For those who may be woillieting what to read about the election, Frank Field selects .a timber of books which examine the difficult rele *lite Church in politics
PUBLISHERS seemed to know before Mrs Thatcher the date of the general election. The advantage of such foresight is a galaxy of books which have a bearing on how Christians should vote in the coming election.
The most concrete guide to such action comes from three colleagues in the House of Commons, John Selwyn Gummer, Eric Heffer and Alan Beith.
Faith in Politics is suitably subtitled Which Way Should
Christians Vote? (SPCK, £2.50).
While it is no great surprise to learn that each of the contributors concludes with a different answer, there are two fundamental assumptions, common to all of the contributors.
The first is that Christianity has everything to do with the world and the political process.
Some time ago, that might have been the starting point by a Labour politician answering the key question on how each of us should vote.
It is, however, a measure of the change in the temper of the debate, that neither the Liberal, in the form of Alan Beith, nor the Conservative, in John Selwyn Gummer, propose that Christianity is about a private love affair with God, which has no other bearing upon the world in which we live.
The other shared assumption is that our Christian belief should help shape our party political response. It is, naturally, at this point that the authors divide as to how such an interpretation is made.
Each constructs a powerful case that if Jesus were alive today, and voting in the coming general election, He would vote for their Party.
Beith's contribution is the most novel, in that it contains one of the few attempts to ally the Christian faith with the Alliance.
In his contribution, Selwyn Gummer assumes Lord Hailsham's mantle as the foremost proponent of the attempt to link Christianity with a Conservative Party.
Eric Heffer's contribution was, for me, the most surprising of the three. Any student wanting an introduction to Christian Socialism would be well-advised to begin here.
This is a contribution which justifies the claim that Heffer is a working-class intellectual. He is working-class in the sense that he worked with his hands before coming an MP: no MP can be reasonably thought of as working-class.
He shows his intellectual ability in this essay, not only in the range of material that he has marshalled, but in his obvious interest in ideas.
All three essays share a basic flaw. In no way can the Christian vision of the perfect be assumed by a man-made philososphy which, by its very nature, must be imperfect. For the Christian, political parties and political ideologies play only a small part in helping our quest for the Kingdom.
Because of this, Christians are more likely to find themselves counting disagreements than agreements with the political party they choose to support, let alone those against which they vote.
Tim Beaumont, a former political columnist of the Catholic Herald, in his book, Where Shall I Place My Cross? (Hodder and Stoughton, £5.95), attempts to take a less overtly party political view of the issues to be decided in the coming general election.
Lord Beaumont, as he is now known, has been a Liberal activist for decades, and an important initiator in exploring the nebulous regions between theology and politics.
In his introduction to this book, he writes that now he has finished his:career in journalism and politicsf he is returning to the parochial ministry of the Church of England. "I have achieved very little, but then I do not believe in the kind of democracy where individuals can achieve very much." In our Siase, Beaumont is correct; see, thankfully, do enjoy a for* of politics where the impact of any individual is limited. HoWtver, he couldn't be more off the mark in sounding ivhat seems to me like a note of despair, about his own achievements over the past few decades.
Not only hits he been an initiator, thitrg through and applying the ristian faith to political action, bkt he has also had the Oistin011ithl of being part of that smoll bu! bnave army of foot soldiers03 have kept alive
the belief Mlle form of ethical politics.
Elector," A,wanting a comprehenittes?tide to what each of thte itical parties stand for,.; via at the major issues are en ich we should give prayeffitiftought before
casting our v Would be welladvised to Katt fitlft.
David .Holikvvay's book provided !he the biggest surprise, fit IMMO tinder God (Kingsway 11411bation, £4.95).
Readers My know of David Holloway as the .priest who has been most arttafortistic to the Bishop&Of Durham's reinterpreilltiem f two key passages of tilt .reed. On this issue, while mpathetic to David Hollitillky's aims, I must confess tg`irt he has often appeared, hot orny humourless, but faintly Welted in the way he has stalked his prey.
He is evidence that fundamentalism, presently sweeping Islanrc countries, is also extant in Christianity.
That image of David Holloway is not one, however, borne out in his book, which carries the subtitle What Role Should the Church Play in Public Life?
He addresses himself to the central question of how the Church -(which he usually, but not always, thank goodness, equates with the Church of England) could be more effective in shaping public debate in this post-enlightement era.
The pages reveal David Holloway to be a man of widereading, sensitivity, and considerable learning. Even when I suspect David Holloway's judgement — in his overemphasis of the role of the media in undermining our values and standards of behaviour his arguments are well worth considering, and much of the case he assembles is one which those who defend the role of the media, such as Michael Grade and Jeremy Isaacs, persistently fail to answer.
One of the criticisms by, inter alia, the evangelical party in the Church of England, to which David Holloway belongs, is that the report of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Commission on the inner city lacked a secure theological foundation.
Mersey Reflections mostly suggests that it is a contribution to help make good that weakness, (from Ince Bennet, Ince Blundell, Merseyside L38 6JD, 20p plus postage). Nothing (could be further from the truth, for this small pamphlet is, in its own right, a substantial contribution to the debate on Christian politics.
Significantly, the study begins in observing that, on the question of urban poverty: "The real problem lies with those who think that it does not lie with them."
Morever, the Archbishop's Report, Faith in the City, was very much an exercise in how we can help the poor. The brutal fact is that Jesus did not come to "help the poor", but He became one of the poor,
Mersey Reflections seeks to understand the link between the suffering servant, who opted to bear our reproach and disdain, and that reproach and disdain which the poor today bear by circumstance.
In their deliberations, this small group of authors has kept coming back to the question; "what is it about urban life today, and about our churches today that makes overt faith seem irrelevant?"
It is as impossible to summarise the densely packed argument of this tract as it is to present succinctly the powerful arguments presented by Thomas Cullinan in The Passion of Political Love (Sheed and Ward, £5.50).
This collection of addresses given by the Ampleforth monk
since 1974 contains his essay on The Eucharist and Politics. If the book merely contained this little essay alone, it would still be well worth buying.
How the Church ought to approach such social involvement is suggested in Africa's Crisis and the Church in Britain (CAFOD/CTS, £2.50).
It was estimated that, by the middle of last year, between 30 and 35 million people in SubSaharan Africa were facing the grim daily reality of debilitating malnutrition, starvation and, in many cases, death.
Why this is a matter urgency for Christians, over and above any humanitarian concern, is discussed in CAFOD's report.
The committee, which reported to the Catholic Conference of Bishops, reminds us that it is impossible to reflect on the situation in Africa, without a readiness to ponder on the need for conversion of heart, mind and action.
We should do so, not from any terror that change must come if a world disaster is not to overtake us, but, rather, in response to the principal message of the Gospel.
The Kingdom of God is not only close at hand, but is operating in this world. We can welcome Him and allow Him to change our hearts, minds, and the actions which we undertake.
However, CAFOD reminds us that these fundamental realities of faith are those which we celebrate in the eucharist.
"There we proclaim that our human existence is taken up into divine life by the power of Christ, through whom all things are made, and in whom we find our salvation. There, we proclaim that we are all' members of one Body, sharing, in Christ all that is essential for salvation, rejoicing in Him, and in the dignity and equality He gives to all — whether we live in Cardiff or Khartoum, England or Ethiopia."
And, again, drawing out the political implication again of the Eucharist, the CAFOD report asks: "If this is what we celebrate, this is how we should act. Failure to translate into action the bonds of unity and interdependence celebrated in the Eucharist is a countersign of faith, a scandal that renders faith more difficult, and true evangelisation impossible."
-Some of the practical steps we should take to live through, every day of the week, our weekly celebration of the Eucharist, are given in CAFOD's report.
Accepting this invitation would have a more fundamental impact on the world than any British general election. That is not to say that general elections are not important — I write this as I depart to Birkenhead to wait my own temporal fate at the hands of the voters.
During the election campaign Frank Field will not be writing his regular column, but he will return after June 11.