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26 June 2015

The battle against cynicism

The battle against cynicism

I don't know how it has been for you, but around my household the May 2015 election quickly became a distant memory. Despite the tens of millions that was spent on the campaign, the multitude of words that were written, interviews that were given, and polls that were taken – inaccurately, as it turns out – it seems we very rapidly returned to business as usual. Except I detected over the course of the election, and certainly in the days that followed, what I can only describe as a growing tide of cynicism against both our political system and those elected to represent us. Social media seems particularly fertile ground.

It's easy to understand where cynicism comes from. We have been let down by some of our politicians: cash for questions, the expenses scandal, the 'spinning' of a political message, that makes it difficult to understand what is actually being proposed in a manifesto or an election debate. It's so easy to have a negative outlook on those who are elected for Westminster, the Assemblies, or local Council.

A friend of mine once described 'worry' as unsanctified prayer. Perhaps cynicism is unsanctified 'prophecy'. It's a cancer that pervades British society, and is sadly impacting the Church. It allows us to believe the worst, and leaves us surprised if things go well. A cynic knows everything, while believing in nothing. With cynicism there is little place for commitment, celebration or indeed joy. Cynics become judge and jury of every situation. Like oil and water, cynicism and hope just don't mix. 

As part of my role as general director of the Evangelical Alliance, I have had the opportunity to meet a number of politicians and those called to public service. My experience is that the vast majority of the people I meet go into politics because they want to make a difference. They want the well-being of those whom they are elected to represent; they really do want to work for a better world. They haven't entered the political arena for money – there are far more lucrative careers – and they certainly haven't embarked on politics for an easy life. The job of your average local MP is far from glamorous: long and anti-social hours, often living away from home, with the potential of facing a public attack and humiliation.

Now let's be absolutely clear, our elected politicians need to be held accountable, both for the policies they propose and the honesty of their dealing. None of us are immune from the corrupting attractions of power and status.

As a Christian, I find myself in a complex relationship with those in power, even those elected by a democratic process in which I participated. I recognise that there is a higher authority, one to whom I have given my ultimate allegiance. This is to my Saviour, my Lord, and indeed the Lord of all the earth, to whom ultimately every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

This means that we as a Christian community have a responsibility to challenge those in power when they have failed to fulfil their God-given duty to seek the common good, and failed to recognise their responsibility to steward wisely the resources of creation for the wellbeing of all.

Despite my allegiance to this higher authority and the challenge I might be called to bring, I'm also required to dig deeper. I can't give way to cynicism, as I'm called to engage and particularly to pray. Paul writing in the context of a brutally repressive Roman empire exhorts his readers "that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all Godliness and Holiness. This is good and pleasing to God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth." 1 Timothy chapter 2:1-4. It's hard to pray with conviction if I'm cynical. It's difficult to nurture relationships with those who are called to public service if I'm cynical. I'm unlikely to get involved in a political party if I'm cynical.

So let's be the people of hope, not denying the reality of the world that surrounds us, but seeing a greater reality and working to see it outworked in our lives and the lives of those who surround us.

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