When politics apes the church (or when the church apes politics)

I wrote this over a month ago but made it a private post. It is now publicly available.

In today’s Guardian, Jeremy Corbyn is quoted as saying some of his MPs will never accept his leadership, noting that ‘some people are just never satisfied’. Flagged up on the Guido Fawkes blog, and not at all unrelated, Simon Danczuk – semi-disgraced, yet inexplicably still working, Rochdale MP – is awaiting a response from the Labour Party leadership as to whether they will lift his suspension. The blog notes it has been a year since Danczuk had the Labour whip removed with no action. One is also reminded of Owen Smith’s failed coup, which led to the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as party leader. Smith insisted that he would not work alongside Corbyn in a shadow cabinet but proceeded to claim he would somehow work for unity from the backbenches, whilst simultaneously – and quite publicly – opposing the leader of the party. Ah the fun and games of Labour Party politics.

It is interesting to note the parallels between the current Labour Party travails and similar machinations at work in the church. Whilst one would never describe it as a ‘contest’, those of us with congregational polity are wont to elect our leaders within the church. Much of the time (though admittedly not always), there is a resounding mandate as the people elect their elders and pastors. And yet how quickly a mandate to lead – from the very people who elected you to office – becomes the focus of gripes and complaints. And often, like in the Labour Party, it may be a small but powerful cabal whose voices are readily amplified claiming to speak for the ‘silent majority’ (they could be Deacons, ‘moneyed givers’ or what some have termed ‘key-influencers’). Whoever they are, you can be sure they will be openly critical, claiming to speak for the unheard masses (who, of course, can conveniently never be named!)

Like Simon Danczuk, there are those who have acted wholly inappropriately – who may even have been under church discipline – who are still convinced they truly represent the voice of the people. They may have been the progenitors of malicious gossip or publicly shown themselves to be less than excellent examples to the flock, yet arrogance still leads them to presume they know the score. Of course, those with malign intent will inevitably seek out the succour of those who have shown themselves in disgrace. This is for the obvious reason that those who are clearly godly, those pursuing holiness, are not those likely to indulge pernicious gossip, slander and all manner of things. No, it’s the less godly whom they will seek out and then it is they who will presume to be the voice of the people because they will have been singled out for the ‘inside track’. And it is so much easier to win those to a course of criticism who have themselves an axe to grind.

And then there are the Owen Smiths of the world. Those who have been openly hostile, who may even have made a run at your leadership intent on destroying it, and whose efforts have come to naught. In such circumstances, one would expect either a measure of repentance and restoration or a swift exit. But not the Owen Smiths. They will have none of that. Sure, we may have sought to destroy your leadership through unwarranted criticism, gossip and slander but move on? You must be kidding. And repent? Not a bit of it. You see, they were right all along but the majority didn’t back them up and so now they stay to ‘work for unity’ from the backbenches, all without any sign of repentance of remorse. Indeed, the more cynically minded might think they weren’t concerned about unity at all (but that couldn’t be right, could it?)

It is quite clear, at the moment, the Labour Party resembles something of a dog’s breakfast. That’s not to say there’s absolutely no fault, nothing that could possibly be criticised, on the part of the leadership but it is clear certain sections of the PLP want to hold the members to ransom and will not be satisfied until Corbyn has been removed, irrespective of what his policies are or how well they might be implemented given a united front. But neither should the church be aping this kind of thing. The persistent critics, those who are actively against the leadership and who can never be satisfied, those who would claim to work for the unity of the Spirit whilst behaving in ways that clearly undermine it, will cause the same kind of chaos within the church.

If we want the church to be like the Labour Party then dissent, carp and criticise your leaders as openly and regularly as you dare. If we think Jesus Christ deserves something better then support, encourage and pray for your leaders. As Jared C. Wilson recently tweeted:

Folks, I hope that for every minute you spend scrutinizing your pastors, you’ll spend ten in prayer for their blessing and joy.

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