Yesterday we headed off to Coventry for the Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT) bi-annual event Love Your Neighbour: Think, Pray, Vote where the speakers included the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
JPIT is a group doing work for and representing the Baptist, Methodist and United Reform Churches in the UK. They are headed by Rachel Lampard who introduced the day. Within her introduction to this day which focused on Christian involvement in politics she made the point that whilst there might be some focus on the election what happens before and after is also important. She said, "we shouldn't fetishise the vote".
The Archbishop received an enthusiastic welcome for his speech, which has been put on line. Within it there was some defensiveness reflecting that he had obviously been somewhat stung by some of the reaction there had been to the Bishops Pastoral Letter Who Is My Neighbour last week. He explored why we should build a society which is focused upon the common good making the point that evangelism and social action/involvement are two sides of the same coin. He urged us to be positive and celebrate our freedoms.
He was at pains to make clear the church disagrees with all governments at times but can also see good within some actions of most. With regard to our current government and economic situation he said we should be rejoicing that unemployment has been falling and the number of small businesses are building. Yet he also made the point that the living wage should be supported as much as anything else because deflation is dangerous and a higher wage will help kick start demand. Within this part of his talk, as with others, his knowledge of economic history as well as policy was clear and refreshing.
He then moved on to ways we could and needed to get involved and one important aspect was the need to challenge cynicism and to see voting as part of our responsibility. With regard to the fact that the over 65's are more likely to vote he saw this unhealthy because it means one sector of society is able to ensure their interests dominate at the expense of others. He made the important point the more people who vote the fairer society will be.
The first workshop I attended was on Preaching and Praying Social Justice. This was one of those short workshops which would ideally have been a half day or more itself and so was somewhat rushed and left you wanting more. The session was useful for me as a local preacher because it involved some basic reminders of what makes good preaching. As with the Archbishops speech it was clear there was a biblical focus on emphasising both evangelism and social action.
After lunch it was on to a session on immigration and the issues around that. This was perhaps the most disappointing session of the day because I went hoping I would be given some serious advice on how to engage with UKIP and the arguments they are making around immigration particularly. However, whilst there were some useful figures and a small amount of interesting story it felt was lacking substance somewhat. It felt like this is still an issue JPIT is struggling to get a hold on to some extent.
The final part of the afternoon was a keynote sermon from Ruth Gee. I approached listening to this as an extension of the morning session on how to preach on social justice and it was a master class. Ruth took as her two texts Micah 6:8 and Mathew 22: 34-40 and wove a clear, relevant, contemporary sermon from these.
Overall an interesting and useful day which provided some good continued development for those of us who are preachers as well as some important food for action as well as thought for us as citizens.