Category: politics and God

On the American right

By , 5 December 2008 6:12 pm

In a moment of folly some weeks ago I promised that I would try to deal with the vexed issue of why British evangelicals are wary of the American Republican Party. I am aware that for many American Christians this seems like a stab in the back. Aren’t Republicans the true upholders of the faith? Isn’t it a given that to be a conservative evangelical means you must support Republicans? Aren’t British evangelicals concerned about the way that the Democrats seem hellbent (possibly literally) on legalising gay ‘marriage’ and unfettered abortion. I tried to tease out some of the issues for you weeks ago and now want to make some general comments on the problem. I warn you though, it would, in reality, require a book and at least a year of research to truly do justice to the issues.

As I reminded you, for all the similarities of language, Britain and the States are very different countries. And although there is much that resonates favourably with us about the Republican Party (personal freedom and family values to take but two) there are many other things that are a turnoff. As I hinted we are very uneasy about appeals to religion in politics. There are very few American churches without the Stars and Stripes at the front; there are very few British churches with the Union Jack even visible. (If it is present at all, it will be somewhat mournfully draped over a memorial plaque to the fallen.) God may be little honoured in the UK but we do our best to make sure that what slender glory he has is not shared with Caesar. In fact, we prefer to keep the Almighty at arm’s length when it comes to politics. A number of people have commented that, in the manner of claiming divine support, some American politicians seem to imagine that God somehow transferred the Old Testament covenant with Israel to the United States of America. Perhaps. Of course it is perfectly possible to go the other way and not invoke the support of God for even the most necessary and blameless military action. Here, I think we in Britain, plead guilty.

Part of the problems is that republicanism seeks to press buttons which, in the British psyche, are not wired up. So appeals to frontier/homestead/’Little house on the Prairie’ ideals fall on deaf ears here. It is probably half a millennium since we had any sort of frontier in the UK. Equally the right to bear arms worries us a lot. It is probably no accident that the lethal range of the average military rifle is probably considerably greater than the distance between the average British village. Ever since we killed the last wolf, around 250 years ago, the only dangerous animal roaming the British countryside has been Homo sapiens and we would prefer not to see him armed. Appeals to defending the constitution also arouse only apathy here: we have no constitution, only conventions and concessions. Given these things, it is no surprise that, whatever her undoubted virtues, Sarah Palin aroused only two attitudes in the UK: amusement and unease.

We also rather wary of republicanism’s claims that the private sector should be involved in everything. There are very few things in Britain that we are in any way proud of, but one of them is the National Health Service. The fact that no British hospital (yet) demands that you open your wallet the moment you enter Accident and Emergency is generally held to be a very good thing. Since Mrs Thatcher privatised as much as she could nearly 30 years ago, the results have not frankly been very impressive. We have railways that would shame a developing nation, a power system that could easily fall over given a week of cold weather and a secondary education system that is probably inferior to that of urban China.

To be honest, if you are an American Christian of a right-wing political persuasion I really wouldn’t let it worry you. I see it all as being like some tense stand-off in a saloon bar of the old West. Grey-haired Great Britain, propping up the bar, watches on, with air of sceptical world-weariness, while our younger nephew takes his turn to challenge the bar’s unruly inhabitants. In short, we wish you well, but don’t ask us to join in the fight.

Have a good week. And if you must burn my books, do it in front of TV cameras!  

A miscellany of topics

By , 28 November 2008 7:25 pm

This week, I was intending to take a brief break from discussing cultural matters to share some local news. However I cannot resist making the point that it seems that no American president will be elected unless he (or she) talks openly and comfortably about God, while no British Prime Minister will be elected if he (or she) does. I would like to think that there has been progress in this area but I’m afraid Tony Blair has rather ruined this because he did bring God into matters and now his stock is very low indeed. I think it will be some time before any politician here has the courage even to say ‘God bless you’ at the end of any talk to the nation. By the way, here is another difference: Americans clearly have not the slightest problem in confidently asking the Almighty to look favourably upon America. Indeed their tone is sometimes so confident that one is inclined to suspect that a certain overlap exists in their minds between the Kingdom of Heaven and the United States of America. In contrast, Britons of the 21st century would never dream of invoking the Almighty in the political arena. Americans get embarrassed when, in the context of politics people do not mention God; we get embarrassed when they do.

And now to family news. The first item of news is that two weeks ago our younger son Mark got married to a delightful young lady called Alice in central London where they both work. I don’t think they would mind if I attached a photograph.

So we travelled up from the provinces and stayed a couple of nights in London in order to attend. It was a great time and the Christian witness took centre stage. In fact the sermon was outspokenly and unashamedly evangelistic and took as its basis the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (‘bridesmaids’? there are hard issues of cultural equivalence here). The fact that both our sons are happily married raises the interesting question as to whether ‘parenting’ is now over for us. In one sense the answer is ‘yes’ but I suppose we probably continue in an advisory role until such time as we are senile. Oh yes, and young Simeon turned up to the wedding looking every bit the normal three-month-old baby. He seems to be responding well to the daily hormonal supplements.

The second piece of news is to do with books. No, I haven’t sold the film rights to Lamb among the Stars; I think that may be a longer haul than I had expected. But I am signing a contract with Hodders to co-write a short book with the British evangelist J. John centred on the parable of Prodigal Son. Of course a lot has already been written on this but we are hoping to come at it from a fresh but authentic angle. I have a lot of Lebanese anecdotes which clarify matters and bring some of the issues into sharper focus. Anyway the nice thing about Hodders is that they get their books out into the secular market; here they differ from the specifically Christian book companies who seem to be fishing in the ever smaller pond of Christian book readers. Once I get this out of the way, all being well in May, I want to talk to them about future fiction projects. So it’s no television for me for the next five months.

Anyway I have a sermon to finish for our Chinese Fellowship in Swansea so must dash. The problem is that I feel it incumbent upon me to e-mail the text to the translator beforehand; she is very good but I think it’s helpful that she has a chance to read it all through first.

Every blessing


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