May I call you Dave? At times (I was at one of your Ask Cameron events a while back) you seem like the kind of chap who happily does no tie and open neck, but back in Parliament on Thursday you criticised another MP for not having a jacket on in the Commons. I’m not quite sure which way you swing on this issue – formal or informal. Let’s try and keep it informal shall we as that’s the best way to have a friendly chat. You can call me Peter, so we’re both treating each other the same way.
It’s been a bit of a week for you Dave hasn’t it? Exactly seven days ago you were waking up considering another day by the pool in the beauty of the Italian countryside. Of course, there had been a few disturbances in Enfield and Tottenham, but nothing that needed you rushing back home. By later on that day however the situation had changed and you jumped on the next (private) jet to rush home to Number 10. Let me be brutally honest – I reckon that if you’d delayed coming back till Tuesday morning you wouldn’t have had a job to come back to, and it was pretty touch and go there for a while as it is. But I’m genuinely pleased that you’re still the Prime Minister this morning. We need you.
I’m also genuinely pleased to hear about the speech you’re going to deliver today about the need to fix our broken society. For far too long it’s been clear that we have a moral collapse in this country and now we are reaping the rewards of our lack of investment in the spiritual fabric of our nation. All the research indicates that when children grow up in single-parent families, or even families where the parents aren’t married, on average they have lower life outcomes then their peers whose parents were married when they were born and who were still married when they left home. These are hard facts and those who seek to deny their validity simply aren’t engaging with the reality of the situation.
So we understand that you have in some senses become enthused by the events of the past week, not so much for a crusade of vengeance against those who committed the acts of anarchy that we saw on our streets last week, but rather that you have reignited your passion to create “a bigger, stronger society” and you now have the political will and momentum to do something about it. All very commendable and many of us will support you in this, but can I offer a moment of reflection before you spring into action after the sound of the starting pistol you intend to fire this morning?
As I reflected late last week on the responses to the riots, one piece of Scripture kept coming back to me. As I heard commentators come on radio and TV blaming this and that factor, arguing that the root causes of the looting were to do with X and Y, I was reminded of that moment in Genesis 3 when, Adam and Eve having sinned by eating of the forbidden fruit, God walks through the garden and asks the pair of them what’s been going on (not that he doesn’t know, but sometimes rhetoric is a useful socio-political device for emphasising a fact already widely accepted, as you yourself will be evidencing this morning).
He said, â€œWho told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?â€ The man said, â€œThe woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.â€ Then the Lord God said to the woman, â€œWhat is this that you have done?â€ The woman said, â€œThe serpent deceived me, and I ate.â€
Now, we know the old joke – Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the Serpent and the Serpent didn’t have a leg to stand on (ba doom tish) – but the simple truth is that Adam and Eve exhibit the classic human response to sin – it’s someone else’s fault. For Adam it’s Eve’s fault. For Eve it’s the Serpent’s fault. It’s somebody else’s fault and no-one wants to accept the obvious, that it’s nobody’s fault but their own.
This is the heart of Christian spirituality, that sin is our fault. We are all sinners, we are all falling short of the Glory of God, and whilst in human eyes some sins might be worse than others, in God’s eyes its all the same rebellion and it all receives the same consequences – separation from God for eternity. Of course, for those who recognise their guilt, their fault, their sin, there is the wonderful offer of freedom in Christ to those who repent and put their trust in him. He promises forgiveness and transformation, a new life where we can start again and live for something beyond ourselves.( I won’t bore you by asking whether you personally have received that forgiveness – you’ll know if you have and you’ll know if you haven’t).
This repentance and renewal of life is what historically we have called “Revival”. Now, forget most of the nonsense that comes on GodTV and the like about “revival”. What passes for revival on those channels is nothing of the sort. It is cheap sensationalism which mistakes signs and wonders for the real inner regeneration which is the mark of the repentant heart. True revival is the mass realisation that we are sinners, that we need to repent and then doing exactly that. It is an individual act (since no-one can repent for you but you yourself) but it is also a corporate act as we come together to express our need for God and his forgiveness and power through the Holy Spirit. We have seen it in our nation before, in the 18th Century when the travelling preachers arguably saved the United Kingdom from a similar revolutionary path that overtook France. We saw it in the 19th Century with great (Tory I might add) reformers like Wilberforce and Shaftesbury recognising the evils of bonded and child labour and leading thousands in political movements rooted in a repentance for the evils we had perpetrated on the weak and powerless. We have even seen it in the 20th Century with great moments of repentance in Wales and Scotland. The Welsh revival of 1904-1905 had such a profound effect on the working communities of the valleys that many pit ponies became unable to understand their handlers any more since they had all stopped swearing!
This is Revival – not just a political platform but a personal penitence, a recognition that sin is lying at my own door, that I have already let it in countless times and that any change in society begins with my personal life. Your great predecessor Baroness Thatcher once said,
There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.
And this brings me to my point Dave. If you want to get to grips with the problems of society and change the social structures which perpetuate the lack of achievement and vision for some of our neighbours, the change needs to begin in the highest levels of Government. You cannot expect a whole generation to repent of its errors if its leadership are not able to hold themselves to account in a similar fashion. What am I talking about? Well let’s take one example which I raised earlier. We know that family breakdown contributes massively to under-achievement of children and it is laudable to the highest degree to want to keep families together and to produce a moral culture where we find it unacceptable that fathers abandon their families. It’s not the father paying maintenance (or not) that helps his son make the most of his life, it’s having the father there every evening as he goes to bed and every morning when he wakes up.
So the choice for you Dave is clear. If you want (as you should do) the whole of our nation to examine it’s moral framework, it’s societal ethics, you need to demand of our leadership (right up to Cabinet level and down to local government) the willingness to show that they are as responsible for their families as poorer fathers are for theirs. You need to realise that the idea of “one rule for the elite, another for the rest of us” extends far wider than bankers’ bonuses or MPs’ expenses.
Dave, you know where I’m going with this don’t you? If the Government wants to say (rightly) that family breakdown is one of the chief factors behind our failed urban generation, we cannot tolerate engineered family breakdown amongst our leaders. For far too long we have let adulterous politicians carry on as though their personal behaviour had no bearing on their ability to do their job. We let husbands and wives abandon their spouses and children and the only consequence is a bit of tutting in the Daily Mail. It is time to be brutally realistic – if the Government is suggesting that we need to re-emphasise the role of the family and wider kin structures in the renewal of our society, we must ensure that our leadership is iconic of the culture we are trying to support and promote.
I know this is a tough bullet to bite Dave, but you do realise don’t you that without it there will be a philosophical flaw at the heart of any new platform for national renewal. Unless we the fortunate, the powerful, the influential are willing to hold ourselves to exactly the same standards that we know will restore our nation, any project to handle the root issues that now need to be addressed will be fundamentally compromised. It is not good enough for politicians to tell us what the problems are – they now need to recognise that the moral rot lies in all strata of society and that it must be honestly and openly repented of. We are all sinners, we all need to hold our hands up to that sin.
Peter (the worst of sinners)