Seeking the Welfare of London pt 2
Seeking the Welfare of London (pt2)
It says in Jeremiah 29:7 that we are to seek the welfare of the City.
In some translations it reads as seek the peace and prosperity of the City. What is interesting is the passage asks us to seek the welfare of the City as a unit, as a community. Seek the City’s welfare first and yours later. In seeking others’ welfare you will find yours. It reminds me of the verses from Isaiah 58. “If you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday”. The call to Social Justice is clear as day. It also evokes the concept of building and rebuilding; physically, economically and politically. These are themes that Nehemiah would recognise. His inspired leadership of rebuilding the City took time.
The temptation with politics is to think for the short term, for the immediate. However, I would argue that a truly Conservative viewpoint wants to lay strong foundations for the future. To build not just for the current generation but for those not yet born. We need to seek the welfare of the City in perpetuity. We need to encourage policies and plans that will promote long term flourishing.
I am often inspired with the words from Isaiah, “Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” What does this mean in practice? For Christians? For Conservatives? For everyone? The Bible is clear: we are honour bound to seek the welfare of all in the City. Don’t judge them; pray for them, and help them.
One famous motto of a Great Mercantilist City is “Let Glasgow Flourish.” The motto of the City of London is perhaps more theological “Domine Dirige Nos” (“O Lord Direct us”). However, as a Conservative and as a Christian I can see no contradiction in admiring both.
Conservatism has its root encouraging people to reach their full potential. To encourage flourishing lives not dependent on the state but building up the Nation. The mobilisation of communities, the growth of families, the setting up of charities and businesses. The former Chief Rabbi’s book springs to mind: “The Home we Build Together”. This is where the left and right diverge. The right believes that the State exists to protect and serve society, not to define or create it.
Many Christian Conservatives emphasise the role of personal responsibility both for individual success and the duty of helping society. I want to see citizens achieve their own potential, which requires excellent schools and Universities, it requires low taxes, sound finance and support for businesses. It requires a sustainable yet substantial commitment to housebuilding and development for homes and to encourage families. It also requires that we look after the environment.
If the City is truly to flourish into the future we need to be good stewards of God’s creation. Conservatives believe in conservation too.
I have been a Conservative since my teenage years. I didn’t consider my journey from Rural Ulster to being a Conservative in England a long political journey. Many of the rural Conservative issues are the same, the power of the farm, the family and tradition are key.
However, Conservatism for the urban electorate has, certainly in the United Kingdom, proved to be a more challenging political sell.
Modern political thought might see Conservatism as contiguous to capitalism and specifically urban consumerism. The challenge for Conservatism in the urban environment is both human and economic.
In a mega city such as London, as a rural émigré I can see the positives and negatives that urban success can bring. Conservatism may be synonymous with the amazing success of the City of London. However, any large urban metropolis has to also deal with inequality and poverty.
As with any political party seeking support from voters we need to be listening and learning about the challenges Londoners have with housing, jobs and education. Where Christians of all political flavours come together is often around Community and Faith engagement. That is certainly where I, as well as I am sure my friends in the other Party Christian groups, already engage and would wish others to serve as well.
Politicians of all flavours are aware through their own ward and constituency mailbags of the social need in their patch, they are also increasingly aware of the amazing social action provision that Churches across London provide: From Job Clubs, to Food Banks, to Night Shelters and Street Pastors. There is another reason for the success and growth of these ministries in London, the growing size of the Church which provides the finance and the volunteers.
Edoardo Albert has written a spiritual history of London, a book recommended to me by one of my Labour Christian friends, Stephen Timms, MP for East Ham.
Edoardo points out that in the last 20 years London has become the most religious part of Britain. Church attendance has risen from just over 620,000 in 2005 to 720,000 in 2012. The proportion of 20-somethings attending church is double that of the rest of England. A further 120,000 attend midweek activities which means that 10% of London goes to church weekly. There has been a 67% increase in the number of churches in Inner London between 1979 and 2012.
The retiring Bishop of London Rt Rev Richard Chartres has built a formidable reputation for endorsing and encouraging fresh movements of the Church in London. In a recent Evening Standard profile he outlined his view on our current political landscape: “The Great Problem is short-termism in politics and wider parts of life.” I have lived now in a rapidly changing London for over ten years, however I grew up in a farming community in rural Northern Ireland. I like the farming metaphor of planting seeds in expectation of a Harvest. Effective politics, like building flourishing communities, requires the patience of sowing and growing. This patience of gratification delayed is as true for those who pass legislation as for those who build communities.
As I am sure will be the case with the other Party Christian fellowships we want people to get people engaged in the social justice of elected politics as well as the social action of voluntary community provision.
Our prayer as ‘Christians in Politics’ is that Christians will be inspired to see standing for elected office as much a mission call as volunteering at Church. As well as working as Director of the CCF I am also a Conservative Activist in Lambeth. The Borough’s motto is “Spectemur Agendo” – “Let us be regarded according to our conduct”. We all have a choice about how we conduct ourselves and how we choose to serve in our communities.
One of the CCF’s founders, David Burrowes MP, represents Enfield Southgate in London. He has certainly taught me what servant-hearted public service is, what campaigning for local residents looks like, what engaging positively and robustly on the issues of the day ought to be about. Full of grace and energy and passion. So, my question to you the reader is this: Who is going to be the next David Burrowes? If not now, when? If not you, who? Theresa May’s Joint Chief of Staff Nick Timothy has written a book about Joseph Chamberlain, the Conservative Political Statesman and Mayor of Birmingham. ‘Our Joe’ believed that it was his destiny to govern Britain on behalf of the masses. He believed in democracy and campaigned for social reform. He transformed Birmingham from the world’s workshop, successful but chaotic, into ‘the best governed City in the World’. Perhaps you are being called in this generation to do the same in this great City?
I have lived on a Lambeth Housing estate for over 10 years serving as the chair of the Tenants and Residents Association. I have stood as a local council candidate. What are you being called to do? How can you play your part in the flourishing of the City in 2017 and beyond?
What might be the first step for you? Could I ask you to consider our IMPACT leadership training course? It is for Christians who are interested in learning about how to serve in public life who are open to the calling of elected politics. Find out more information and get in touch here.
For more information on joining the CCF, attending our events or joining the IMPACT political leadership development course please log unto our website: www.theccf.co.uk