Even in the early Church there were complaints of racial unfairness

It was from my grandparents that I learned that Mussolini may have been a pathetic dictator, but at least the trains ran on time. It was probably a myth, but it explains why the British National Party is rapidly, if regrettably, becoming electable.

The issues which most affect our lives are not global but local. Once the TV is off, it matters less whether there is peace in Afghanistan or snow in Saudi Arabia than whether we can walk to the local shops through streets free of muggers and litter. Yet it is here that mainstream political parties are failing to deliver. And the failure is compounded by that fact that people who are directly affected by these failures are not being listened to.

A few years ago I attended a post-wedding drink in Canning Town. It was a warm summer evening and as the guests loitered outside the smoke-filled community centre I listened to a litany of complaints – mostly about immigrants legal and illegal, and how much they took and were given in preference to the older population of this country. That night I lay in bed thinking, ‘If I wanted to start a new political party, I know how to write the manifesto.’ The trouble was, the party I was inventing looked very much like the BNP.

Of course, in suggesting the BNP might be electable, many people would protest that I am saying the unsayable. But that is precisely the problem, because the tragedy for those people in Canning Town was that no-one would listen to them – not the politicians, not the media and certainly not the churches, where they and their opinions are anathematized.

Of course they were being racist, though chiefly in the disorganized way inherent to all races, rather than the deliberate way beloved of idealogues. However, before giving vent to our contempt we should remember the lesson of Acts 6, that even in the pristine Church racial unfairness was perceived, and therefore probably practised. The response of the apostles, however, was not ‘holy horror’ at the complaint but attentiveness and effective action.

Unfortunately, where the existing leadership will not listen to the complaints of the people, there is always an ‘Absalom’ who will: ‘Your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative of the king to hear you. If only I were appointed judge in the land!’ (2 Samuel 15.3–4). Thus, for a while at least, David’s government fell.

The inclination of most ‘decent’ people is to distance themselves from any hint of racial prejudice. But this simply opens further the window of opportunity for others to exploit. Surely what is needed, is rather for the truly decent to listen to the voices of those who feel unheard, however unpalatable their opinions may be, but then to provide real solutions which are consistent with the justice and righteousness of God’s kingdom. Of course this is not easy, but no-one said government would be.

John P Richardson