01 November 2011
Truth shining light in the darkness
General Director Steve Clifford asks whether the shaking of our institutions is actually an answer to prayer...
Few of us will forget the summer of 2011. Wrongdoing of epic proportions, a tsunami of violence, arson and robbery which rocked our cities, dominated our TV screens destined to shake the future plans of thousands of young and not so young people who were caught up in it and now face life with a criminal record.
I will never forget the scenes on my local high street in West London - overturned cars, looted businesses, burnt-out homes and scores of exhausted police and firemen. All of this next to dog walkers, cyclists and of course fellow Londoners on their way to work on a sunny Tuesday morning. We saw the worst and best of British society that week. Alongside the rioters, there was an army of ordinary people who weren't prepared to give up their streets. Twitter campaigns started almost immediately with '#riotcleanup' and '#prayforlondon' trending worldwide. Donations were made to local businesses and the Church was at work doing what the Church does best - practically caring for those who had lost everything, visiting the elderly and vulnerable, sweeping the streets, liaising with police and politicians, providing tea and cakes for emergency services and of course, praying.
How did it come to this? Was this a freak, chance episode never to be repeated? Or a predicable consequence of a cocktail of ideologies which have left little or no space for God in public life?
The consumerism of today's Britain tells me that I find my value in the accumulation of wealth and possessions. I am defined by my designer clothes, my flat screen TV or my mobile phone. Secular humanism tells me that I am the ultimate authority on what is right or wrong - I get to decide! Is it a surprise therefore that with such ideologies shaping the mindset of so many, thousands went 'shopping' on a warm August evening without cash or credit card?
Where does God fit into these events? How do we interpret this week of madness in the bigger picture of Britain at the beginning of the 21st century?
The last three years have seen the most powerful institutions and powerbases of our nation shaken. Who would have predicted the financial crisis we have faced with two of our high street banks getting within hours of having to close cash machines due to insolvency? The mountain of debt made freely available whether you wanted to buy a house or secure the latest 'must-have' luxury item. Or a nation - Greece, Ireland, Portugal - maintaining unsustainable growth and government spending. Consequences are now being faced by many of us through unemployment, cut-backs on services and the squeeze on bank lending.
And who would have predicted the crisis within our political institutions? The 'cash for questions' and subsequent expenses scandal undermining our confidence in the democratic structures of those being elected to represent us (most of whom, incidentally, had operated with integrity, yet failed to face and deal with practices which had become common amongst a few).
As we reflect on the last few years, let's also not forget the allegations that have come to light within the Catholic church. Thousands of young lives were damaged, and the reputation of the Church of Jesus Christ was seriously undermined in many communities by the scandals.
Alongside all of this, the media world is being shaken. The Murdoch family's great News International is being exposed as reports come in of allegations of payments to the police, bullying of politicians at the highest level and the invasion of privacy of grieving parents. One is left shaking one's head and wondering how it ever came to this.
Could it be that we are facing the consequences of attempting to build a society where 'God' is a swear word, at best a political embarrassment and of no relevance to 21st century life? Could this really be God answering some of our prayers? Could the light of truth be shining into some dark places of public life? Could the shaking that is taking place be God at work where the hidden things are now being revealed? We are left feeling uncomfortable. For some the consequences have been tragic. But I am glad that lies and deceits that have dominated these places are now being revealed and I wonder if there is more to come. I am delighted that a political debate has now been started as to how we build genuine social cohesion across our fragmented society. I am challenged by areas of my life and work that need attention. And I am praying that we as the Evangelical Alliance, together with other Christians at work in places of influence, will be equipped to engage in the conversation as to the shape of public life which will be trustworthy, marked with integrity and personal sacrifice.