JustShare Christian Social and Political Thought Lecture:
'Can Faith Renew Politics?'
1st December 2010
John Battle, introduced by Steering Group member Jeremy Martin of the Bank of England, delivered a wide-ranging lecture on the role of faith in politics, at local, national and global level. Discussing his own former constituency of Leeds West, he noted that the diversity and poverty of the area made the role of religion as a unifier even more important. 26 languages were spoken, a third of the residents had always lived there whilst a third had lived there for less than a year, the average income was £12,500 p.a. and the area had one of the lowest levels of higher education enrolment in the country. Mr Battle suggested that religion can re-fabricate communities, bringing energy and hope and combating despair, fear and hatred.
Illustrating how global politics were also local in our globalised world, Mr Battle explained that 3 of the 7/7 bombers had lived in his constituency, and after the bombing, the local imam and bishop went together from door-to-door visiting residents and acting as a visible sign of unity. In his experience, the proximity of different faith groups together could bringer greater unity; a group of local Muslim women had observed to him that their lives as Muslims in Britain would be better if Britain were more Christian. Mr Battle argued that faith had a role in everyday life as well as at extraordinary times; faith groups were implementing many worthwhile social projects in the area, including a credit union to protect locals from loan sharks and work with the large number of prisoners, refugees and asylum seekers in the region. He suggested that truly living the Gospel meant not having a mental list of the sorts of people you don't want to live next door. Any idea that we can love one another without sharing is, he said, an illusion, quoting Caritas in Veritate: 'Globalisation may make us neighbours but will not turn us into brothers and sisters; that is our task.'
Mr Battle also posited that faith has a role in national politics as well as in local and international communities. He argued that national politics was so fast-moving and bound up in spin that success in politics nowadays meant simply, as P J O'Rourke puts it, sustaining an image of competence from one news bulletin to the next. Faith called for much deeper questioning and action. Finally, Where political revolution usually meant the substitution of one power for another, Jesus called for social revolution, which meant turning power relations upside down. Keeping this in the mind of those with power was a vital role that faith could play to renew politics.