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Politics? – Bishop Martin, School Chaplain

Dear Parents, Guardians, Members off Staff and friends,

A journalist asked an awkward question: “Mother, by negotiating with the warring political leaders of Lebanon, aren’t you abandoning your spirituality and getting involved in politics”. Her reply? “No, I don’t get involved in politics. I go much deeper!” That’s, I suppose, a smart answer from the great Mother Teresa of Calcutta, back in 1982, who had been trying to negotiate, indeed put pressure on various factions to have a ceasefire, so that she and her team of Sisters could get sick children out of the danger area in war-torn Beirut. The reality was, of course, that she used political means to get what she wanted. And she did. With, as she put it, the intervention of Mary, Mother of God, at least a temporary ceasefire was achieved.

Whatever you make of that strength of conviction to pray and to act, illustrates powerfully that Christianity cannot and must not, in fact, be separated from the world of politics. There has been a tendency for far too long to see Christianity as some vague spiritual process that is separate from, for example, the world of drains, housing, education, conflict, poverty, and now of course the depletion of the earth’s climate, let alone resources. Bishops and other Church leaders in the UK are often ticked off by political leaders for interfering in the political process. This is happening currently in the context of the decision to to send ‘illegal’ immigrants to Rwanda, with the typical comment that Bishops should stick to their spiritual work, it demonstrates a serious misunderstanding of the practice of Christianity. Working in a food bank is spiritual enough for anyone. Likewise, the three young people who have gone to Ukraine to help with the evacuation of the sick and injured is spiritual enough for anyone. Both of these are being involved in politics, directly or indirectly.

William Temple, who was Archbishop of Canterbury in a classic book of 1942: ‘Christianity and the Social Order’ wrote:

“In an age when it is tacitly assumed that the Church is concerned with another world than this, and in this with nothing but individual conduct as bearing prospects in that other world, hardly anyone reads the history of the Church in its exercise of political influence. It is assumed that the Church exercises little influence and ought to exercise none; it is further assumed that this assumption is self-evident and has always been made by reasonable people. A survey of history, however, shows that the claim of the Church today to be heard in relation to political and economic problems is no new usurpation, but a reassertion of a right once universally admitted and widely regarded.”

To me, at least, it seems that this observation of Temple’s is as powerfully significant today as ever. Further, the significant drop in adherence to what is rather scathingly called: ‘organised religion’ hasn’t happened because of the Church’s close relation to social, political and economic problems [and I would add  –  conflict and environmental crises], but perhaps because it hasn’t gone deeply into the roots of the crises that now are biting into what Temple called the Social Order and indeed into whatever we understand by – the International Order. I sense, perhaps, that we are becoming people without ‘roots’.

Of course, the Church is regarded as something of a disappointment, not least because someone like me, described as a ‘professional’ Christian, doesn’t really model the Christ-like involvement, indeed presence at heart of the social order [or dis-order!].

At Exeter Cathedral School, as the title might suggest, there’s at least an expectation that Christianity – the Christ-like life –  lies at the heart of what education is. My disappointment as Chaplain is that I haven’t given nearly enough energy or time to reintroducing the story of Christianity and in particular at its heart that of Jesus. Jesus Re-discovered. This does NOT suggest some kind of superiority to other religious perspectives or spiritual paths. Indeed, Christianity is about including all of those in the work of being present in the massively complex mix of life, attitude, function and dysfunction. As I’ve mentioned before, Christ is already present, whether you or I recognise that presence or even resist it or not. The task then is to go and meet Him. Like Teresa of Calcutta, go deeper! That’s costly.

With my prayer and blessing,

Bishop Martin
School Chaplain

15 June 2022
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