David Cameron and the Prodigal Son’s Brother

Monday, 16th November 2009 at 10:00 UTC 5 comments

I was visiting my Sister’s church in Durham today, St Nicks, also know as the church on the market place, and had a really great time. The sermon looked at the part of the Prodigal Son story after the bit everyone knows, the part where the eldest son refuses to join the party. The preacher referenced a writer* who said that Jesus sought to appeal to the unreligious, not to the generally conservative types that the UK church most often appeals to.

Returning to my computer, I found a news story about an interview by David Cameron talking about his faith, and it struck me that this was possibly connected with the sermon. The Tory party, after all, draws heavily on the kind of people who “aren’t letting the country down”, the people who feel they’ve got it all sorted and that others should sort themselves out. Much more than even New Labour has managed, they represent respectability. And yet, its the respectable son who finds the actions of the father (the allegorical stand-in for God) to be unbelievable and infuriating.

Our churches in Britain suffer from all sorts of problems. We’re mostly middle-class and white, so quite literally the face of respectability in a white-dominated, economically segregated society. We do projects to help the poor in a way that dictates that they must be beyond our doorstep, whilst everyone in side must be far better off. We hand out gift aid envelopes as if everyone but the students must be earning enough to pay tax. And we consume FairTrade products, a premium luxury not everyone can afford, though it pains me somewhat to have to point this out.

We’re not the kind of people who get ASBO’s, who live on the same street as a crack-head, who get into scrapes with the law. This can be a bit of a draw-back when we actually need to be taking a stand against an illegal war or the destruction of creation. It also makes it rather hard for us to feel at home with such people, which is kind of odd, given that’s exactly who Jesus made a bee-line for.

In this sense, I wonder how much our churches represent the Kingdom of Heaven, despite a thief being its first citizen.** Not exactly your average Tory voter, eh? Sure, Jesus didn’t let people off for the things they did to mess up their lives, but neither did he leave them feeling condemned and marginalised. That was pretty much the Pharisees job. So perhaps we Christians, and society at large, has gotten this whole “Christ-like” thing a bit wrong. Not maliciously, I think its all probably well meant.

But could there please be a little more enthusiasm for the waifs and strays, a desire to really engage with the poor and not just throw nice actions at them (and possibly even move in next door to them, and become a bit like one of them). Perhaps we are attracting the wrong sorts of people; it might explain the perpetual trouble faced when trying to implement change. Or maybe its just that these are the people who feel they need the church most in today’s fast moving society. Cameron, and his army of “hard working families”, represent far better the brother throwing a strop about generosity towards the ‘less worthy’. So maybe its the Tories who need to go a figure what they’re getting at.

(* I wish I had been taking notes so I could tell you who they were citing. It wasn’t anyone I recognised, but if anyone can shed any light, I’ll be happy to edit it in)

(** OK, some theological liberty here, but the first recorded case of someone dying having been assured heaven was the thief next to Jesus on the cross).

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Entry filed under: Church, Conservatives, Faith, News, The Right, Theology.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Simeon Smith  |  Monday, 16th November 2009 at 12:29 UTC

    Some generalisations on the church there to an extent but I agree with you on the whole. I mean Christians are quite happy (again this is a generalisation) to reach the people of their own social strata but seem to get scared to take ground when it gets a bit scary…

    Just thought you should know it isn’t always the case though and we are involved in a lot of stuff in Cardiff that doesn’t require anyone to step over the threshold of our church building (though we will always invite people should the opportunity arise!) For example we are heavily involved in a community near the church and have been showing God’s love through helping the local school in practical way. 🙂 There are others, too. So it’s not all bad.

    Reply
  • 2. Lois  |  Monday, 16th November 2009 at 13:21 UTC

    I like the way you point out the all too common assumption in churches that everyone inside the church is comfortably off enough to pay taxes, it’s something that’s annoyed me before now. We do need to get out there among those who aren’t like us, who disagree with us, and to get alongside them while still remaining ‘in the world but not of it.’

    The pedant in me does feel though that I should point out though the difference between Conservative (the political party) and conservative (wanting to preserve or conserve things). The latter isn’t necessarily bad, we should be conserving the good things about the church and building on them. But that doesn’t mean standing still.

    Reply
    • 3. Graham Martin  |  Monday, 16th November 2009 at 14:42 UTC

      You know, I think I remember making a mental note when I started writing this about having to say something like “Conservative and conservative, whilst linked, are separate”. Oh well.

      I was considering the term “early adopter”, i.e. someone who consistently dives in to new technology ahead of everyone else, and thinking that maybe the church needs to reach such people, as they could be a powerful presence within the church. Sadly, I suspect they might also rock the boat just a bit too much.

      Reply
  • 4. brainduck  |  Monday, 16th November 2009 at 15:20 UTC

    Thanks for this – it’s something that really annoyed me at Greenbelt, where I had to restrain myself from punching the next person to tell me how great the recession was ‘cos it would help us all be so much less materialistic & cut back on un-necessary material things… aaaarrrgggghhh.

    Reply
    • 5. Graham Martin  |  Tuesday, 17th November 2009 at 0:38 UTC

      I think I had that experience, and so did DuckBunny. Was this at the talk by John Bell?

      Reply

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