Yesterday I wrote about how Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng had got into trouble despite seemingly having a shared vision. To be absolutely clear, whilst I find politics and economics both very interesting discussions, my aim in that article and this isn’t to provoke debate on those two things but rather to try and suggest some potential lessons for church leaders.
One of the comments that has come back from my first article has been that people don’t believe that a low tax economy that prospers all is the vision of the present government. Rather, the view is that primarily those people are in power for their own benefit and that of their friends. There’s a perception, encouraged by policies like removing the 45p tax band, cutting corporation tax, refusing to extend windfall taxes and scrapping caps on bankers bonuses, that the main aim of Government ministers is to profit their wealthy friends in The City.
Now, I’m very cautious about second guessing the heart motives of politicians. That’s partly because I have known people who have gone into politics and very clearly there are mixed motives. There’s a level of personal ambition and self confidence that leads to someone putting themselves forward for election. They may well enjoy debate, public speaking, campaigning and being interviewed b ecause it gives them an adrenalin rush. There is perhaps also the need to be popular. There is also within fallen human nature a tendency to selfishness and politicians on all sides will be at risk of looking to see what they can get out of being in power. However, a lot of politicians on all sides also have a strong sense of public duty and believe that advancing their particular policies will benefit others.
However, exactly because there is that risk of selfishness in all of us, I think it is worth sticking with the possibility that our politicians are either acting out of selfish motives and out of greed to look after themselves and their friends, or at least are strongly perceived to be doing so. It’s helpful because it shows what happens to our vision when our values go wrong.
As I said yesterday, the Conservative political vision is one of a low tax, low regulation economy with rapid growth and people able to take home and keep as much of their earnings as possible so that all prosper. Now, you may or may not agree with that vision. If you lean to the left politically then you are likely to disagree with it. However, whether or not we think it’s the right vision, we can see that the recent actions of the Government have made it harder for them to implement that vision. The new chancellor has made it clear that there will be tax increases not cuts and there is a strong possibility that in any case, there will be a different government with a different vision after the General Election.
A primary reason why this is the case and why the Government is going to find it hard to cut taxes is because they were seen to be irresponsibly giving money away to their already wealthy friends when we could least afford it. That was seen to reflect a particular value but not a pleasant or positive one. That value – or rather anti-value – can be described as “looking out for number one” or “the winner takes it all.” It’s the value best summed up by Peter Mandelson when he stated that New Labour were “relaxed about people getting filthy rich.”
We may have a vision for our church to be a welcoming and growing community of people whose lives are being transformed by the Gospel. That’s a good vision for a church to have. However, that vision can easily be destroyed by unhealthy values. It is of course unlikely that anyone would declare such unpleasant values openly. However, we can end up with them by failing to live by our official and declared values and instead allowing “shadow values” and a shadow vision to creep in.
It is important then that a church pays attention not just to its beliefs, its vision and its mission but also to its values and the kind of culture that it is seeking to develop.