercial was directed towards influencing government policy and that’s against the relevant codes. Right. So it’s OK for a multinational to shell out money to send people to talk directly to Downing Street but you mustn’t do it on air.

OFCOM may or may not be applying the rules accurately but doesn’t the whole sorry affair stink of hypocrisy? In particular it’s the hypocrisy that keeps the rich wealthy and the poor destitute – the very things MPH opposes. Who wrote those rules, then? I wonder.