Boris and a question of character

As I write, Boris Johnson is still clinging on to power. That could change quickly.  Prime Ministers are remembered as much by how the leave office as anything.  Gordon Brown will be remembered for eventually leaving with his two sons and a level of dignity left, David Cameron for humming a care free tune as though all of this and all of us didn’t really matter to him.  It seems Boris will be remembered for having been dragged kicking and screaming from office.  The question now is about the exact level of humiliation he will face, driven out by his ministers, pushed out by a vote of no confidence or well and truly humiliated by what I suspect would be a crushing General Election defeat.

Now, if you are reading from Britain, then I suspect that whatever your political views then you will agree that the current situation is damaging not just for the Conservative Party but for the country. And, if you are looking on from further afield then perhaps you’ll get the sense that at a time of international crisis that it isn’t good for the wider world if a key NATO country is in chaos.   We are not just in a situation where the Prime Minister is unpopular and weak. We are reaching the point where he will soon be unable to fill key government jobs.

If you know me, then you’ll know that I’m no big fan of Boris.  My personal political views lean centre-right but in 2019 I commented that I could not in good conscience vote for either of the main parties.  I could not vote for a Labour Party whose leader had allowed antisemitism to run rife and had a history of standing on platforms with terrorist organisations. In Johnson I saw a man who had a track record of lying and unfaithfulness. Neither men offered the kind of moral character required for office. And to be clear, that’s against a low bar. We don’t assume that our politicians are perfect.

Which brings me to the first of two points I want to make. You know that moment early on in Midsummer Murders or Vera where there is someone shaping up as the villain and you comment that he/she is obviously going to be the murderer. But others in the room insist that this couldn’t possibly be so.  Surely there will be a plot twist and we’ll find out that we’ve misjudged the character, they will turn out to have been a good guy after all and the true villain will be revealed. Then you get to the last five minutes, there is no plot twist and they were the murderer after all. It feels a bit like that right now. 

It seems at times that Conservative MPs are surprised at something that was obvious from the off. Here is someone who by ability and temperament is woefully unsuited for the job. Here is someone that so many people warned was purely in the job out of self-interested and personal ambition. A man who thought he deserved the job because he wanted it.  Did Conservative MPs expect that all to change? Did they think that he would grow in office just as some Republicans thought that the office of President would shape Donald Trump, that he would become presidential?  Perhaps. Or maybe they knew his character all the time and just thought he would be useful to them in getting a majority and getting Brexit done. Either way, their judgement is in question, they were either woefully naïve or terribly cynical.

So, point number one, people don’t tend to change.  Boris made this point himself a few weeks back, one of the few times I’ve agreed with him when he said that he wasn’t going to change.  It is only the work of the Holy Spirit that can truly work in  a person’s life to bring about real and lasting change.  This is important for us in church life.  Sometimes we act as though we assume that people will change simply through the progress of time and our will power. Then we get our fingers burnt when they let us down. I remember well a lad borrowing a large sum of money off of a church member and then promptly blowing it on drugs.  The response “he broke our trust.”  My response at the time was “no, he did exactly what we could trust him to do.”

Secondly, we must beware the risk that we become of the cynical kind, we know full well why people are unsuitable but we think they can be useful. When people are promoted to leadership because we think they have charisma or intellectual skills and we don’t pay intention to whether they fit the character requirements for an elder then we are cynically using them. That is neither good for the church nor the person concerned.

Here’s the second thing. When questioned by the Liaison Committee on the 6th July a similar point was made to him by Bernard Jenkins (Conservative) and Chris Bryant (Labour). The point was that he could not be surprised at the behaviour of MPs like Chris Pincher.  People like Pincher see the PM taking liberties and take their cue from him concluding that they can take liberties too.  The point is that the leader sets the tone, leads by example, shapes culture.  Even if the Prime Minister hadn’t been directly involved in Downing Street Parties, there was a sense there also that those parties reflected a culture where those at the top did not care about the law and had a sense of entitlement.

So, what kind of example do we set? I write particularly to pastors and elders. This is why those character requirements in 1 Timothy 3 matter.  Elders lead first through teaching authority. In fact, that is really the only authority an elder has -to teach God’s Word.  Secondly by example. R Kent Hughes used to argue that what a pastor’s life and family life looked like in micro was what the church culture looked like in macro.  If a pastor doesn’t love his family then the church will feel unloved too.

There has been a bit of commentary recently about a method of identifying potential leaders as “Blokes to Watch”. Well, there is a sense in which we should be watching out for those who should be called as elders but it is important that we watch for the right things.

We can watch on the proceedings in Westminster this morning with a mixture of horror and black humour but we cannot afford that luxury when it comes to church life.

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