Coventry is a City of Peace and Reconciliation and it was my privilege this year to be involved in the beta-testing of the new Church of England course on Reconciliation, now called the Difference course.
The most striking part of the course for me is the reading of the passage when “a sinful woman” comes and anoints Jesus feet (Luke 7v36-50), and the religious people all sit and think if he was a prophet he would know what kind of woman she was. Jesus asks the question, “Do you see this woman?”
The conclusion is that they were all blinded by their prejudice, they did not really see the woman at all. They “knew” what she was like and therefore they did not see her at all. The challenge is do we really see other people? Are we curious? Are we willing to see the real people rather than just our prejudices?
It’s so easy to pigeonhole people so that we do not even see them. Do we see and understand people who are different from us or do we just see the stereo-type? BBC’s Why Dad Killed My Mum, reported on child sexual exploitation in Telford. Girls were being sexually exploited and everyone could see that these were older men but people presumed that the girls were willing victims, when actually they were rape victims. People were being non-judgemental, they thought it was a lifestyle choice, but they did not see the child and the abuse.
Britain is a divided nation, and that is because we do not see the other person’s perspective. We spend our time with people like us, birds of a feather stick together, and therefore we do not understand others. We mix with people who read the same newspapers, watch the same TV, share the same social media, and have the similar thoughts and feelings.
Real encounters with people who are different from us can change our perspective, we can hear their story and learn their perspective. We need to deliberately and consciously gather with people who are different and try to understand them.
Politics can be divisive and tribal, and some politicians thrive on us versus them. I listened to the audio book, The English and Their History, by Robert Tombs, one of the interesting arguments he brings is that most of the political gains were not really forced, they could have been resisted, but they were given away. As a nation, a significant portion of the haves saw it as their Christian duty to do the right thing by those who were less fortunate than themselves. It was not perfect, but it made a significant difference. Even the dreaded poor laws, which were seen as harsh, were the biggest transfer of wealth from rich to poor at that time.
We had the courage to look at others and see the differences but see that through that they are all our brothers and sisters. We may not agree with others, but we see them as people who are interesting people, and of great worth.
This election it is easy to see the caricatures, when we need to see the people. If elected I commit to make it my mission to try and bring people together both in this constituency and beyond it so that they can understand each other, and find answers together.
The work of a politician is not just to be someone who sits in parliament and debates politics but to use the office to be a force for good in the nation.