"If some parts of the Church of England preached a little more gospel and a little less politics - perhaps church would be in a better place
— Mark Pritchard (@MPritchardMP) December 22, 2013"
So the MP for The Wrekin reckons. Given the timing of his tweet, I reckon that he had wandered back, happy and glowing, from a Crib or Carol service and thought "why do these God-botherers have to get involved in my world? Why can't they stick to the Baby Jesus and the Angels?" (I'm guessing of course. I suppose he could, equally, have just staggered out of the Blandings Arms after a few jars of the local bitter, spiced up with a a drop of gin, as recommended by the great PG Wodehouse. Or maybe he'd just wandered down the hill after which his constituency is named, soaking wet and having a sudden antipathy to all things spiritual. It is not, after all, for me to dictate what the elected Member for the Wrekin does with his Sabbath rest.)
And I reckon he's right. The Church should preach a little more gospel and a little less politics. We should be focussing on Jesus, after all - not involving ourselves in the grubbiness of the world. For one thing, church people are hopeless at claiming expenses. And so I go to the Gospel. And I read...
Matthew 25:31ff "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Now the thing is, if you feed the hungry - that is a political act. If you set up a food bank (and the churches have, quite a lot), that's a political act. If you wonder why there's so many people needing food banks, that's a political thing to think.
If you see someone who needs clothing, and you sort them out with some clothes, that's a political act as well. I'm sure David Cameron would think that was part of his "Big Society". After all, now he's dropped the term, there's a lot of Big Society, on a small scale, about. There has to be.
If someone is sick - and you don't even necessarily know them - but you're there for them anyway, that's a political act. You're saying you won't allow them to lie there in hospital on their own, if you can do anything about it. And if someone is in prison, and you visit them, then that's a political statement. You're saying that it's not good enough just to stick people in chokey and throw away the key. You're making the walls porous - keeping people in society that others would want to keep locked out.
Jesus's birth, in the first place, is a political act - God siding with the poor, the dispossessed, the homeless. And the belief that he will come back and judge the nations is not a piece of apocalyptic wish-fulfilment - it's saying that the ones who rule, the ones who abuse, the ones who push down, will one day be judged. More fairly than they have judged, as well. Which might or might not be good news. Apocalyptic is always political.
The incarnation is political - Christ taking on human flesh in this grubby world. Not standing, shining, off in glory but arguing with priests, politicians, taking on kings and local rulers. Walking through the middle of all the mess, that people can choose to follow his way, or not. Demanding justice - isn't that a political concept? Being the Prince of Peace - isn't peace a political idea?
But then it's not surprising that Jesus was such a wannabe politico. After all, look what his Mum was like.
"My soul doth magnify the Lord.And then - all the people that Jesus knocked about with, and who followed on from him. I mean, clearly Churches shouldn't get involved in equal opportunities - after all, just ask St Paul:
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid;
for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
Because he that is mighty,
hath done great things to me;
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is from generation unto generations,
to them that fear him.
He hath shewed might in his arm:
he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat,
and hath exalted the humble.
He hath filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He hath received Israel his servant,
being mindful of his mercy:
As he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his seed for ever."
Gal 3:28: "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."
So I've done what Mr Pritchard wanted. I've looked straight at the Gospel. And do you know what, it's full of politics? I guess he's going to be disappointed.
[Late edit: See also the Church Sofa's take on this.]