I felt like cheering as I watched the televised debate between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage over membership of the European Union. Yes, the arguments were well put. But actually, it was the principle of the thing. It was great to see two people locked in a feisty dual, going head to head over passionately-held beliefs.
So often, political debate seems to get bogged down in accusations about incompetence rather than the rights and wrongs of an issue. Or the differences in opinion are so subtle and technical that it’s hard to stay engaged. Or it just feels too difficult, full stop. In a recent conversation, someone told me that she’d stopped thinking about how her lifestyle might impact on the environment, because it was just too complicated.
And it’s not just politics or the environment. Passionately-held beliefs can make us feel uncomfortable, partly because we don’t want to “inflict” our views on other people. Everyone has the right to their own opinion.
But there is a risk here: that we lose sight of first principles, and stop being able to express and hold on to our passionately-held beliefs. A recent survey found that people in the UK are now less likely to believe in God than to believe that it’s unlucky to walk under a ladder … or that picking up a penny will bring them good luck. And working with a church group recently, on how we can share our faith with other people, one woman told me: “If I start talking about God, people will think I’m a nutter.”
So I’d like to put the case for more arguments! Let’s talk with passion about the things we believe in. And feel comfortable about debating those issues with people who don’t agree.
The Revd Poppy Hughes, Parish Priest, the Benefice of Tetbury, Beverston, Long Newnton and Shipton Moyne
The death of Tony Benn last weekend has provoked a mixed response – some will mourn him as an inspirational and passionate speaker, others as a ‘national treasure’, and some will denounce his politics. At the opposite end of the political spectrum, the same divided reaction followed the death of Margaret Thatcher last year.
Whatever you thought of them, it is true that in some way they changed this country. I’m afraid I am too young to remember much of their active years, which has caused me to reflect on who it is that will be remembered by the next generation, who it is that has profound influences on their lives and futures. It seems unlikely that any of our current tranche of politicians will inspire them in the same way. In a world which values false celebrity over true character, self-aggrandisement over self-sacrifice, and wealth over worth, the task seems particularly challenging.
You only had to read to the second paragraph of Tony Benn’s Times obituary to find the description “subversive radical”. Christians follow one of those too – though I am not comparing Tony Benn to Jesus, nor trying to align their political views! But we need those in our own generation who will speak up for the poor and oppressed, who will challenge the status quo, and who will provide a voice for the voiceless. Maybe it’s not elsewhere we should be looking for these passionate people, but to ourselves.
Revd Rosie Woodall, Priest-in-Charge of Bisley, Chalford, France Lynch and Oakridge
Recently 12 boxes containing 3,000 booklets arrived on our doorstep. At first I felt overwhelmed by the task of distribution until our local vicar said: “You’ve still got time before Ash Wednesday; just so long as you are well organised.” His encouragement prompted me to contact each of the Area Deans and sure enough after a few hassles each of them was glad to receive a box for local parishes. There was even one left over for the cathedral.
This experience could be relevant to other forms of environmental work:
- Teamwork – These high-quality booklets were written by Bible experts; made attractive by graphical designers; produced by printers and delivered to home by courier.
- Feelings – Environmental issues often stir up strong feelings. It was only when I admitted to feeling overwhelmed by the task that someone gave encouragement to continue.
- ·Perseverance – It was a logistical challenge to drop off each box at the prearranged time and place. By making personal contact I was confident that the booklets would get into the hands of local vicars and then their parishioners.
“I have found that there are three stages in every great work of God; first, it is impossible, then it is difficult, then it is done.” Hudson Taylor was speaking about missionary work but surely his words also apply to certain aspects of caring for God’s creation.
The Anglican Dioceses of the South West are responding to the challenge of climate change. Click here for further details: www.thecarbonfast.org
The Revd Arthur Champion, Diocesan Environmental Advisor
Steve McQueen’s 12 years a slave won the best picture Oscar last week. I went to see it with my wife and afterwards found myself uncertain how to reply to the question from one of my children as to whether we had enjoyed it. Not because it wasn’t superbly done, but because it evoked a whole range of emotions and ‘enjoy’ seemed the wrong word to use. Yes, there was superb acting and the photography was stunning, but the theme it dealt with was harrowing.
It is the true story of how Solomon Northrup, a black American, had been kidnapped in Washington, leaving wife and family, and sold into slavery in the south. It was twelve years before a conversation with a Canadian abolitionist (I wondered if he was a Quaker?) led to his friends being notified and his release.
All’s well that ends well? Well no, the closing credits told us that it proved impossible to get a conviction of any of those involved and limited success in closing down this trade.
Northrup was initially sold to an upright Christian man, who by the standards of the time was a good, kind owner. He like so many others was blinded to the inherent evil in trafficking human beings. William Wilberforce ended his three hour speech to the House of Commons on this subject saying that now “you can never again say you didn’t know”. It still took years to ban the trade in the UK and longer in the USA.
We have this month in a joint Lords and Commons the committee stage a draft Modern Slavery Bill. This trade still happens in our society today and we are blind to it.
Where else in society are we blind to the inherent wrong, and who will tell us “you can never again say you didn’t know”?