No serious thinking person could surely doubt that we are living through some very turbulent times. I cannot recall a period in my lifetime that has been so disturbing or threatening. Like the prophet Jeremiah, we cannot speak peace, peace, when there is no peace. I believe that we are witnessing the emergence of a new Dark Age, with attitudes and actions, policies and programmes that run counter to the values of God’s kingdom, the consequences of which are fearful.The seismograph now registers something more sinister than cracks; the needle indicates underlying challenges to virtually all the elements that hold a civilised and compassionate society together. The absence of moral authority has opened the door for a flurry of new ideas, alien and contrary to the values of of a Christian social order and I fear we are entering an abyss of a new dark age.
Whilst Western consumerism continues to distract or blind us to many of the realities and issues facing the world, the choices and directions which have been taken this year, will, to my mind, reap a harvest of destruction that will bequeath to our children and our children’s children a terrible legacy.
The narratives of protectionism, nationalism, sectarianism and racism, allied to ‘post-truth’, (the Oxford dictionary’s Word of the Year) have catapulted exploitative, deceitful and opportunist leaders into power and should send a shudder of fear and concern to anyone seriously contemplating what the future may look like. My son Joshua wrote an article recently for the magazine Christianity Today which paints, what I believe is a true analysis of what is currently happening in the world and how we might respond. See: http://www.christiantoday.com/article/fascism.and.false.messiahs.why.the.world.needs.christ.more.than.ever/103073.htm
The narratives of the biblical story, in an age of post-truth lies and spin, escapist myths and fantasy legends, stand out in stark contrast for their graphic and real portrayal of truth. God’s story that goes to the heart of human nature and the consequences of living contrary to his loving purposes, not only records the historical happenings surrounding that first Christmas but remind us of the present realities of violence and brutality, power and the suppression of anyone who dares to resist or oppose, the lack of compassion towards the world’s poorest, the vulnerable; children, orphans, refugees and asylum seekers, the scapegoating of people leading to their demonisation and exclusion.
These are dark days, when, for example we can endorse the sale of British arms as export successes and then try to suppress the truth that British cluster bombs, banned by an international treaty, have been used by Saudi Arabia to kill innocent victims, including women and children in the Yemen. When will we wake up to the fact that if we feed people and drop bread, not bombs, we contribute majorly to world peace. Giving aid helps to end conflict, builds friendships, promotes healing and healthy relationships. Jesus called us to bless our enemies and when we bless and do good to others it should come as no surprise that they are less likely to want to kill, undermine or destroy us. Compassion, generosity and love dampen the fires of resentment, hatred and terrorism.
These are dark days that have seen us turn a deaf ear to the cries of the child refugees and adopt a hardline attitude that has abandoned more than half of the 1900 children who sought safety and help from Britain this year, seeking refuge after the Calais Jungle refugee camp was demolished. Dark days when we have added fuel to the poisonous politics of fear that will tear the heart out of Europe with the elections in France, the Netherlands and Germany in the coming year, with Right wing, neofascist parties able to capitalise on our decision here in Britain to leave the EU and exploit the failings of the European Union.
The saddest and most disturbing email I received this year was on the morning after the referendum result was announced here in Britain. It came from a respected and thoughtful Eastern European, a former student of the International seminary in Prague. This email was short and stark; “Dear Roy, what has Britain done? God have mercy upon you and upon those whose lives will suffer as a consequence.” I have made no secret of the fact that I believe that the deceitful campaign and the decision to leave the EU is the worst political decision that has been taken in my lifetime. Nothing in the aftermath of the referendum has persuaded me otherwise and there are facets of the way in which the post-referendum debates are being conducted but I find very disturbing.
The Brexit campaigners fought under the banner of democracy and a naive vision of spurious sovereignty but many of them are now revealing a disdain for democracy by hurling insults at those who remain concerned by the implications that could lead to the breakup of the UK, the European Union, Britain’s standing in the world, an economic downturn and the prospects of conflict and war in Europe and across the wider world.
Democracy demands debate and discussion. The referendum which was ill-conceived and its result was unexpected and unprepared for. The ballot offered a binary choice without any specifics which now have to be addressed openly. However there is a suppression of debate and discussion on the implications of our decision to leave the EU. Anyone who questions the consequences of such a decision and suggests the idea of a second referendum, once the details and facts are known about what it really means to us, Europe and the wider world, is accused of being a sore loser.
“The people have decided” is the assertion of Brexiters. Yes, a narrow majority voted in favour of leaving but nearly half of those who voted did not. Recent research and opinion polls and petitions recently have discovered that over half a million people who voted to come out of the EU at the referendum, now knowing some of the facts, would now vote to remain. People see now that things like the £350 million a week boost for the NHS was a brazen lie. People now know that the NHS will be in real difficulty if we restrict the free movement of people and that measures that exclude or limit foreign workers will adversely affect not only the NHS but many more public and private services, businesses and organisations here in Britain.
The clamping down and hardline policies that are being proposed and taken on immigration, the threat by the government to firms to disclose foreign workers, (a move that was quickly retracted but the idea was clearly in the minds of government ministers) are not only economically damaging but help to sow the seeds of civil unrest.
The challenges, complexities and confusion following the referendum result demand rigorous discussion and debate, cooperation and wisdom. We need to pray for Theresa May the Prime Minister, that she may be able to navigate and have the courage to stand up to those in her party who regard anybody who voted to remain as anti-patriotic or undemocratic. Attempts by the government to challenge the Supreme Court’s ruling that the EU referendum was not legally binding is an affront to parliamentary democracy.
These are indeed Dark days where we are witnessing an alarming and increasing gap between the rich and the poor of the world.
In the words of the late singer/songwriter, We’re going to slide in all directions. Won’t be nothing, nothing you can measure anymore. The blizzard, the blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold and it has overturned the order of the soul…… There’ll be the breaking of the ancient western code.
The Advent season takes us through the story of God’s redemptive purposes for the world that he loves. The prophet Isaiah proclaimed a promise of hope; The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Never has there been such a need to recapture the Good News of the Christian narrative that speaks of light in the darkness, hope to transform despair and peace to counter the violence of this emerging new age. Within that promise, revealed in Jesus, is the prospect and the call for a different way of living, where love reigns, where compassion motivates and determines attitudes and actions, where justice and mercy are extended to all, where gentleness, generosity, empathy and kindness govern our lives, neighbourhoods and nations. The reality of God’s love for the world and the coming of his Son to redeem, transform and heal enables us to hold a flickering yet inextinguishable light in the ensuing darkness.
I have returned recently to reading a book that significantly influenced me life during my teenage years. I was not a Christian at the time but Martin Luther King’s ‘A Strength to Love’ inspired me. Written during the tumultuous years of the civil rights struggles, King articulated and advocated in a very compelling way a commitment to justice. He contended that it was by reaching into the heart of God, his Word and will, by reaching out beyond ourselves to God that we discover a way of life and love by which to counter the evils that existed in the world.
I have come to see the book as a prophetic blueprint for those who seek to follow Christ in these turbulent days. As I see the people whom Donald Trump is gathering around him in the White House, many of them political extremists, the majority of them men in their late 50s and 60s, almost all white and exceedingly rich, some of them with links or past associations with racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, I think Martin Luther King would weep at what has become of his nation. Whitewash has occurred in the USA and civil unrest is on the increase.
I apologise if you were hoping for a cheery, Merry Christmas blog. These are dark days but in the words of Luther King, a great Baptist pastor and civil rights leader, a follower of Jesus, the world’s most radical revolutionary, who inspired Martin Luther King to keep going and whose words have helped me this year, I conclude:
We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope. Martin Luther King