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Brexit, Herod and contemptuous politicians

Bemused by Brexit? We look to Advent to shed some light on proceedings in parliament

This week has seen remarkable scenes in the UK parliament.

The five-day debate on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement was always going to be tense, with predictions that the government could lose the vote on 11 December by a large margin – one tracker now has more than 100 Conservative MPs pledging to vote against it.

But then there was the tricky matter of humble addresses and contempt of parliament motions. The government refused to take part in a vote which obliged them to publish the full legal advice on Brexit, they decided to only publish a summary, and were then accused of being in contempt of parliament. One government minister tried to squirm out of this charge by insisting that they had not acted in a manner which is contemptuous of this house”. 

Contempt of parliament is different to acting contemptuously; this is when someone does or doesn’t do something which improperly interfered’ with the functions of parliament. No MP has been found to be in contempt of parliament since 1947, and never has the government been in this position before. After losing the contempt vote on Tuesday, the government committed to publish the full advice, and this is seen as parliament asserting its control over the future of Brexit.

The political order appears to be in a constant state of flux, and it is not at all clear where this will lead. We might still leave the EU on 29 March 2019 on the terms agreed between Theresa May and the EU, but other options cannot be ignored. Perhaps we may extend the negotiation period and try and get a different deal, for instance, or we might leave without a deal, or we may get the second referendum some are pushing for. 

At the start of Advent we cannot help but think about another political order that was turned upside down. A king who was threatened by a star rising in the east, a baby who was born in a manger (but not in a stable), shepherds who came to worship, and a son who grew up to be King.

And as this true King was born, earthly kings, governors, rulers and emperors were all seeking to impose their will: from Herod’s notorious violence, to the sweeping census of Caesar Augustus. Later in the New Testament, other rulers would go far beyond our politicians even at their worst, with one purporting to speak the voice of a god and not a man” – Acts 12:22. This was the context into which our King Jesus was born. 

Later, Jesus Himself would say those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them” – Mark 10:42. And yet, for all the efforts of the leaders of the time, none of them, nor their descendants, reign anymore. But Jesus Christ, the servant King, will reign forever and ever. 

The story of Jesus’ birth reminds us that in the political maelstrom of the present we too are taught to fear not. Not because we abdicate political authority because heaven is our home, but because we follow the King of kings who holds all things in His hands. Earthly authorities can try and force things to go their own way, but that often doesn’t work out. God is the one in authority above all rulers. 

In a world of uncertainty, in unpredictable parliamentary motions, whipping operations that cannot muster the votes, of alternatives too numerous to comprehend, even as we engage politically and bring our leaders before God in prayer, Advent reminds us to trust in God’s authority not in our own. As we trust in God and His goodness and faithfulness we provide a witness to our world that we can find peace, whatever anxieties today or tomorrow may hold. 

About the author

Danny joined the Alliance in 2008 and has held a range of roles in the advocacy team. He currently looks after media relations and oversees our advocacy programmes and projects including public leadership. Before working for the Alliance he worked in parliament for an MP and has degrees in politics and political philosophy. Danny is passionate about encouraging Christians to integrate their faith with all areas of their life, especially when it comes to helping them take on leadership outside the church. He frequently provides comment on current political issues, both in Alliance publications and to the press.

See more from Danny Webster

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