The results in the recent council elections are a salutary reminder of the issues that many across our county are concerned about and the challenges we face as we seek to overcome naïve short-termism and ignorance.

There is no doubt about it, people are hurting.  The cuts in services and the branding of those on benefits as scroungers are deepening the divisions within society.  All of this breeds fear and hostility.  There is real anxiety about the future, there is a growing sense of envy of those who appear to be doing okay and there is anger at those who seem to getting something they don’t deserve or qualify for.  It all makes for a very unpleasant mix.  Into which step those who capitalise on the discontent without actually providing rational ways forward. 

None of this is without precedent.  Others have been here before.  An economic downturn, job insecurity and strangers in our midst lead to scapegoating.  The extremists play on fears and deep-seated prejudice.  Logic and the facts go out of the window at such times.  It calls for cool heads and courageous hearts to challenge the populist views that threaten so much of our tolerant and compassionate society that has been carefully nurtured built up over decades.

Lessons have to be learnt from the past in order to avoid the mistakes others made before us.  The Church has to speak out on the injustices of our times, on the inequalities that grow day by day, on the knee-jerk reactions to the challenges we face and be bold in encouraging careful reflection, empathy and understanding. 

At some point in the future how will we our actions today be judged?  Will we be seen as those who allowed the bigoted to win the arguments?  Will we be seen as compliant in an ever divisive society?  Will we have walked past our neighbour in need in the hope that a stranger will come after us and tend to their wounds?  Or will we enter the fray?  Offer the alternative that Mary’s Magnificat described?  Bend down and find the Christ in the wounded, the stranger in our midst and in the struggle to come through this without falling into hostility and hatred.