An age of Impunity

6 October 2019

For many this is an age of impunity. Often, words are spoken and actions undertaken without any thought of the consequences. And indeed, in many circumstances, people are getting away with it. From the bus alongside me a few days ago that went over on red at a pedestrian crossing whilst a young family were about to cross, to politicians who make all sorts of claims knowing them to be unfounded, we live in an age of impunity. This is not how it should be. If the consequences aren’t apparent in the immediate, or considered at all, then there will come a time when someone, somewhere, will have to pay the price.
It all comes down to a matter of choice. Moses was quite clear. Those people that had followed him out of slavery into the environmentally hostile deserting the hope of an uncertain yet promised land had moments of doubt. Moses could not be clearer: you have a choice before you, this way or that way, press on or go back, life or death. Press on and you will receive life, if not for you then for your descendants but at least in the meantime you are free from the yoke of oppression. Or go back, yes you’ll get fed, yes you will have a roof over your head and yes you will know what each day will bring, but it will take you back to where you were – slavery. And I have no doubt that just as some chose to remain where they were when the first instant of possible escape was put to them so even those who had set off on the journey would be tempted to turn back. Later Jesus would invite people to follow him. Some would reject the possibility out of hand. Others were tempted to follow but then, like some at the foot of Sinai, they would get cold feet and set conditions for discipleship: yes, but once I have completed the job in hand; yes, but first this or that. No, says Jesus, it’s all or nothing. Life or death says Moses.


There is no room for sitting on the fence in age such as this. There are already too many occupying the space for us to join them, it’s a crowded place. It is clear that we are living in unprecedented times for our nation. The next three weeks are the most critical since the Second World War. Decisions will be taken that affect our place in the world, the stability of our communities and the economy of every single household in the UK. The choice is stark. Some will argue that the result of the referendum was clear. Others would argue that the facts weren’t clear and that you wouldn’t change the hymn books on a spilt vote that was so close.

Whatever your view it is clear that these island nations we call the UK and NI are divided as they have not been for centuries; not since the English civil war according to historian Simon Schama. One would be forgiven for thinking that there would be a strong case for truth to be told and reason to be the guiding factor in all our deliberations at a time such as this. But no, it seems that obfuscation, a disregard for the truth and irresponsible behaviour are the traits of so many who should know better, it’s just that they are so bent on driving home their own political ideology and goals come hell or high water.

As children of the Book we, of all people, should know that there are always consequences to the avoidance of truth, the erosion of ethical behaviour and the duping of the populace. The reason why Moses had to lead the people out of Egypt was because the brothers had sold Joseph into slavery. The reason why it was claimed that David would write the greatest poetry we call the Psalms was because he had committed a great sin in sleeping with his commander’s wife and sending her husband off to die in battle. The reason why Jesus would demand of his disciples absolute loyalty was because the movement was fragile and could so easily have been lost with so many other movements that had sprung up at the time.


Today, the Church is threatened as it has so often been in the past. But despite what so many of us think, it’s not declining numbers that make us vulnerable, it is the lack of faithfulness in the tasks to which we are called. It would be the easiest thing in the world to mirror society; to fall into camps and act as tribally as our socio-political climate dictates, to dig our heels in over one issue or another, to refuse to listen to views different to our own, to believe that we, and we alone, have a monopoly on what is true and what is not true.

Some things are self-evident, many are not. Better still for us to model good behaviour in a world bent on division and hostility. To find a welcome in our places of worship, in our homes and in our hearts and minds for those who think and behave and believe differently. It is then, and perhaps only then, that the bus driver will know he was wrong to cross a red light, or the politician to know that their bigotry will get them nowhere, because history will be correct to judge them harshly and the precious legacy they long to create will be tainted.

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