Bristol Baptist College – Politics Sessions

If you were at the Thursday (30th Nov) session on politics I recommend having a look through the ‘Government‘ category on this site.

Some summary points:

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  • Politics is basically the relationships that give us power over others.
  • Power over others is a facet of fallen society.
  • Power over people is being superseded by the new enabling power of the New Kingdom.
  • The New Kingdom ushers in an upside down paradigm – the last shall be first, the least, the servant, submission, love.
  • The Messiah was expected to be a political power – to relieve Israel from the conquering nations that had troubled it and the Romans who occupied it. However, Jesus Christ did not so much as lift a finger against the Romans, who’s empire later caused immense damage to the church.
  • We see the story of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-25) who Christ recommended to give away all of his wealth. This would result in the giving up of power.
  • The church has historically decided to utilise the power of the state and has not kept itself as a separate entity.
  • Evil is separation from God and as such cannot be stopped by legislation.
  • We are judged on our heart, our motives, not our actions (although our actions display the nature of our hearts!).
  • Sin is simply separation from God – the acts we do are not either more or less sinful, they are either sinful (coming from our separation from God) or not (coming from our relationship with God). When we focus on sinful acts we tend to forget that the thing that matters is the sin inside – the Beattitudes (Mat 5:21 etc.) illustrates this sea change from the Old Testament where the focus was on sinful acts.
  • Law cannot bring justice, it is merely privilege and counter-privilege piled high.
  • Justice and freedom only come through a relationship with God. The New Kingdom of submission and love for one another is the only way that we will see true freedom and justice.
  • Accept persecution rather than legislate to prevent people doing it to us – Romans 12.
  • Even though we become Christians we remain in a world that continues to oppress us. Christ was oppressed, but simultaneously had freedom from oppression. Similarly Christ has relieved us of oppression and set us free.
  • In the same vein we can still be fulfilling God’s mission for us even when we are in submission to the authorities and powers that God has allowed to rule (Romans 13, Matt 22:15). However, everything we do should be in obedience to God – just that a lot of that will also be obedience to government or simply submission to others.
  • We do see a difference between how Jesus acted towards the leaders of God’s people and towards others. He did bring critical prophetic word to leaders of God’s chosen nation of Israel.
  • We see ‘easy Christianity’ where people just have to chant a formula to apparently meet God, but we mustn’t forget that we often practice ‘easy evangelism’ where we duck out of the ‘hard’ submissive, powerless lifestyles that Christ’s example urges us to take. Often we try to paint an attractive picture of Christianity after we fail at living a sacrificial life.
  • Using legislation to force our society to do ‘good’ to others actually includes forcing people to pay more taxes or lose their ‘freedoms’.
  • George Muller of Bristol never asked for money for his five homes for orphans. He focussed on God’s task and God proved to be the provider, meaning that George never needed to push people to provide.
  • Non coercive power is basically the power to persuade people whilst giving them freedom of choice. Christ’s power is persuasive, but he does not negate people’s free will.
  • We do see that Christ will bring judgment, vengeance, get rid of oppression, rule with an iron rod, but this is to come and is not now.

Some points that I missed:

  • Talk is our major form of interaction with others and as such can be our major source of coercion as we attempt to bend people to our wills. We need to ensure that our talk liberates others.
  • Other forms of coercive control include temptation. This could include deceptive marketing (as per lifestyle consumer goods) . Are certain forms of evangelism merely types of deceptive marketing that don’t spell out the truth of the total cost and the total gain of following Christ?
  • Look at the accounts of Jesus reaching out to various people throughout his lifetime – do you see a tendency to control?
  • Moderation of those inside the church appears to be by exclusion rather than control. We are called to judge inasmuch as to understand whether it is healthy or productive to our mission to spend time with particular people. However, our response is still to love, but bearing in mind that we are called to love others too.
  • Some in the church are trying to usher in a utopia, trying to create a poor copy of the New Kingdom, by using fallen methods such as coercive control.
  • Education can be a form of non-coercive power. It is therefore very political, but in a very different manner to attempts to control the behaviour of others. However, education done without humility is often coercive. Education is best imagined as a fellowship of explorers rather than a structure that brings one person’s ‘truth’ to many.
  • We need to ask ourselves whether we should be utilising the power of the state – such as using the police (as we have a civil right to) or using our vote.
  • We see that the most extreme form of persecution, martyrdom, is a greatly effective and persuasive act. However, it takes the ultimate sacrifice (this is not to be confused with being killed whilst killing others).
  • If we feel that we need to abandon behaviour that seeks to control others we should not only question whether we should work in the military sphere, but also whether we should participate in various areas of law enforcement.
  • We also need to assess whether our trading habits involve unfair control of others. Are our trading partners on a level playing field with us? Do we reinforce the controlling behaviour of some businesses by trading with them? Do we strengthen the hand of exploitative and manupulative employers?

I recommend visiting the Ekklesia web site. It is an interesting approach to politics for Christians. Whether they get the balance right is up for debate, but this is a very interesting outline The King Maker buy from which I have learnt much.

Advent Wisdom

Oscar Romero said/wrote this…

No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas
Without being truly poor.
The self-sufficient, the proud,
Those who, because they have everything,
Look down on others, who have no
Need even of God – for them there
Will be no Christmas.
Only the poor, the hungry,
Those who need someone to come on their behalf,
Will have that someone.
That someone is God – with – us.
Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God.

Red and White

Great post from Tony on red and white poppies. Whilst I would support the families of those through buying a red poppy I would usually wear white in the hope of dialogue. When I was 17 at the local college this caused a real issue with the pre services course (those training for army etc but to young to enter) who didn’t hang around long enough for me to explain that I had supported the poppy appeal and ended up with me getting 7 bells knocked out of me, so I found the comment from David Cockburn who wears both a good idea, and maybe give more chance of dialogue.

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The Fear Chamber download

Does Pastor Ted need to meet Father Ted?

I am writing about the latest high profile evangelical to be caught with his pants down, a powerful American with links to the White house. Pastor Ted was actively preaching against gay marriage while apparently indulging in gay sex with a male prostitute.

How many times have we witnessed Christians from this tradition struggle to practice what they preach? How many times do they have to live with double standards? Why? Are the standards to high? Perhaps the person just has weak morals and values? Or perhaps the theology is wrong?

Now we all make mistakes – in fact the making of mistakes is one of the best ways of learning. But are we allowed to make mistakes in some theological power houses?

I wonder if the deep rooted theological position of dualism is to blame for this. This position understands things in terms of – black and white; right and wrong,; secular and sacred; in and out; sinner and righteous; saved and unsaved; good and bad etc. This root leaves little space for flaws, mistakes and embracing your shadow. This type of theology encourages a split personality and a lack of authenticity and intimacy. Dualism gives little space for personal development and leaves the individual with little self-awareness and an inability to face the real difficult issues that reside in who we are.

Subverting Debt

As a youth worker I work odd hours, so occasionally watch daytime TV usually one of the free music channels (I like to think it helps me stay in touch). Have you noticed the massive interest charges on many of the adverts on daytime TV, either for cars, loans, or other goods? Whilst I am sure that for some even with the high interest charges they provide an okay service and it is the only company that will help and the high rate is about managing the risk. However- who are they targeting by advertising so heavily during the day, Hmm – perhaps those without work who already might be in debt . One company was recently advertising at over 29% interest where as a bank rate can be around 7%. So how about using their freephone numbers from time to time to ask why would I want to borrow from them at such a rate, and use up some their time, and offer a bit of a challenge?

Undermining Cohabitation

The Church of England has today backed proposals to beef up the rights of cohabiting partners. This is covered on Ekklesia and the BBC News web site.

The reason for this is to improve the rights of the vulnerable within the situation of a cohabiting couple splitting up – either a partner or a child could be vulnerable.

However, a side affect is that this change in the law would be legislating against casual, no commitments, cohabitation. Bear in mind that most of the time cohabitation is the free choice of the cohabitees – no one is being coerced into it (there are unfortunately exceptions, perhaps those are the examples we should be concerned about?), so to imply that current cohabitation is criminal and that it should only ever be accompanied by extended commitments and rights isn’t necessarily something that we should do. Basically this would be legislation to restrict people’s freedom to cohabit in an attempt to protect people who are often putting themselves in a vulnerable position out of free choice.

As I have mentioned in a number of posts (here, here and here

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for example) I don’t believe that it is the role of Christians to impose laws on wider society.

Please don’t think that I’m saying we shouldn’t do whatever we can to help the vulnerable, including children, but I’m not sure that our ‘help’ should be to impose legal restriction on people based on our conception of morality.

Physical Violence and Mental Coercion: What is Pacifism?

As someone with pacifist tendencies I’m asking myself “is physical violence different to other forms of coercion”?

Physical violence, or the threat of it (usually a combination of both), is often used as a way of control – getting someone to do what you want them to do. However, there are many other forms of coercive control, for example, withholding of privileges, refusal to trade, lending, mental torture, etc., etc.

In an escalation of attempts to control, physical violence is the ultimate weapon as it is physical violence which can control physical outcomes which are usually the purpose of coercion. Whilst the withholding of privileges may not force someone to do something, physical violence can. If we look at society and culture we see that physical violence is used when other forms of coercion are inadequate – hence the ultimate fallback of war.

Physical violence is often the last resort after other attempts at control have been tried. However, this isn’t always the case, sometimes physical force or violence is a first choice for some.

So are my pacifist tendencies to do with exercising non-violence or are they to do with choosing not to control?

Well, personally speaking, I’m not sure that there is much to separate violent from non violent coercion. The physical pain of violence isn’t necessarily much different to the mental factors we apply during other forms of coercion. In fact, as a child I often preferred physical punishment (bear in mind that this is within limits, within a loving relationship and with many other positive factors) to other forms of punishment – particularly ones that were more drawn out. Really my preference of punishment was simply a cost benefit analysis of what was available, with physical punishment, where pain was experienced, being a valid alternative to other punishments.

If we look at punishments of different societies, or through history, we see a correlation between increased civilisation (as we define it) and reduced physically violent punishments. Many societies still practice physical punishments, whilst we have moved on to detention and removal of rights and privileges (admittedly backed by the force of violence – one cannot simply walk out of prison after all!).

Why is it that physical violence is seen as being worse than other forms of punishment and coercion?

I imagine that part of the reason is that the ultimate physical violence is killing, which is a rather permanent state of affairs for the recipient. Also, many other forms of physical violence are permanent and might be regretted after the fact, whereas there is always the idea that non-physical punishment is temporary and can be put behind one. However, many forms of physical violence are more temporary than many forms of non-physical coercion – what implications does that have?

Here we can read an argument about ‘what is coercion’, where Hayek believes it is wider than simply physical violence, but Rothbard saying that coercion is limited to violence.

After having had a look at this I tend to side more with Hayek, but I would go on to say that whether something is coercion or not must depend on the intent of the person who may be exercising control. I come to this conclusion by looking at trade: If I choose not to trade with someone (this refusal could be construed as coercion if you take the broad definition), I would say it is only coercion if I am doing it in an attempt to control the behaviour of that person. There may be other reasons for refusal to trade, for example I might consider the other person in the trade to have immorally acquired the thing that he wishes to trade – so I refuse to trade, not to try and get him to change his behaviour, but because I don’t want to get caught up in the problem. Hayek pointed out that, should a great artist refuse to paint a portrait of Hayek for Hayek then this is not coercion – I would have to conclude that it is the perceived motive that makes this act, by the artist, something that is not coercion.

So, my conclusion is that the pacifism I tend towards is not so much violence versus non-violence, but is rather a choice to avoid controlling others. My pacifism is actually, when I peel back the layers, a choice towards non-coercive behaviour on my part.

Personally I see little merit in drawing a line between violence and non-violence, but rather I see great merit in making a distinction between a motive to control and a choice to not control.

Meals for Families

Following on from my thoughts that lead to this idea I would like to explore a measure that might help and also encourage families to spend more time together.

What I’m imagining (speaking as a non-cook! Oh dear!) is the provision of cheap, reasonable quality meals, for families. To qualify for access to such meals you would need to turn up as a minimum of one adult and one child. The meals would be on one or more weekdays and would be available between 5pm and 8pm. Payment for the meals would be necessary except in exceptional circumstances. It would be attractive because the family would need to make less effort to have a meal and yet still have a meal at a very reasonable price.

This would appear to improve contact between family members (addressing the issues outlined here) and also be a way to create relationships between church people and non-church people.

Would be interested in your comments.

What Poverty Today?

If we strip out the UK government definition of poverty as being those households with an income of lower than 60% of the average UK income, then we are left with the question of what poverty is there in the UK today?

In theory UK welfare and bankruptcy laws should provide for the needs of daily life, such as food and shelter. However, I do recognise that the application of this theory is fraught – I have personally had to spend time helping a friend claim what was due her (after she had suffered injuries that had made her unable to work). It’s as if our society wants to make it as hard as possible to keep one’s head above water in difficult circumstances.

So apart from money troubles due to the lack of help available to get the benefits of bankruptcy or welfare (and these are far from insignificant matters) what poverty do we have today?

My post the other day about the well-being of our children made me think that perhaps a large problem was the amount of time that family members spend with each other.

This is essentially what is behind the ‘Keep Sunday Special’ campaign – the idea that families need to spend more time together. However, because I don’t see any theological reason for Sunday actually being a special day, then I would rather tackle the issue directly rather than attempt to tell people that they shouldn’t work on Sunday. The church needs to wake up to the needs of those that work on a Sunday and change from having what is generally regarded as a key time within the church on a Sunday morning.

So I guess it comes down to providing for people’s poverty. If the poverty is a lack of quality time together then do things that enable people, from diverse backgrounds, to be able to have that time together.

Whilst I’m not sure that I would back a ‘keep dinner special’ campaign or a ‘play boardgames instead of watching TV’ campaign there are surely things we can do.

What are the things that are eating into people’s family time?

  • Sports
  • Watching sports
  • TV viewing
  • Ready meals and easy snacking
  • I’m sure that there are many others…

… but that last one gives me an idea:
Meals for Families

I think that that will need to be my next post!

Great opportunity for young people to get their voice heard

Dave Wiles from FYT and Roger Sainsbury have a meeting on 13th October with (Stephen Timms MP and Chief Secretary to the HM Treasury) to talk about issues relating to YOUTHWORK and GOVERNMENT FUNDING.

FYT are collecting young peoples views on the Young Peoples as Prophets website here and so we have a great opportunity to get young peoples views heard.

The extract from the Young people as Prophets site says
If you are a young person and want someone in POWER who has a say in how this country spends it’s money Dave will take any comments you post directly to him. If you are a youthworker, start exploring this issue with the young people you work with. Post your views under the category Politics/Funding Youth work.