Serious times call for serious people, and it’s hard to imagine more serious times than these. War in Afghanistan is going badly (read the history books, and you will realise that the only non-Afghan who could not have written that sentence was Alexander the Great).
Peace in the Middle East is as elusive as ever. Zimbabwe’s agony is unabated, as the pusillanimity and ideological constipation of surrounding African nations prevents them confronting the monstrous Mugabe regime. The problems of climate change are intractable in the face of human greed.
And having barely begun to grapple with the economic crisis, we have already exhausted the superlatives necessary to describe it—a terrible thing for a journalist.
It is no surprise, then that the fortunes of the Labour Party under Gordon Brown have revived. He is seen as a serious man, and it counts in his favour that he is also bearish, and uncomfortable in his own skin.
He is an Esau rather than a Jacob, hairy Brown rather than smooth Cameron, and—whether the policies he advocates are right or not—in terms of retaining power this will serve him very well.
This is a fact of life to which churches and Christian leaders would do well to pay attention. We like our leaders, and the people rely on them to express our opinions, our prejudices, our likes and dislikes, to reflect the way we see the world. Bluntly put, in prosperous and hopeful times, we look for people who look good and make us feel good. In hard times we look for people whom we can trust to tell us the truth, even if we don’t want to hear it. If good looks go along with that, it’s a bonus—think Barack Obama—but unless we are convinced of that fundamental seriousness of purpose, we are unlikely to believe in them or their message.
Christianity has to adapt to changing conditions in terms of how it presents itself. There are fashions in faith, as well as in frocks. After the Great War, the melancholy sermons of G A Studdert Kennedy drew crowds of thousands who found a reality in his words which spoke to them far more deeply than discredited optimistic liberalism ever could.
So in these difficult days, we need preachers who can speak to disillusionment and despair, and nurture the faith of believers through times of doubt, depression and failure. We need credible and insightful speakers and commentators—like the Archbishop of Canterbury—who can illuminate the state of the world with the light of the Gospel.
We need, most of all, to grow mature Christians who have the faith to believe that God is there in the dark valleys as well as in the green pastures, and the wisdom to keep listening when God appears to be silent.
Rev. Mark Woods is editor of Britain’s Baptist Times, where this column first appeared.