Whether it’s about immigration, terrorism, cuts to public services, leadership, or Brexit, the opportunities for this to be a General Election campaign dominated by fear are numerous.
Theresa May’s ‘strong and stable’ motif has provided plenty of material for satirists, but it is hard to dispute its political astuteness, both as an appeal to our longings for certainty in complex and unstable times, and as a reinforcement of the message that these do indeed constitute such times, that our anxieties are justified, and that we should vote accordingly.
The Archbishops’ Pastoral Letter issued this weekend rightly asserts that ‘love, trust and hope, cohesion, courage and stability’ represent foundations that enable us to live together well as a society, those that help foster the common good. To these we might add justice, mercy, freedom and equality. But how do we go about unearthing or reestablishing these foundations at a time when anger, tension and competing interests are what seem to have risen to the surface of our political and public life?
Fear is of course a legitimate and valuable response to the threat of harm, driving us to defend ourselves or others, to escape, or perhaps to make a lot of noise so that others will come to assist. In a state of fear though it is rarely possible to untangle the causes of a problem and take the action necessary to prevent or reduce its occurrence or impact in future.
Arriving at longer term solutions requires of us the ability to step back and view the bigger picture; the willingness to look at – and listen to – this picture from multiple perspectives; the imagination to think creatively and collaboratively about the resources that might be mobilised to make a difference; and the courage to act – together with others – on what we learn, however challenging this may be.
HOW DO WE APPROACH THIS ELECTION IN A LOVING WAY?
During the election campaign, politicians will inevitably invite us to put our trust in them as those who will rise to this challenge on our behalf, and their willingness to serve us in this way is to be celebrated. However, it is dangerous – if tempting – to leave this kind of work to our political leaders alone. A fearful electorate can do little to hold government to account, nor is it likely to actively participate in the building of a more cohesive and flourishing society beyond June 8th, a task that reaches far beyond the powers of policy makers and into the fabric of communities, cities and neighbourhoods themselves.
Love, apparently, is an antidote to fear[i]. So what might it look like to approach this election in a way that is loving, rather than fearful?
This will, of course, depend on who you deem to be worthy of love, or on what kinds of behaviours constitute loving ones, from your point of view.
The Bible offers a view of humanity in which everyone is equally loved by God, and in which everyone has the potential to do good – as well as harm – to themselves and others. It presents a concept of love that is unconditional, consistent, and multi-faceted. We are told, for example, that love ‘always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres’[ii].
The difficulty with multi-faceted things though is that we tend to focus on one or two preferred aspects of them; the invitation to hold their varied attributes in creative tension being a bit too much for our minds and hearts to grapple with. For example, we can easily become preoccupied with protecting those we consider to be weaker or more disadvantaged than ourselves, forgetting that they are also to be trusted as individuals with their own contributions and perspectives to bring – we may even forget to ask them what they think of our protective efforts. Similarly, we may find that while our time and energy are absorbed by perseverance in campaigning, arguing or serving in a particular way, we have lost the hope that change is possible.
In an effort to take these four facets of love with us into our thinking in the run up to the election, we’ve come up with a list of questions. Some of them relate to specific policy areas, some are more generic questions about the kind of society we would like to live in. Some are questions about matters the new government will have direct influence on, others relate to areas in which each of us have a part to play, and which require action across all sectors of the economy including the private and charitable sectors. As such, they are questions that might be adapted for use at hustings, to aid our own reflection and political involvement, or indeed to inform our actions, not only politically, but also in the ways that we relate and make decisions in our workplaces, homes and communities.
‘Hope’ – are we brave enough to articulate and work towards a positive vision for the future?
- What sort of attitudes do we want to encourage our children and young people to have towards those who are different from themselves in terms of their background, belief, country of origin? What opportunities are there in policy areas such as immigration, community cohesion and tackling extremism, to provide a positive model of generosity, inclusion, and celebration of diversity?
- Could we envisage a society in which the economy was orientated towards the common good? What kind of economic and tax policies would help ensure that people from all walks of life have the best chance of being able to provide a good standard of living for themselves and their families?
‘Protect’ – how are we helping people in the specific ways that they cannot – or are prevented from – helping themselves?
- Food poverty and rough sleeping have risen substantially in recent years. What specific measures can be taken to prevent the impacts of economic pressures from falling on those who are already struggling to manage financially?
- What kinds of employment conditions support flourishing personal, family and community life? What policy (and other) measures would help ensure that more people experience these?
‘Trust’ – how are we providing opportunities and freedom for people to thrive in family and community life, in work and as individuals?
- What most encourages you about your local community? What steps would it take for positive features of our communities – such as mutual support, working together, and looking out for each other – to grow and flourish, both locally and nationally?
- What strategies need to be put in place to ensure that policy formulation benefits from the insights, views and experiences of a diverse range of voices from different socio-economic, ethnic and faith backgrounds, both before and after the election?
- What measures will improve the availability of affordable housing both for households whose incomes are around or below the median household income (after tax and National Insurance) of £26,400[iii]?
‘Perseverance’ – how are we encouraging those that work for the good of others, and are we living – and conducting our political and economic affairs in a way that is sustainable?
- If our society and the communities that make it up are to be cohesive and resilient in future, what strengths do we need to be building together now?
- How are we encouraging those who work for the good of others, including public sector workers and politicians?
[i] 1 John 4:18
[ii] 1 Corinthians 13:7
[iii] Source: ONS Statistical bulletin: Nowcasting household income in the UK: financial year ending 2016. Figure refers to disposable income, defined as ‘the amount of money that households have available for spending and saving after direct taxes (such as Income Tax and Council Tax) have been accounted for’.
This article was originally published in the Church Urban Fund Blog on May 9, 2017.