A few months ago the Archbishop of York issued a Brexit prayer, or, rather, ‘A Prayer for Parliament in Time of Brexit Trouble‘. It was a fairly benign effort which was very well received in the Church of England, not least because the Archbishop is a goodhearted man, and praying for those who govern us is pleasing to God (1Tim 2:1ff). Except it wasn’t only a prayer for those in authority, that they might govern with wisdom, justice and righteousness, but an intercession that God might save parliamentary democracy. Now, why would God save what Winston Churchill observed is the worst form of government? Would He save it because it is better than all those other forms of government that have been tried from time to time? Democracy may be regarded today as the political polity which best resonates with Christian values, but how it is manifest varies considerably from nation to nation. What happens when ‘parliamentary democracy’ becomes rhetoric to mask the reality of duplicitous political expediency or distinctly undemocratic shortcomings? Would God want to save Bishops in the House of Lords? Why not ‘God save our unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy’?
Where in the Bible are God’s people told to pray for any particular form of government? St Paul never exhorted believers to pray that God might save absolute or semi-elective monarchy. He never exhorted intercession for government by hereditary emperors assisted by fiscal procurators and provincial prefects. His focus of prayer was the person or people in authority; that they might govern with mercy and justice so that the governed might lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. Writing to the Church in Ephesus a quarter of a century after Paul wrote to Timothy, Tertullian expressed it thus in his Apology:
We Christians.. do intercede for all the emperors that their lives may be prolonged, their government be secured to them, that their families may be preserved in safety, their senates faithful to them, their armies brave, their people honest, and that the whole empire may be at peace, and for whatever other things are desired by the people or the Caesar.
A properly-functioning liberal democracy is contingent on elected politicians forming factions (or political parties) in order to secure majorities so that legislation might be enacted. The UK has a multi-party system, which the Archbishop of York prays would be free of partiality and prejudice. Prejudice may be a malignant passion, but aren’t Tory members going to be (in the main) partial to things conservative? Aren’t Labour members going to be (in the main) biased in favour of things socialist? While Liberal Democrats may be totally devoid of bias toward anything liberal or democratic, the Scottish Nationalists will die in a ditch on Loudoun Hill before they cease being partial toward Scottish secession and prejudiced against government from Westminster. Isn’t declared positional partiality a healthy thing in a liberal democracy? Isn’t the vehemence of parliamentary debate a process of partisan iron sharpening partisan iron (Prov 27:17) in order that the common good might be discerned and served? And is that common good ever any more than the majority good, mindful of competing minority apprehensions of conflicting goods?
The Archbishop’s prayer for the European Union, or, rather ‘A Maskil of European Union in Time of Brexit Trouble, to be played upon stringed instruments‘, is a curious thing. Note that he doesn’t ask the God of eternal love and power to save our Supranational Oligarchy and protect our Supreme European Court of Justice: the focus is (quite scripturally) on those in authority, that they may lead with wisdom and insight. But what does the next supplication mean: “..that they may Lead.. With a willingness to Lead and be Led”? Surely all leaders, by definition, are willing to lead. Or are Michel Barnier, Jean-Claude Juncker and Guy Verhofstadt unwilling protagonists in the Brexit drama? And by whom exactly are our EU leaders being led? It isn’t God, for the European Union is a patently secular construct of modernity devoid of spirituality and purged of all vestiges of Christendom. Indeed, it isn’t merely ambivalent or ambiguous toward Christianity; it is palpably hostile to it. Nor are EU leaders apparently led by the people:
And now it looks increasingly as though the UK will be made to vote again, so European Union leaders appear to be led by the immutable god of Ever Closer Union.
Or is that ‘God’?
It’s a moot point, because the Church of England’s 1975 Referendum Prayer was rather partial, not to say prejudiced toward a particular outcome:
‘We pray.. all may be enlightened to choose.. for Europe..’ might just constitute a touch of undue spiritual influence. At least the Archbishop of York’s Brexit prayers (or ‘A Prayer for Parliament in Time of Brexit Trouble‘ and ‘A Maskil of European Union in Time of Brexit Trouble, to be played upon stringed instruments‘) aren’t so impulsively suspicious. Yet a prayer ostensibly for the European Union asks God to cast out of us all fear, godlessness, sin, love of money. It is always good to confess our sins and cleanse our hearts before interceding on behalf of others, but why does half the content of a prayer for the EU consist of the contemplation of our sin and personal repentance? Why didn’t the supplicatory prayer for the UK Parliament include this spiritual warfare dimension? Are we to infer that it is our narrow nationalist fear – our xenophobia or europhobia – which is hindering our participatory enlightenment in the EU’s supreme apprehension and manifestation of Truth, Justice, Peace, Compassion and Joy?
And does the Archbishop mean ‘Godlessness’ rather than ‘godlessness’? Isn’t the EU replete with little gods – inviolable laws, bureaucratic trespasses, immutable rights and euro-mammon? Isn’t the EU’s Godlessness rather the root of so many of its problems? Isn’t it the EU’s tendency to want to teach and instruct Christ how he should conduct his Church and his spiritual rule that is the cause of so much of the current continental anguish and injustice?
And finally, is the Archbishop of York aware of the fundamental spiritual confusion and political contradiction at the heart of these prayers? In publishing and propagating them, has the Church of England considered that it is exhorting Christians to pray that the European Union would decrease in order that the United Kingdom might increase? For how can “God save our Parliamentary Democracy” unless we separate from the anti-democratic supranational governmental power to which all parliamentary laws must be subject? How can our Christian polity and democratic Constitution be saved apart from the Brexit transformation from secular oligarchical rule to a renewed democratic vision of justice and equity? How can parliamentary democracy be saved unless parliamentarians heed the prophetic impulse to become, once again, custodians of the sovereignty of the people and subject to the sovereignty of God?