We enjoyed exploring Dorset last week. There was the scenery, Thomas Hardy, the Fleet Air Arm Museum, numerous picturesque little towns, narrow lanes, lots of greenery and hills(!), Chesil Beach, and our first time up close at Stonehenge. We also tend to keep a lookout for Australian links – the Anzacs at Weymouth and the Tolpuddle Martyrs at Tolpuddle, These martyrs weren’t killed however for their faith but were six farmers transported to Australia for seven years – the maximum sentence for their conviction – technically it was about oath taking and stretching the law (at the least) – but in popular story, it is about farm workers and a key part of the development of trade unions against the Establishment. The public’s response to their treatment resulted in their pardons and eventual return to their families in the UK (and then later the emigration of five of them to Canada). My guess is that those who know about Tolpuddle know this. (I discovered I knew less than that!)
What I learnt however was their Methodist roots – two of them were lay preachers – and this ‘dissenting’ religious position from the Established Church possibly played a part in their seeking economic redress from the Establish-ment. Maybe it was bad timing with the fear of the French Revolution still in living memory. Maybe the world was changing too quickly with the abolition of slavery just two years earlier. But their cause and indeed the various out-comes that occurred because of them I think is generally accepted as ‘good’ and ‘about time’ and people today look back and say ‘Der! Of course they were right!’. So I wasn’t surprised to read in the museum that chapels and preachers spoke in favour of the men but what surprised me was the comment that this wasn’t universal and that there were those in the Church who spoke against the men and what they allegedly represented and what they feared the change in economic and social status quo would mean.
And I found myself wondering which ‘side’ I’d be on. I can think of Bible passages to support both ‘sides’. That can be the case with many issues the Church has faced over the centuries. Change has occurred through a pattern of resistance that becomes accommodation and onto acceptance. I dare say that we would have a variety of opinions about various matters and topics – from the past – and that are relevant today. When people want the Church’s position on something I do wonder what that actually means for surely our starting answer is ‘we are sinners, lost in sin in this world and we make life miserable no matter what but take heart, there is good news, for Jesus is alive and with his people having rescued us from meaninglessness and hell by his death on the cross and now we live with him’. Something like that. That’s the Church’s position.
To be flippant most of everything else is up for grabs! The Gospel doesn’t give the Church clarity about justice, international relations, the economy and so on but inspires Christians to live in their corner of the world and use their sanctified commonsense and then act in what they think are the best interests of others. We understand this as service when we think of a person or group (family, shop floor, class, etc). It’s more complex when we think further afield. Christians can criticise capi-talism as they can criticise communism – different criticisms to be sure! – but both have flaws while we might have our preferences. Thus a Christian congregation is comprised of people united in Christ and possibly little else – except their support of each other as brother and sister in Christ as we all seek to follow Jesus. We want others to trust Jesus too and in the meantime we also con-tribute positively to our corner of the world as best we can. GS