‘Take back control’ – One of the most successful campaign slogans in recent British history was at least in part the reason why the United Kingdom joined the contemporary phenomenon of popularism and nationalism.
The Brexit referendum of 2016 called by the then Prime Minister David Cameron as an attempt to heal divisions in his own Conservative party failed spectacularly as the country voted narrowly, within statistical error, to leave its longstanding relationship with the European Union. Thus began a three and a half year period of political paralysis including the resignation of Cameron and eventually of his successor Theresa May after an inconclusive election and a struggle to pass legislation. At the time of writing another election is being fought in the U.K. again with an uncertain outcome although the opinion polls point to a win under the new flamboyant leader of the Conservatives, one Boris Johnson.
Similarities have been drawn between Johnson and his presidential counterpart in the United States. Twin-like in appearance and with a shared exuberant and unpredictable style of leadership they have both espoused a popularist and nationalist agenda that has in turn been emulated in other Western style democracies in recent times.
At the same time the Christian Church especially in the West has steadily lost influence and authority. This has happened in part as a result of growing secularism, the fallout from numerous safeguarding scandals and outrages and an apparent failure to grasp the significance of an increasingly divided world. As the old twentieth century post Second World War order speedily gives way a new order, driven not least by the phenomenon of social media, is rapidly emerging. Things move quickly. In this respect it is salutary to remember that the last world-wide social upheaval, namely what was called the Great War 1914-18, is only just over a hundred years in the past.
Wither then the eternal verities for those lost and seeking redemption? This is now almost an alien concept in itself yet the Church still claims to be a refuge in a storm, a depository of truth and a vehicle for the Gospel.
To give effect to these principles some have embraced what might be understood as Christian fundamentalism, a literalist interpretation of the Bible and a willingness to exclude those who do not conform. This position is not confined to Evangelical sects but appears throughout most denominations causing internal tensions not unlike those of the political world. The contrary ‘liberal’ view (a word that has quite different meanings either side of the Atlantic) is equally unproductive with a dash towards inclusivity that resembles a vortex spiralling upwards into a vacuous nothingness of uncritical acceptance.
The purpose of this Editorial letter is not to offer a solution to the modern conundrum, or indeed a third way because very likely there isn’t one. Scripturally the Old Testament prophet Elijah offers a model of obdurate faithfulness in 1 Kings 19 in his encounter with God in the terrifying silence on the mountainside after wind, earthquake and fire. This dogged persistence can be traced into the New Testament in Hebrews 11 or Paul in Romans 11 or again with Jesus variously citing constancy of faith as a virtue. It hardly needs saying, except perhaps in a sermon that his own tenacity would lead to the cross … and thence to resurrection and new life.
As we come towards the end of another calendar year it will be fascinating to see how the next turns out. There again that’s the basis of the oft-quoted Chinese proverbial curse ‘may you live in interesting times!’ Taking back control from what and for what is however likely to remain elusive.