Wales v England: World Cup boycotts and the mote in our own eye

We’ve talked a bit in recent articles about the choice to boycott the World Cup by some people to protest the human rights records of Qatar.  Cue jokes about the entire Argentinian team opting to join the boycott for the Saudi Arabia game.

In my last article, I argued that if we are going to protest, either by boycotting, or by using the opportunity to highlight the human rights record of Qatar, then we should remember that Qatar are not the only country at the tournament with a poor record.  I highlighted the significant issues with Iran (England’s last opponent). 

It’s important to be clear that in raising these issues, we are not making a nationalistic point.  There are two reasons for this.  First, I write primarily to Christians, so our concern is not to promote the record of one country over another but rather to consider how this world’s values are at odds with Christ’s. Secondly, because of this, we should be aware that no country has a clean bill of health when its ethics are compared to the demands of Scripture. 

This means that if I seek to speak as a British person and to criticise the behaviour of other cultures and countries, that I need to consider that the mote in our own (collective/national) eye needs removing first.  Now, there are many good ways in which Britain has been influenced by Gospel values, however, there are also so many things that are the cause for anything but pride.

Historically, we might want to reflect on Britain’s involvement in the Slave Trade (it is no use hiding behind the argument that we lead the way in abolishing something we played such a large part in creating).  Then there was the potato famine in Ireland, colonial brutality in Kenya suppressing the Mau Mau rebellion, numerous miscarriages of justice such as the prosecutions following the Birmingham bombings, Bloody Sunday  and of course police failings at Hillsborough followed by a cover up.

Coming up to date, we might mention the failure of the police to protect victims of grooming gangs, horror stories of modern slavery and human trafficking and the horrendous treatment we continue to see of asylum seekers.  If we want to take pride in Britain’s historic achievements or seek the reflected glory of contemporary successes then we should be willing to own the shame of past and present failures too.

And to repeat, this is not about suggesting that this or that country is uniquely guilty of shame. It’s to point out that because we live in a fallen world, no society is free of shame. 

However, we must push the point further. It is not just that our country carries shame.  As Christians, we must recognise the collective failure of the church to prevent and challenge abuse.  Finally, there is the risk that when we turn the focus onto campaigning against societal abuses, it is easy to forget our own individual sin and failing. It is easy to engage in political morality and forget that sin starts in our own hearts.  In fact it is easier to protest or even repent the collective sins of others than to repent our own.

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