They say an Englishman’s home is his castle. Maybe these days it is moral superiority that is our castle. With little frame of reference for moral decisions except ‘my feelings’ and ‘what other people think’, it is easy to retreat to the safe ground of superiority, building a castle around ourselves, a castle of protection from engaging with what is outside and a castle filled with others who think the same. Otherwise we would have to mix with ‘the others’, the dirty ones who live outside my castle who think differently and might taint the purity of our community. They might ask us why we think how we do and we would only be able to answer “because I do” and that would seem childish and inadequate.
Prime Minister David Cameron has said that there should be no sympathy for Raoul Moat. The BBC reports that speaking during Prime Minister’s Question Time, Mr Cameron said:
“It is absolutely clear that Raoul Moat was a callous murderer, full stop, end of story. I cannot understand any wave, however small, of public sympathy for this man. There should be sympathy for his victims and the havoc he wreaked in that community. There should be no sympathy for him.”
Full stop, end of story? Really? Now, I understand how that opinion is formed. Moral indignation is a natural response. Firm leadership is required and Cameron thinks he is giving it. Point the finger, name the act, distance ourselves from it. Simple as.
The trouble is for people who follow Jesus, that simply isn’t good enough. We can of course join in with moral indignation and stamping our feet with the best of them – we are, after all, renowned for that – but we cannot stop there. The train doesn’t stop at Moral Indignation Station, it passes through to somewhere a whole lot more uncomfortable. Namely, Empathy Station. Which is on a branch line with All Fall Short, Cast the First Stone and Love Your Enemy. Those stations are rickety, tumbledown old places, full of weeds and nowhere near as strong and secure-looking as Moral Superiority Castle. But they are beautiful places that manage to hold the tension between someone doing something wrong and why they did it; between the consequences of someone’s actions and the life that led to it. That is a difficult place to be because it is so much easier to blame and point and retreat. But we walk where Jesus walked and he walked there.
I spoke to someone who assaulted someone else recently, and they said that they couldn’t help their anger because it was ‘in their genes’, it was just how the family reacted to situations. It was learned behaviour and inherited behaviour. For me, when Jesus says he has come to loose the chains and free the captives, it is this sort of thing he means. And how can he do that if we feel nothing for those who are held captive, knowingly or unknowingly? It doesn’t mean their actions go unpunished or the consequences ignored – but it does mean that it is our obligation and our duty and our will and our desire to understand why people do what they do, say what they say; it does not excuse actions like those of Raoul Moat but we must allow ourselves to feel more than self-righteous anger.
What David Cameron has said is outrageous. He needs to come out of Moral Superiority Castle, cross over the stagnant moat of separation and meet the kingdom of God where justice and mercy meet, where the never-ending stream is full of justice and goodness; where people are messed up and broken and dirty like old cracked pots that leak and feel pretty useless and that, that is where we are and where we are a part of the repairing and restoring and transforming of the world. It is a place of tension. It is a place of unresolved hurt.
No-one said that where justice and mercy meet was a comfortable place.
Click here to download We Are Blessed (Bring Heaven to Earth), and let’s move out of the castles, cross the moat and get real.
We Are Blessed (Bring Heaven to Earth)
Bring heaven to earth, Lord
Bring peace where there’s fear
Bring life where there’s death, Lord
Bring joy in these tears
Bring love where there’s lust, Lord
Bring hope where there’s pain
Bring rest where there’s chaos
Bring faith where there’s fame.
You invite us to partner with you
To see your kingdom come
We are blessed, to bless a world in pieces
We are loved, to love where love is not.
We are changed, to be the change you promised
We are freed, to be your hands, O God
Lord we cry out to you
Change the atmosphere
Breathe new life in all who gather here
Bring home to the homeless
Bring keys to the chained
Bring worth to the purchased
And touch to the shamed.
Bring flesh from your word, Lord
Bring truth where there’s spin
Bring risk where there’s safety
And grace where there’s sin
In the broken, we shall see restored
the image of our King
Bring justice to profit
Bring patience to growth
Bring wisdom to progress
Like food for the soul
Bring freedom from debt, Lord
An end to excess
Bring closer your kingdom
By quiet success
May we grow in the knowledge of you
Through every heart and face
© Andy Flannagan