When the Tories claimed, before the election campaign proper, “we’re in it together”, I responded somewhat scornfully. It didn’t exactly go down well in all quarters… But, given the economic and financial problems facing the world (not just a previously Labour-led Britain), it is simply a statement of fact to say that no one can escape the challenges. Nevetheless, I still maintain that some are “in it” more than others to the extent that some are more financially cushioned and economically secure than others and the view looks different from the bottom.
However, that isn’t the point of this post. While in Germany at the 2nd Ecumenical Kirchentag (until yesterday) it became obvious that the vast range of Christians present in Munich really did think that we are all “in it” together. This presented itself in several different guises:
- Christians do not feel excluded from intelligent political, social and economic discussion and decision-making in Germany – and assume a common responsibility for the direction in which the country moves. The common ownership (despite variation of view) was striking.
- The abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church was not something to be gloated over by Protestants or regarded as a problem for the Vatican to solve; rather, it was seen as a source of shame for all Christians who are bound to stand together in repentance, prayer and support for victims. This was not only mature in terms of humanity, but particularly in terms of Christian theology. (Bishop Alan Wilson has had a go at this in his excellent post today.)
- The need for united Christian mission and service was heard to be almost self-evidently true. Again and again we heard the call (from all ‘parties’) for Christian churches to speak with one voice and work to overcome the scandal of denominational suspicion and division.
Whether this can be maintained is a real question. But, it reminded me of another place where it seems Christians have finally begun to recognise the need for and cost of being “in it together”: Zimbabwe.
The Anglican Dioceses of Harare and Manicaland in Zimbabwe have been subject to what can only be called manipulative persecution by the Mugabe regime. The Government has backed the ousted bishops who no longer have any standing or recognition in the Anglican Communion. Despite pleas for ecumenical hospitality from other churches (that is, allowing regular Anglican congregations to use Roman Catholic, Methodist, etc. church buildings for their services), the Anglicans have most often been left to suffer from this oppression alone. When you see the beatings and other pressures, you can understand why. At a roundtable meeting I chaired recently at Lambeth Palace I raised this matter and together we called for ecumenical identification with the Anglicans who had been picked off by Mugabe.
Last week Jennifer Dube wrote in the Standard:
… representatives of the Zimbabwe National Pastors Conference, Christian Alliance and Ecumenical Support Services who met recently in Harare, endorsed a multi-pronged strategy to help [Bishop Chad] Gandiya’s group, in a move that might mark a new twist to the conflict.
Bishop Ancelimo Magaya of the Grace Ablaze Ministries International said after the meeting: “We need to identify with our brothers and sisters in the Anglican Church. If we do not do that, we will be sinning and if we take time to do it, the evil that is happening in the Anglican Church will come to us… Christians must look at similar divisions in trade, students’ and lawyers’ unions among other sectors to understand the severity of the Anglican saga. For us here in Harare, when some of these things happened to the people of Matabeleland, we bought the dissidents’ story and ignored those people’s suffering. Then came the killing of people with the formation of the MDC and we sat back and said, ‘It’s politics’. The divisions continued with the farm seizures and we said it was for the whites. It came again with the destruction of people’s houses in 2005 and those in Borrowdale said it was for those in the ghetto. It swept through the business sector with the price slashes, continued with the 2008 violence and now, banks and so many other companies are at risk because of yet another divisive piece of legislation. We as the church should refuse to bow to this wave of divisiveness.
This has echoes of Martin Niemoeller’s Stuttgart Confession and represents a much-needed awakening to the fact that when one church suffers, all suffer. Christians can never ignore the suffering of others – whoever they are.