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February 2021 - Loving your neighbour

When my religion tries to come between me and my neighbour, 
I will choose my neighbour. 

Jesus never commanded me to love my religion.

Barbara Brown Taylor

Friends,

When writing my letter each month I'm inclined to keep things broad – not too religious, political, personal or fluffy. Whilst I am mindful that the Christian faith has been a dominant force in shaping our laws, language and culture, it is not necessarily professed by all readers. Some denominational clergy roles are explicitly congregational chaplains, but a Church of England vicar is priest to the whole community, without exception – whether one is a joiner, Jewish or Jedi. It's a thing of wonder about the good old CofE, and so I try to write something that can be approached by all. So please excuse me whilst I rant about my loathing for politicised religion in America, and what that might have to say to us.

Over recent months and years we have seen in the U.S.A. what happens when politics and religion are mixed in partisan and divisive ways. White conservative evangelicalism has allied itself, or allowed itself to be hijacked, in ways that have amputated its own moral platform, and from which it may never recover. “Jesus, Jesus” they cry, as many of them have also chanted “Trump, Trump”, and waved a bible around in the same way that one might place a full stop at the end of an argument. Maybe “Jesus” should never be the chant of the religious, but rather “justice, justice”. I find it impossible to understand why the 'sanctity of life' argument seems not to extend to the Black Lives Matter movement, those on death row, or poor children without adequate health care provision.

Barbara Brown Taylor's words challenge me to the core through their simple truth. The bible says nothing of abortion or gay marriage or gun ownership (which is not to say that the scriptural tradition, of which we are all heirs – like it or not – does not speak into the full breadth of our contemporary concerns), or other matters that predominate in the culture wars of North America, however much some religious leaders spout that 'The bible teaches...' But the Good Book is replete with references to the requirement for justice and equity, concern for the vulnerable and the alien (read 'immigrant'), and care for our neighbour.

To be clear (and this is entirely the point of Jesus' story about the Good Samaritan – a phrase we still hear often in popular culture), our neighbour is not the person who lives in our street or our village, the person who looks and sounds like us. Our neighbour is anyone who needs us, and anyone whom we need.

So be suspicious of anyone who professes a faith that divides neighbours. In this time of covid-anxiety and social-distancing, neighbours are sacred, and neighbourliness is moral duty. This is not about partisan religiosity, or religion in particular. It is about being human on the side of good.

Nick Bird
your Rector

This letter from Revd Nick Bird appeared in the February 2021 issue of The Grapevine