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21 September 2012

Bloodsport and constant conflict?

Bloodsport and constant conflict?

Believe me I don't quote Bill Clinton often, but a few words from his recent Democratic National Convention speech have stayed with me. He called for an end to the 'blood sport' of American politics and cautioned the 'politics of constant conflict.'

'Blood sport and constant conflict' sounds like the name of a sultry teenage band. But these words also sound cruel, frenzied, aggressive and intensely unpleasant. Is this the image the public have of politics? Hopefully not but perhaps more disturbingly, is this the image that politicians want the public to have? Political parties are masters of perception – spin, image and publicity are everything. These violent images resonate on some level with what we already think about politics and they are not conveyed incidentally.

Political parties are knowing participants in this blood sport pursuit. Unfortunately power, pride, distain for other parties and grandstanding seem to be important parts of this game. No doubt the odd soft edge (kissing a baby or hugging a hoodie) is good for publicity but the real image that political parties often portray is one of aggressive infallibility. You don't often see politicians on street corners with a Pit-bull straining on a chain. But their message is the same, 'I'm intimidating, very powerful and if you annoy me things might get messy'.

To bring things a little closer to home, it was recently reported that the Northern Ireland Assembly has 161 press officers, more than Belfast has journalists (Guardian May 2012). Now I'm no PR consultant but it seems to me that the 'politics of constant conflict', which is acutely perpetuated here, is again no accident. I'm also no HR consultant but if the UK or Northern Ireland Government was a company seeking to increase productivity then internal relations would drastically need to improve. Has anyone ever worked out the cost of political pride to the tax payer?

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to good relations, genuine equality and productivity is the public and publicised behaviour in politics. Politicians stand united against bullying, sectarianism and violence yet often their attitudes, words and actions towards each other tell a different story. Do as I say not as I do.

Do you see what's happened? Ironically I've become one of the hounds in the pack. From my high horse I've singled out our politicians as the crafty fox. In the frantic hunt for self-righteousness it's often humility and grace that fall off the saddle. To put it simply, I forgot to take the plank out of my own eye and tripped over it. From the playground to the boardroom we're all guilty of turning childish games into blood sports.

How refreshing then is the Kingdom of God - a mustard seed movement organically turning the world the right side up. A group where the last shall be first and power lies in the Spirit of God, not in the whim of public opinion polls. Kingdom-dwellers are a people so humble that their left hands don't know the generous deeds their right hands are doing. Their love of their God and their neighbour means they would rather die to themselves than usurp the limelight.

Let's pray again for our Christian politicians, for wisdom to decide when to publicly stand and enter the fight and when to quietly whisper and listen. Let's pray that they stun the political world not just by their clever articulation or dashing charm but by the way they inject the rare commodity of grace and humility into the public square.

Photo Credit: author Richard Clapham, painted by Lionel Edwards