There are a plethora of posts online marking the end of the decade. Some celebrating the ‘glow-up’; others about careers, deaths, births….and politics of course. We’ve had a lot of votes and a fair few prime ministers. But now, it’s the Boris era.
After his stunning general election win, I think we’re looking at at least a decade of Tory-majority government. We’re about to find out if the Lib Dem claim that they were a check on Tory excesses is true. But if headlines are to be believed and Johnson is planning to hike the minimum wage substantially, then his government might be full of surprises that will be aimed at making inroads into Labour territory in more ways than one and help many people who need it. The crown of “One Nation Tory” awaits (possible breakup of the union due to Scottish and Irish dissatisfaction with the Brexit settlement notwithstanding.)
I’ve seen a lot of reflections from voices in the Church about reconciliation. This is good. People are tired of bitter, divisive politics and the agonising grind of a paralysed parliament. One thing that Boris’ decisive win does is give him a mandate for his version of Brexit – and one that parliament cannot ignore.
The Church has an opportunity to offer a space for people to start to heal the wounds of this polarising period. That was the topic of a recent episode of Godpod, a podcast from St Paul’s Theological Centre, which highlighted a new book by regular contributor Graham Tomlin, Looking Beyond Brexit.
I will read the book, but one thing was missing from the great discussion on disagreeing well was justice. (It may well be addressed in the book but the discussion focused on bridging disagreement and the Church as a meeting place and resource for this.)
I agree that we must disagree well. But reconciliation cannot sidestep the lingering question that has been raised by the dehumanising language and racism that has been expressed in this general election and indeed, since the referendum. Who gets to call the UK home? For migrants and ethnic minorities, this has been a painful period.
If the Church (or indeed anyone) wants to really talk reconciliation, this has to be addressed or else it’s papering over a wound. It’s uncomfortable but I think the church has the language and the theology to meet this pain and help us chart a way through. There is also the Church’s own recent history; the establishment of the first Black majority congregations was a result of racism and exclusion the Windrush generation faced when they tried to worship at Church of England churches.
This is the humbling forge in which the work of reconciliation can begin: the wound must be seen and lamented; people must be seen, heard and comforted as we work to come together again.
My problem with starting and ending with calls to “disagree well” is that it can seem a bit trite. For many of us, this has been a frightening time that threatens our very place in the country and our sense of belonging and home. It is not a matter of simply taking a different view; some decisions have felt like a fundamental statement on who we are as a nation, what we tolerate and who has a place among us.
The Church of England is capable of understanding this. For many in the Jewish community, the prospect of a Labour government under Corbyn was a threat to their sense of belonging – and the Archbishop rightly spoke out in support. Others now fear that the election result will further entrench the Tory immigration policies that are ripping away their sense of home. This is not an unfounded fear; the Windrush scandal, which is ongoing as the law has not changed, is drawing more and more people into the dragnet. People have died in distress, whole families are being told that the only home they know is not one at all.
It is not enough to disagree well. The Church must call out injustice where it exists. Policies such as the hostile environment must be challenged. What EU citizens are experiencing now is an expansion of that policy and the anti-migrant mood it seeks to promote.
Without justice, there can be no peace. As a black Christian and a naturalised citizen, I am happy to agree to disagree well on questions such as Leave/Remain or the General Election choice of party. However, the Church must acknowledge that where injustice is taking place, the road to reconciliation cannot sidestep it.
Because it’s the heart of the matter. Reconciliation should not be a salve to enable people to feel comfortable again while others continue to feel the sharp edge of hostile policies and discourse. Otherwise it’s a cheap imitation that does not reach deep enough to truly transform in the way that only Jesus can do.
*I’m back. I had quite a busy year, but I managed to sneak in a wedding to my love at the end of the year and close out the decade with sweetness.