Following my post on the resignation of UK Government Minister David Laws (in the light of Bishop Margot Käβmann’s resignation in February), there are two types of resignation in the spotlight today. I had intended to write something funny today, but the news got in the way.

Horst Köhler, President of Germany, has resigned only a year after securing a second term in office. He caused offence last week after suggesting that there can be a justification for Germany’s armed forces being involved in operations away from home in order to secure particular interests. The Left accused him of supporting ‘gunboat diplomacy’ (he doesn’t) and the Right left him to stew in his embarrassment. Today he resigned, saying he regretted that his comments could lead to a misunderstanding about a difficult question for the nation – viz Afghanistan.

So, German politics loses as its figurehead a good man with a good record because people are too stupid to listen intelligently to a comment and debate it seriously. What he said is contentious, but that is no reason for not saying it – even for a Head of State who has the best interests of his country at heart. German military involvement in Afghanistan is a hot potato in Germany right now and Margot Käβmann herself got into trouble in January when, as head of the EKD (Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland), she called for a renewed debate over the withdrawal of troops when there was a lack of vision for the conflict.

Köhler will be replaced in the interim by Jens Böhrnsen (SPD), speaker of the Bundesrat (Upper House). What is remarkably odd about all this is simply that the debate about Afghanistan will still go on, yet Germany will have lost a very good Head of State. And – as I have aksed elsewhere – who has gained what by this resignation?

However, the second resignation is arguably more serious for the wider world. This is the sense of resignation felt across the globe that Israel can do what it likes and get away with it – that in the end no one will hold Israel to account. They can build their illegal settlements, flout UN Resolutions at will, refuse to cooperate with the wider world (eg. nuclear proliferation negotiations) and commit atrocities against vulnerable people – and apart from a few sharp words, they can then carry on business as usual.

So, today they have intercepted (in international waters) the flotilla of boats taking aid to Gaza and lives have been lost. Ambassadors have been called in to explain events and protests have broken out around the world. Our own Foreign Secretary has issued a call for Israel to stop the blockade of Gaza forthwith. Whistling in the wind?

The tragedy of this is (a) that Israel’s security depends on the security of its neighbours and friends, (b) that original victimhood cannot justify making victims of others, (c) that Israel’s legitimate complaint about the violence of others towards Israel is drowned out by the horrified complaints of those offended by Israel’s own oppressive actions.

That said, however, I guess many people around a horrified world will once again be resigned to the fact that Israel will simply ignore protests and present itself as the aggrieved victim. Others, however, will now find in this action yet another sanction for further violence and less understanding.

Psalm 122.6 implores:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…

But the peace of Jerusalem is never seen in isolation from the call of the prophets for God’s people to love justice, exercise mercy and walk humbly with God (and, therefore, with everyone else).

It is a bizarre world out there.

Israel refuses to join in talks to rid the Middle East of nuclear weapons – which raises the temperature out there, but highlights the hypocrisy of those who are asking for the de-nuking of some countries while retaining the edge given by owning their own. US forces have been killing Afghans by mistake (some comfort) and the financial precipice on which the world stands continues to crack and wobble under the weight of contradictory pressures. A precarious world…

So, what are we obsessing about here in England? A gay government minister who felt compelled to file housing expenses in order not to let any snoopers into the reality of his sexuality. Had David Laws not filed for housing expenses in London, you can bet your life someone would have outed him as gay – something he didn’t want. And, at the point of writing this, it appears he has tendered his resignation to David Cameron – the first casualty of the new regime.

David Laws seems to have broken the rules on expenses. He should repay them. But, the other questions remain and they have to do with the culture we have come to accept:

  • Why should he (and others) in the first place have to fear media intrusion into areas of his private life that have no bearing on his ministerial office? I know I have been here before, but why do we give the media the right to hold people in public life to ransom in this way? The Telegraph has said (creditably, in my view) that they had no intention of touching on his sexuality in exposing his expenses breach, but that he outed himself last night. I would love to know how the Telegraph would have exposed his breach without exposing his sexuality and identifying his partner.
  • Who gains what from his resignation – other than another ‘story’ for the media? Why do we think the world benefits from resignations?

An interesting light is shone on this question by an article in the Frankfurter Rundschau (titled Enough repentance, Frau Käßmann) today regarding the former Bishop of Hannover in Germany. Margot Käßmann resigned in February after being stopped for crossing a red light while well over the drink-drive limit. Thousands of people – including journalists – pleaded with her not to stand down, but, like Martin Luther himself, she felt, “here I stand, I can do no other”. She went and was universally applauded for her courage, integrity and dignity in taking responsibility for her serious error.

Now, however, many people in Hannover want her back. This wasn’t her intention (she is about to go to the USA for three months to teach before leaving Hannover in time for her successor to be elected in November), but her popularity was in evidence in Munich recently when she was the main attraction at the Ecumenical Kirchentag. Now it seems even the media are calling for her to come back – she acted with complete integrity and paid a huge price and justice was done, but that does not mean she can’t come back. Her re-election would also solve the problem of what the church can do with such a charismatic and popular leader who is always going to attract attention and cannot help but overshadow her successor at both Landeskirche and EKD level.

Her authority was re-established at the precisely the moment it was most compromised. This also proved that the mistake of February did not overshadow her credibility.

[Contrasting her decison to resign with the reluctant sacking by the Pope of the RC Bishop of Augsburg after what the journalist called ‘deception, lying and whitewashing’], Käßmann’s behaviour has shown her to have character and understand the gravity of her role… Käßmann resigned without a Plan B and this gives substance to her words of regret/repentance – even if she were to come back… Enough repentance, Frau Käßmann! Your return to office would be for the church the best evidence of what you preach. Credibility is not to be confused with infallibility. And: there is a second chance – not a cheap ‘business as usual’, but a reflective ‘now for something new’.

I wonder if we in Britain would have the courage to request the return of David Laws whose resignation has been forced by personal agony rather than greedy ambition? And how would the press have reported this story without outing him?

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