Keeping in Touch 34: City of God*

Dear Friends,

I wonder if you had chance to watch the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris yesterday? Maybe you just caught the highlights on the news. Either way, it was hard to miss the message the event wanted to put across: unity. Biden’s speech used that word more than any other. As I watched and listened to him, I thought his fatherly (perhaps grandfatherly!) style, with pearls of wisdom from years of political and life experience might be one of the reasons why he is the right person for the right moment. Let’s hope so, with all the issues in his in-tray: the Covid-crisis and Climate-crisis are at the top of the list, but there are issues of racial justice, inequality, international relations, internal division and discontent.

What also struck me though, was the way in which God was invoked, assumed, spoken of and to in the whole event. Quite a contrast with how we do things on this side of the pond. Of course, many of our national occasions are framed by liturgy and hosted by St Paul’s or Westminster Abbey (those great liturgical rivals!). And of course, God gets a look in there. But politics tends to be presented as a ‘God free zone’ – Alastair Campbell famously saying of Tony Blair’s premiership ‘we don’t do God’. A bit of a church background (Theresa May, whose father was a vicar) is fine, but too much God-speak is definitely not helpful to a political career (Tim Farron comes to mind). We have come to expect a much cleaner separation between religion and politics, church and state.

But this is an artificial separation. Whether we are people of faith or not, what we believe affects what we think is right, affects our values, affects our opinions on what we think is good for our community and for society as a whole. We are integrated people, our values and beliefs can’t be separated from our politics.

I wonder what it might mean for you and me to live out our values as ‘citizens of heaven’ (as St Paul puts it to the Philippians: 3.20) in this earthly city? I wonder what our political contribution – in the broadest sense – can be, guided by those values? The values we see embodied in Jesus, of compassion, justice, welcome and above all love. Not easy to find ways to do that in these times of separation and distancing, but perhaps we can take some of this time to reflect and to pray. What kind of politics, what kind of human relating, do we want to support and promote? Hopefully one which respects and cares for each other and for the planet. For the very issues in President Biden’s in-tray are in our in-trays too. And we can all find ways to contribute to a politics and a society that reflects the love, peace, care and justice of heaven.

With my love and prayers for you,

All Saints Vicarage,
Thursday 21st January 2021

*In his inauguration address President Biden referred to St. Augustine’s great work on theology and politics, City of God, which reads: ‘If one should say, “a people is the association of a multitude of rational beings united by a common agreement on the objects of their love,” then it follows that to observe the character of a people then we must examine the objects of its love’ (City of God 19.24).