Friday, June 17, 2016


The Gospel reading for the Church of England this Sunday concerns the expulsion of unclean spirits from a man possessed. This past week has highlighted the way we are so easily dominated by the ‘unclean spirits’ - of anger, hatred and violence.  From the killings of LGBT people in Orlando to that of Jo Cox in Birstall and the disgusting pictures of English football fans taunting refugee children in Lille, it suddenly becomes apparent that we are at the mercy of ‘unclean spirits’.  Britain has its own Donald Trump's who have unleashed so many demons.

I do not have the privilege of preaching this Sunday but I hope those who do will not shirk from naming the evil that has erupted in our midst. And to name the fact that there are those who fan the flames, even though they may deny it. The massacre of scores of LGBT people because of one man’s hatred, a hatred supported by religious faith (and both Muslims and Christians are guilty of not addressing the subject); the murder of a wonderful young politician, possibly out of hatred of foreigners fermented by right-wing politics, and pictures of hundreds of football fans chanting “f..k off Europe, we’re all voting out” between violent clashes with police and shown across the globe – all show, with terrible consequences, the power of bigotry and hatred. The blatant scapegoating of foreigners in a UKIP poster Nigel Farage unveiled showing a stream of Iraqi refugees in Slovakia under the heading: “Breaking point: the EU has failed us all.”  It’s as if we have forgotten the arguments of the Synod of Whitby and are still trapped by the desire of a king to rid himself of his wife, Catherine of Aragon (let the reader understand).

I hope none of those who preach will fail to name the evil that has got into our society.  But I know that those who need to think about the consequences of allowing bigotry and hatred to enter our souls will not be in the pews on Sunday for it is clear that there are many who do not ‘want to be told what to do’.  Who are not interested in the views of ‘experts’, whether economic, social, international – or spiritual.  Who do not want to be challenged.  Who do not want to have their hearts converted to the gospel of God’s compassionate love.  Who will not be interested in recalling that, in the words of Archbishop Justin‘At the heart of Britain’s Christian heritage are certain glorious principles. They are what make the best of our nation, whether we are Christians, of another faith or of no faith. They come from Jesus’s teaching, especially in the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes. Among those principles is a vision of peace and reconciliation, of being builders of bridges, not barriers. … Sacrifice, generosity, vision beyond self-interest, suffering for others, helping the helpless, these are some of the deeply Christian principles that have shaped us.’  Who will reject the Holy Father’s reminder that we must take care not “to yield to our own selfish interests and to consider putting up fences here and there. …  The founding fathers (of Europe) were heralds of peace and prophets of the future. Today more than ever, their vision inspires us to build bridges and tear down walls.” 

Polly Toynbee, in an article for ‘The Guardian’, named the way this evil has entered mainstream debates concerning the EU Referendum by observing that: ‘This campaign has stirred up anti-migrant sentiment that used to be confined to outbursts from the far fringes of British politics. The justice minister, Michael Gove, and the leader of the house, Chris Grayling – together with former London mayor Boris Johnson – have allied themselves to divisive anti-foreigner sentiment ramped up to a level unprecedented in our lifetime.’ 

A climate of hatred has been allowed to develop unchecked and social media is showing just how ugly it is.  So many of those who seek to influence public opinion are unelected and unaccountable owners and editors of newspapers who do not have to offer a balanced perspective but who are free to pander to humanity's baser instincts.  As Archbishop Justin went on to say: 'Jesus taught us to love our neighbour, and when questioned about what that meant gave the extraordinary story of the Good Samaritan. In that story the one who turns out to be a neighbour is the one who shows respect, mercy and love to the stranger, even to an enemy.'

So I hope that those who preach on Sunday will speak out against the evil that has entered us, as it entered the man from the country of the Gerasenes.  And remind us that, as St. Ignatius Loyola discovered, the way to make choices is to hold them before God and, if we don’t know immediately what we should do, to ask ourselves this simple question – which decision will lead to an greater increase in faith and hope and love?  

Teach us, good Lord,
to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds;
to toil and not to seek for rest;
to labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will.
(St. Ignatius Loyola: 1491 – 1556)

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