From the minister - March 2022
So many scandals, so many gates! First, there was Watergate, one of the defining events of American history which resulted in the eventual resignation of President Richard Nixon. Since then, the word gate has appended to the title of a succession of further scandals. In recent years, we’ve had Bloodgate (when a rugby player faked an injury to deceive match officials), Dieselgate (to describe the emissions scandal relating to Volkswagen cars), and Plebgate (referring to an alleged row between an MP and police officers at Downing Street). Now, Partygate can be added to this list.
It's hard to think of a political story of recent years which has captured the imagination of the public to the level we’ve seen in recent weeks. Almost every conversation I’ve had, in church or with friends and family, turns at some point to what did or didn’t happen in Downing Street during the dark days of lockdown. I’ve found myself reflecting on what lessons, if any, can be learned from what’s happened and what a Christian response to this scandal, and all the subsequent fallout, might look like. Let me offer you four suggestions, principles which I hope we can apply not just to Partygate but to situations we may be walking through in our own lives.
Firstly, let’s remember that none of us can ever know the whole truth about a situation. A few years ago, in response to an increasing clamour from football fans, managers and pundits, Video Assisted Refereeing was introduced. At the time VAR was seen as the answer to every contested decision, but the reality has been different. We’ve learnt that we can look at a tackle from numerous angles and in slow motion and still not be able to distinguish right from wrong. How do we know a player’s intent and how do we interpret and apply the rules of the game?
Life is often like this. We hear stories of disagreements between friends, even of events that happen in church. We think we know the whole picture but usually we don’t. Even the people involved may find it hard to discern what is really happening, such is the inner conflict or confusion we all experience. There is only one who fully knows. As Scripture reminds us, ‘The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7).
In light of this, can I ask you to consider a second principle: let’s not be swift to judge. Anyone who spends just a few moments in the world of social media will be aware that we live in a time when it seems increasingly difficult to debate any subject in a balanced or measured way. To use another footballing analogy, too often we play the man and not the ball, choosing to draw the worst possible conclusions about someone and making one mistake a pretext for character assassination. Again, Scripture offers a cautionary word to those of us who are tempted to act in this way. Jesus himself warned us, ‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you’ (Matthew 7:1–2). Given that all of us make mistakes and will invariably be on the receiving end of the judgements of others at some point, let’s seek to treat those around us with the grace we would want to be shown to us.
Thirdly, let’s be honest with one another. As any student of history will know, it’s often the case that when scandals occur it’s the cover-up, rather than the original offence, which does most damage. To evade and equivocate is no way to respond when any of us is challenged on our behaviour. Again, it would be wise to heed the teaching of Jesus: ‘All you need to say is simply “Yes” or “No”’ (Matthew 5:37). There are lots of reasons for our reluctance to tell others how we really feel: embarrassment, politeness, a fear of being coming across in the wrong way. However, I often wonder how much confusion and misunderstanding we would be spared if we could be more honest with each other.
Fourthly and finally, let’s give all of this to God. I have no doubt that the anger and frustration many of us feel about this present scandal is directly linked to the trauma and pain we have been through in the last two years, the long periods of isolation, the lost dreams and opportunities, the stories many of us can tell of loved ones we were unable to properly say goodbye to. All of us will find ourselves in moments when the anger we feel is entirely understandable, but to remain in that place will only cause lasting damage, to those around us and also to ourselves. At some point, whether it’s reacting to the news or reacting to those who have wounded us personally, we need to give our anger to God, the one who judges justly but who has also forgiven us our trespasses.
May you know him near as you react and respond to the major events of national life and your day-to-day concerns.
Wishing you God’s grace and peace