This is an open letter to my sisters and brothers in Christ who seem to accept the use of words without consideration of who they are encompassing within their usage. It was, I suppose, inevitable, given the names of the two parties and the seemingly vitriolic hatred some out there feel towards the Tories (a hatred grounded, it has to be said, in the very real pain and suffering 18 years of Thatcherite Conservatism caused to many, especially those least deserving and least able to cope with that suffering) that the label ConDem would very quickly become attached to the coalition that forms the UK’s current government. And it appeared very quickly. I remember seeing it within minutes of the announcement that the LibDems were even considering forming a government with the Conservatives.
I wish to say, here and now, that I understand the pain. And I do. It is, admittedly, a pain I can only empathise with and understand intellectually. I was not even a teenager by the time Mrs Thatcher (a woman, incidentally, whose appearance on tv in our house caused that particular device to be immediately turned off every time) was ousted. I remember celebrating when she quit but in all honesty I couldn’t have told you why. By the time I developed a genuine interest in politics John Smith was wiping the floor with John Major at the despatch box and had introduced One Member One Vote to the Labour Party. Indeed, Smith’s death is the first real political event I remember having a genuine emotional attachment to – it is etched on my mind, it was the day before my 16th birthday! I say this to admit that while I understand the pain I do not, and cannot, feel it in the way that people who lived through that era as politically aware adolescents and adults do.
I said at the top of this post that it is, in particular, a post, a letter indeed, to my brothers and sisters in faith. I feel I have put up with being labeled a member of the ConDem Nation for too long without speaking out on the pain it causes me. Christ calls us to love our neighbour, even our enemy. I am not your enemy! I know you and love you! I share much the same theological, and even political, ideals as you do! I want to save our libraries because access to books is key to allowing people to explore new ideas and to discover people who have experienced the same as you, to see people be able to attend university without saddling themselves with huge debts because education is about more than job success, to ensure the national health service is not dismantled because ensuring everyone has access to medical care free at the point of access is the duty of any society that claims it cares for one another, to ensure those who are able to do so contribute what they can genuinely afford to society’s coffers because those that do not contribute do not fail to do so out of choice, I want to see immigrants and asylum seekers cared for in a fair and humane way because they have not come here to take us for a ride but because we are a self-proclaimed safe place to seek sanctuary, whether political or economic. I could go on, but I think you get the point. I believe all these things, and more, because I believe in Christ, who through his life, death and resurrection calls us to a life of redemption, of self-sacrifice, and of all-giving love!
I am not your enemy! Yet when you use the term ConDem you label me as such. So be it. But we are called to love our enemies. And do not worry, I am not about to suggest that we LibDems loved our enemy by going into government with them – such a statement would be a gross belittling of such a profound Christian calling. No. Rather what I wish to raise is the use of the term ConDem at all. It is a word deliberately charged with a depth of feeling. It is a term deliberately chosen to indicate a particular mindset, a mindset the use of the term ascribes to all those who have, in any way, accepted or agreed to a coalition government of the make-up that currently exists. By using it you condemn all us for having an apparent mindset of willfully condemning the poor to a life of permanent poverty, the uneducated to a life of permanent ignorance, the ill to a life of permanent bad health, the refugee to a life of permanent mental and/or physical displacement. This is not my mindset, and you know it! Neither is it, I believe (and maybe I am wrong, only time will tell – and do not tell me people don’t change, because for many of us our whole faith hangs on the idea that, actually, people can and do change) the mindset of many Conservatives, certainly not of some of those I know. It is certainly not the mindset of every LibDem I know, and I know many, from the grassroots to near the very top.
Many who now label me a part of the ConDem Nation (whether you do it deliberately or simply in effect) were screaming out for a coalition of the liberal and social democratic left in the aftermath of the election. Then I was your friend. Then I shared your mindset. Presumably you might wish to persuade me to leave my party, or to persuade my party to make a different choice in future, or at least to see us change some policies. You will not succeed in this by condemning us.
We are called to love our enemy. In part I am convinced that this is because of that eternal truth that hatred begets hatred. If we are to change people’s minds, if we are to convince them that the way to genuinely live together is to share together in all that life brings, then we can only do this through offering grace and love, not condemnation and hatred.
Maybe, just maybe, I’m being over-sensitive. It is certainly the case that I do not believe myself “more sinned against than sinning”, for we all sin. Please, though, I ask all of my brothers and sisters to seriously consider the use of the language of condemnation in our political discourse, for unless we are willing to reach out across the gap of difference we cannot be certain the other will. We are all fallen, and we are all in need of forgiveness and grace.Loving God, We have sinned against you in what we have thought, said and done. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves. We are truly sorry and turn away from what is wrong. Forgive us for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.