Revelation 4: A reflection

Last Saturday was the winter meeting of our executive committee. The meeting always includes prayer and reflection and this one was no different. This time it was on Revelation 4. Let us know what you think. 

Revelation 4

'After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’ At once I was in

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What would it be like to live in a Society and not an Economy?

Did you know that in California prisoners can pay for a cell upgrade ($82 per night)?

Or that you can pay for the right to shoot an endangered Black Rhino in South Africa ($150,000) and Walruses in Canada?

Did you know that some companies will pay you to tattoo yourself (permanently) with their Logo?

tattoo 2

Or that you can buy the Life Insurance policy of an ill person while they are still alive and then collect  payment upon their death?

At first sight, the question in the title of this Blog might seem strange. Clearly, a modern Society needs an Economy to prosper and a modern Economy needs a stable Society to function. But which is ultimately more important as we think about how to build a progressive country in the Twenty-First Century? Which should be at the front of our minds as we think about the purpose of politics, for example?

It can be argued that, since the end of the Cold War, and in the absence of the old ideological fault-lines, Free Market Capitalism and the neo-liberal worldview which underpins it are completely dominant. After all, in the infamous words of the political scientist Francis Fukuyama, haven’t we reached the End of History anyway?

And yet, through this way of looking at life, moral decisions about what constitutes Goodness have been downgraded in favour of Market Efficiency. It has become increasingly possible to consider the impact of business decisions on the workforce, community or the environment as superfluous. It is the size of the shareholder dividend which really matters.

Taken to its logical conclusion, in the paradigm of the Market Society, politics becomes a process which is simply about the most effective management of the Economy. The winner of the electoral process should be the Political Party which can promise and then produce the best economic results for the largest number of people. The only thing we need to (or even can) agree on is that we all want to be more materially-wealthy, whilst agreement about what constitutes Public morality and social capital become increasingly rare.

As political ideology has narrowed toward the centre-right over the last 30 years, the range of the political discourse has narrowed along with it. And yet the question still remains: How will we live together?

And something seems to be changing. In the last seven years since the financial crash, we have seen the unchallenged dominance of neo-liberalism and the idea that the Market Knows Best increasingly called into question. Whether in academic journals, the Bank of England and Federal Reserve or the Occupy Movement, more and more people are asking if our primary identity really should be HomoEconomicus after all.

Meanwhile, the – often brutal – rise of Islamic extremism across the world has seen the pursuit of a worldview which seems to be primarily-rooted in an idea of what a Society should look like, with relatively little reference to economic structures at all. Whilst the West continues to move towards the ultimate commercialisation of everything – including social Goods like education, healthcare and policing – ISIS and their allies fight from and for a worldview that has very clear ideas of how Society should be structured.

It seems like we may have a window of opportunity to ask anew what Goodness is, to publicly articulate our answer to the question and ultimately even to change the way that we organise our society. In this space, we could do worse than return to the Christian teaching on the Common Good, such as that found in Catholic Social Teaching.

And what is the Common Good? The best description that I have found comes from one of the supporting documents to Vatican II – “The Common Good is a vision of the social order which is founded on Truth, built by Justice and animated by Love”.

In contrast to this Michael Sandel, the renowned Harvard Moral Philosopher, notes that there has been a moral vacancy in contemporary politics, in which there is an:

“…attempt to banish notions of the good life from public discourse. In hopes of avoiding sectarian strife, we often insist that citizens leave their moral and spiritual convictions behind when they enter the public square. But despite its good intention, the reluctance to admit arguments about the good life into politics prepared the way for market triumphalism and for the continuing hold of market reasoning.”

This is what happens when the Economy becomes our only focus. Alternatively, we see in the Bible that God views Society as a worthy aim in itself – an Oikonomia that includes the Material but which frames society as being much more about relationship than material possessions. As Jesus  said in Nazareth at the start of his ministry, in the words of the prophet Isaiah :

 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

We could do worse than start with this as we seek to build a progressive society.

This article first appeared at

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Should Labour oppose individualism?

photo.jpgEver since the Thatcher era, British politics has been defined by forms of economic and social liberalism. The right won the argument for the former and the left the argument for the latter, or so it is said. Yet in the post-crash era, this ideological settlement is beginning to fracture. The right is re-examining its crude economic liberalism and the left its social liberalism.

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The Iran threat: inconclusive evidence

images9LXF056J.jpgAcross the negotiating table from Iran sits France, the US, Britain, China, Russia and Germany. The subject under discussion is Iran’s nuclear program.  The deadline for completion of talks is 24 November with substantive issues still unresolved. Given that Iran is now about two months away from producing enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon the question which emerges with increased urgency is: how much of a threat would Iran pose if it manages to produce such a weapon?

This question can’t be resolved without considering Iran’s past and present interactions with the rest of the world. Has it behaved in such a way as to inspire trust in its intentions? If the answer to this is ‘yes’ it is likely that it will behave in the same way if in possession of the bomb. If the answer is ‘no’ then Iran with the bomb should rightly be considered a danger to the international community. However, evaluating its intentions is no easy task. Much remains hidden or obscure about what Iran really wants to achieve on the world stage. Studying its behaviour does not provide us with a conclusive answer.

There are numerous examples of ambiguous behaviour but Iran’s bid to become the most powerful player in the Middle East is one of the most important. Whether this policy is to be counted as defensive or offensive depends more on the narrative being told and by whom than on the existence of any conclusive evidence. The Islamic Republic has been consistently hostile to the west but has not launched an all out war against it. It supports terrorist groups which function as such but with certain restraints built in.

Does the regime practice extremism checked by moderation or moderation compromised by extremism? It is hard to tell. The evidence on the ultimate aims and intentions of those at the top must therefore be considered inconclusive.

It would be unwise to assume anything based on the evidence available and caution is the best policy. An agnostic approach is in practice the same as a threat assessment which registers high on the scale of danger to western and regional security. It means that we must take seriously the possibility that Iran’s intentions are neither moderate nor defensive in nature and that the possibility exists that its acquisition of a nuclear weapon may constitute the sort of risk we would and should consider un-acceptable.

Bob Glaberson is a member of the Brighton Pavilion Labour Party and currently involved in the campaign to elect Purna Sen as the next member of parliament. He is a husband and father, living in Brighton for thirty years since moving to the UK from New York. He has been involved politically all his life on both sides of the Atlantic. He worked as a NHS counsellor and WEA / Sussex University adult education teacher for many years. He is a political writer with wide interests but his main focus being the Middle East.

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Who Do We Want to be Led By?

IMG_1432.jpgHere’s an intriguing thought: how much of what Jesus actually thought about things do we honestly know? I would contend not very much.

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Andy's letter from America

I am doing some musical work in the USA at the moment, and it is intriguing to be here in the run-up to their midterm elections. TV stations are flooded with attack ads. Lawns are flooded with signs. Politics is especially in the blood for many here in the ‘cradle of the Clintons’ - Little Rock, Arkansas.

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Faith in Politically Dark Places

faith_in_dark_places_FC.jpgAs British society is gradually torn apart by Government cuts and the gap between rich and poor gets ever wider, there’s a feeling that a better world must be possible.

For many of us a Labour government with a healthy majority would be a very good start, but it’s not at all clear who will win the next General Election.

UKIP has thrown a spanner in the works but, even without the Kippers, the Right has a strong support base among traditional churchgoers: many of whom not only agree with the Coalition austerity program but say the cuts should go even deeper.

It’s against this grim political backdrop that a new and greatly extended edition of Faith in Dark Places (SPCK) has hit the streets.

Combining moving stories of people living in poverty with a fresh approach to the Gospel, the book explores the revolutionary idea that the good news of God’s love is being spoken to a divided world by the most unlikely of people: the poor.

The miracles of Jesus are revealed to be highly subversive acts with huge social and economic implications; the story of the prodigal son shows us something remarkable about marginalised women; and the Lord’s Prayer suddenly snaps into focus as a highly political prayer for the poor.

It is often said that Jesus lived in another age and another culture and that we cannot simply transpose his words into our 21st century world. But in many respects Jesus lived in a situation very similar to our own: a world of widespread poverty, oppression and injustice. And of government propaganda.

Which is why the book argues that the reason Jesus was crucified was because he hated paint: the way the poor and vulnerable are demonised and ‘painted’ as worthless by the rich and powerful. Ian Duncan Smith please note.

We on the left are often accused of politicising the Gospel. But the fact is that, from beginning to end, the Gospel is profoundly political. Jesus died a political death for political reasons, for causing political problems.

Attempts by the institutional Church to neutralise the potency and impact of the Gospel have been remarkably successful. The cross and the call to discipleship have been so ‘spiritualised’ that Christianity has become synonymous with the status quo. Jesus was raised from the dead, but we have succeeded in burying him again. It’s been a public relations triumph for the vested interests of the powerful.

Why read this book? Because it makes accessible crucially important new thinking (or maybe very old thinking) on the Gospel and the Incarnation. It honours those who are dishonoured every day in the right wing press and in Parliament. And it challenges the knee-jerk voting habits of church-going Tories in the run up to the most important General Election since 1945.

Faith in Dark Places (£9.95) is written by David Rhodes, a member of Christians on the Left. He blogs at and tweets @RhodesWriter 

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Tom Carty on cynicism in politics

I'm currently re-watching the 'The West Wing'. I know it's soft-centred, both in its underlying assumptions about America, and its portrayal of folksy liberal virtue in the too good to be true shape of President Josh Bartlett. This also applies to the way his ideological opponents are played, but I can live with that, since they tend to be our opponents too. That is anyway part of the attraction. It reminds us, if we are old enough, of the time when it was possible to be idealistic about politics, not to mention politicians. However, the series’ main fascination lies in its detailed picture of a candidate's campaign team developing into a president's staff. Tensions between principle and expediency are common to both situations, but the sheer pressure of competing priorities makes the White House the more challenging environment.

Among the questions it implicitly raises is whether a degree of cynicism is inevitable in politics. And if it is, does that make it acceptable? Asking those questions risks making you sound trite and pious, not to mention naive. Even worse, it could be taken as reflecting the currently prevalent and dangerous anti-political mood. Nonetheless, not least from a Christian standpoint, the question needs posing. In doing so, I must confess to having been involved in some cynical, knockabout local campaigns in the past. If we thought at all about it, I suppose we would have justified what we were doing as giving the Liberal Democrats a taste of their own medicine. It was also great fun.

I’m not talking about straightforward lying here. Lies are of course a feature of the cynical attitude to politics, as we saw in the media interventions of ministers during the run-up to the Iraq war. As a Christian writing for a largely Christian audience, I assume that I don't have to make out a case for regarding lying as simply wrong. It’s the more subtle dishonesties routinely involved in normal political discourse which most of those actively involved in politics no doubt regard as necessary and in no way problematic that interest me.

To take a recent example, why does Ed Balls' policy, launched in his recent conference speech, of freezing child benefit for the first two years of a Labour government make one feel so uncomfortable? It's not just that the policy stinks. It is also not based on any principles or policy priorities concerning the benefits system. The fact is it's not even about what level of child benefit the country should or could afford (the resulting savings will be tiny), It is designed to demonstrate (to whom?) that a Labour government will not spare welfare, that it will not be a soft touch. It is an example (admittedly a relatively mild one) of the recent trend to draw a line between welfare recipients and 'hard-working families'. Labour seems to have embraced the rhetoric behind this policy of exclusion. I will at least pay the leadership the compliment of not believing that they really think in these terms, but that's what makes it cynical. They would no doubt see it as prudent positioning … .

What would President Bartlett say? Or Jesus Christ?

Tom Carty is the author of ‘The Jesus Reader. The Teaching and Identity of Jesus Christ’ Columba Press 2013

Access his blog ‘SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM’ via his website






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Labour values in a 10/40 window

1040window.jpgEvangelicals use the term 10/40 Window to describe the part of the world where the Church’s influence is weakest. It refers to the area between 10 degrees to 40 degree north of the Equator. This region includes North Africa, the Near East the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent and South East Asia.


Running a church in this part of the world is very different from elsewhere. A church that meets in someone’s basement under cover of darkness doesn’t need to worry about the colour of the carpet or the pews being pulled out. A church characterised by the accapella singing of hymns learnt in the oral tradition won’t have arguments over whether to be accompanied by a historic organ or a “worship band”.  And theological debates over the comparative use of wine or grape juice probably seem somewhat academic in a place where managing to feed your children is a major achievement.


Since my selection as a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate in the Tory stronghold of Hitchin & Harpenden I have often found encouragement from the lives of Christians who live in the 10/40 window. Their challenges are much, much greater than mine but there are similarities that I draw on.


Hitchin & Harpenden Labour Party’s challenges are different from those in South Shields and East Ham, or even Harlow and Stevenage. We do not run the local council – or County Council – so we are not burdened by the trappings and responsibilities of public office. We do, however, have heated debates over how our five councillors (twelve across North Hertfordshire) can best wearelabour.jpgchallenge the governing administration. We don’t argue over which Shadow Minister we want at our next branch meeting but we do find encouragement in the fact that many of our members (due to our proximity to London, and perversely, our high house prices) are leaders in their chosen field across a range of industries and sectors.  I do not have a regular column in the local paper – and I haven’t (yet) appeared on Newsnight - but I have had measurable success getting into the local press – perhaps even because I help to diversify the local Tory hegemony.


It is a great relief to me that we don’t have arguments over whether or not we have hit our voter contact rate for the month but, paradoxically, that is also a great sadness. Sometimes it is difficult to articulate to my Inner London friends exactly how low a base we start from. A good way to think of it is a huddled group of believers meeting in a basement somewhere in Uzbekistan. Forget the pews, the red carpet, the organ and the choir robes and imagine us singing “Kumbaya” by candlelight. [My Hitchin and Harpenden comrades will hate this analogy, but I do think it’s very apt!]


As a candidate, I often find myself being my own Campaign Manager,  Press Officer, Branch Secretary and Membership Officer. I fold leaflets into the small hours, I put in my own orders for materials off Membersnet and I spend an awful lot of time on the Ballot_papers.jpgphone and email to members. My number one priority is “Capacity Building”. How much we can achieve is directly proportional to how many people I can recruit to do things. After all, there is only one of me – and I routinely find that this is a major limitation.


This challenge is made greater by the fact that one of my roles as a candidate in a non-target seat is to mobilise members to campaign in our “twin seat” of Stevenage. So, on a “Super Saturday” I am expected to turn up with an army of activists from the Hitchin and Harpenden constituency to help us win a key marginal so as to form a Labour Government in 2015. This is a bit like asking the Vicar of Tashkent to get together a delegation of Christians to support the work at Canterbury Cathedral. The difference in manpower ought to be obvious – even to the untrained eye. Please don’t misunderstand me: I understand the theory – getting a Labour Government involves winning Stevenage - but in practice, this can be an extraordinarily tall order.


If I have learnt anything over the last few months it is that I have learnt to appreciate people for what they can DO rather than what they think or say. Even when someone offers to deliver 200 leaflets, I become filled with gratitude. It make me want to listen to their opinions and allow them to have influence. Making a difference in politics isn’t Rocket Science: it starts with a willingness to serve.


“whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”


Rachel Burgin is the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Hitchin & Harpenden and is a member of Christians on the Left. If you are interested in delivering 200 leaflets for her or being part of a vast army of activists that she can take to Stevenage to campaign ( you can contact her on


You are also welcome to attend the Hitchin Stand Up For Labour event on 7th November


You can find out more about her campaign at

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He that plays with fire will get burned

euro_rights.pngChristabel McCooey looks at why replacing the European Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights would be a bad idea. 

How naïve yet strangely right, people are for thinking that getting rid of the Human Rights Act will give the UK government greater freedom: yes, greater freedom to trammel over peoples' lives without consequence.

'Well, why not just have a tailor-made UK Bill of Rights?'

Because the whole point of the Human Rights Act is to ensure that there is always an objective, external way to review how a government treats individual people. With a UK Bill, the highest place to go to challenge the actions of the government would be the UK Supreme Court. But this court is already extremely deferential to the UK government, despite the impression the Daily Mail might give you. It all too often lets the government get on with what it wants and avoids causing a fuss. One of the only few counterbalances to that is human rights.

Also, Britain itself was instrumental in creating and pushing for the European Convention on Human Rights after Hitler was defeated because, it, like the rest of Europe, saw first-hand how seemingly civilized people could massacre their own neighbours. It realized that you need 'universal values' ie basic minimum standards for living as a dignified human being, 'human rights', but also that you needed a separate, independent power to keep every country accountable to these values which they signed up to. Otherwise, if it were just left to the countries to monitor themselves they'd say, 'of course we're human rights compliant, mind your own business', and get on with the policies they wanted, avoiding the inconvenience of respecting peoples' voices.

The UK is trying to say, 'we helped develop human rights, of course we don’t need help from Europe' but is basically ignoring the founding principle it realised 60 years ago, which is that even a 'progressive' government will readily begin to encroach on peoples' freedoms when it suits their interests if there are not strong external barriers to them doing so, ie. the ECHR and Human Rights Act.

'Christabel is training to be a barrister specialising in human rights and international criminal law. She has spent time assisting capital defence lawyers in New Orleans and working with campaigners to end the death penalty in Louisiana. She also writes for the Justice Gap.

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