On Saturday, Armistice Day, seven men were charged for disorder in central London, with offences including inciting racial hatred. The Met reported 145 people were arrested in total, the “vast majority” of whom were far-right protesters countering the pro-Palestinian march held that day. Nine police officers were also injured.
We rightly pray for peace around the world as nations rage against each other, and rumours of wars rear their heads. But we should also pray for peace at home. As followers of Jesus we should not be willing recruits in the culture war that is pitting demographic groups against each other.
Culture war just entrenches our biases and embeds us amongst people like us, unwilling to consider the views or situations of those on the other side. It entails a lack of grace towards others and a lack of curiosity about why people hold different views to our own – it reduces everyone who doesn’t think the same things as us to being the enemy.
Leading politicians, particularly the home secretary, have a solemn duty not to instigate unrest or breaches of the peace. Suella Braverman wrote in The Times last week accusing the Met police of playing favourites, acting more leniently towards some groups of protestors than others. This article was not approved by the prime minister.
On Monday morning, she was sacked from the government. Her removal was not only because she was consistently forging her own path rather than abiding by collective Cabinet responsibility, and making the PM look weak by not taking action.
It was also about the tone of her comments, from which other government ministers increasingly sought to distance themselves. She was seen to be deliberately stoking divisions in society. We do not know how many members of the far-right hooligan tendency were encouraged to turn out because of Braverman’s comments, but we do know that our leaders’ words have the power to impact unity and safety in our communities. Careless talk costs!
Already we see both sides digging in as Braverman’s defenders claim she was sacked “for speaking the truth”. But these are sensitive issues that need wise leadership and carefully-worded conversations.
As Christians seeking to engage with these issues, we have a deep responsibility not only to pray for such leadership but also to resist the easy option of being siloed in to “sides” in the culture war. Our path is a narrow one. Refusing to join a side doesn’t mean neutrality or keeping silent. We are to stand against injustice wherever we see it, and this may well mean offending more people than simply picking a position. It may well mean offending both sides, as we refuse to take the easy option of jumping into one trench or the other.
Like Jesus, we are on the side of children, the captives, the poor and the sick – those who tragically face the brunt of the fallout on both sides of any conflict.
But it also means holding true to our convictions with all humility, graciousness, and gentleness, and refusing to retaliate to accusations but instead turning the other cheek. We would do well to heed the warning of Proverbs 15:1: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Let’s not be those who deliberately stoke anger, but those who “speak the truth in love”.
Zechariah’s song in Luke 2:78-79 ends by pointing to the “the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven, to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” Perhaps this can be our prayer this week.
The new home secretary James Cleverly faces a daunting in-tray, especially as we expect a Supreme Court ruling this week on the government’s controversial policy to deport immigrants to Rwanda. We must pray that he won’t simply be an opinion pundit but a level-headed authority figure; that he will take the correct hard decisions with strong conviction, but that he’d still be able to listen and change his mind.
The return of former prime minister David Cameron to the frontline as foreign secretary is a move that few people saw coming. Is it a desperate last throw of the dice by Rishi Sunak, or a wise move to bring in an experienced head? Will this appointment soothe divisions in the Conservative Party, or inflame them even more as the pro-Brexit right vent their rage? Whichever is the case, lets pray that he is granted wisdom and courage as he seeks to represent the UK in an increasingly disturbing foreign policy environment.
And finally let's pray for God’s help to show all of our leaders, and all of us, the way to walk the path of peace through the treacherous ground of the culture wars ahead.