This article first appeared in The Pilgrim (the parish magazine of the Billericay and Little Burstead Team Ministry) in September 2011.

A Prayer For Our Nation

Father of mercy and grace, we acknowledge that we have sinned
And that our world is gripped by the power of sin.
Our hearts are grieved by injustice, hatred and violence.
Our lives are polluted by selfishness, greed, idolatry and lawlessness.
We are shamed by oppression, racism and bloodshed in our land.
We mourn all loss of life through murder, rioting and looting.
We have grieved Your heart and brought shame to Your Name.
Have mercy on us as we repent with all our hearts.
God of mercy, forgive our sins.
Pour out Your grace and heal our land.  Amen.

I’m sure that many of you, along with me, were both shocked and dismayed with the scenes of rioting and criminality on the streets of our nation at the beginning of August 2011. Scenes, which some commentators suggest, have not been seen in London since the ‘blitz.’ These events have left huge amounts of damage in their wake, and not just physical: the emotional, psychological and spiritual harm is high, too.

But what has happened to bring us to this crisis point? What seems to be coming through ‘loud and clear’ is that many are blaming a lack of: morality; social ethics and community cohesion; alongside government cuts; unemployment; and the breakdown of family life as major causes.  However, whatever the reasons, they cannot be excuses. Justice must be done, and be seen to be done. But the problem will not be solved by the Judicial system alone. The symptoms that something is badly wrong are obvious. But what are we to do about it? Some of the answers may emerge from political, economic and social debate. But within those conversations I suspect there may be little recognition of the relentless erosion of Christian values in this country that has taken place during the lifetime of successive governments.

There is no doubt, in my mind, that the result has been a moral deficit in private and public life that has spawned acquisitiveness and dishonesty (and this is evident amongst all levels of our society).  The riots are not the only recent examples of theft and greed. The moral aspects, and the political, economic and social issues, are all deeply interrelated – or should be. One of the biggest mistakes of our present culture is the attempt to remove the link between public and private morality. To create a division between ‘what we do in public and what we do in private’ is fraught with issues of integrity.  How we behave is evidence of the sort of character we have.

Perhaps it is not surprising that a moral vacuum in some parts of our society seems to have prompted a ‘me’ first, ultra-consumerist culture, in which the quest for possessions overrides a caring concern for others. Over the past few decades, we have nurtured confusion among people of all ages and backgrounds over what is right and what is wrong. In recent times, we have seen an unpleasant glimpse of the default position to which society inevitably returns when its moral imperatives have been sidelined.

It has been quite informative to read the comments of politicians and social commentators alike, as they reflect on these events.  Interestingly, as I write this article, The Prime Minister has said that he is committed to beginning a “social fight back” now that the security response has been announced.  He attacked “moral neutrality” and relativism, where bad choices were explained as merely “different lifestyles.” David Cameron continues:

We have been too unwilling for too long to talk about what is right and what is wrong.  We have too often avoided saying what needs to be said – about everything from marriage to welfare to common courtesy.

Strong words indeed.

So how do we rectify the problem, recognising that no government has been able to put forward a credible non-Christian moral framework?  That is not to say you have to be a Christian to be moral. That is, of course, not true – just as we acknowledge that Christians do not have the monopoly on charitable works and benevolence.  But where, I ask, is the alternative to the Ten Commandments, even though no other moral code has had such widespread influence? Where are the systematic building blocks for life that can replace the Beatitudes and the New Testament’s teaching about the values of love, peacefulness, compassion and care for one’s neighbour?

There is no doubt that Christian insights about justice and respect; discipline with mercy; and the knowledge that everyone is redeemable, are of proven worth and relevant to any intelligent exploration about how we can become a better society.  “Without that sense,” wrote A.N.Wilson (in his Saturday essay in the Daily Mail on 10 August 2011) “Human life falls into absolute chaos, anarchy, and unpleasantness.” He goes on to argue, quite convincingly, even as a secularist, how: “The events of recent times have shown the enormous value of a living religious faith.”

The journalist Melanie Phillips (not a Christian but a ‘lapsed’ Jew) never one to shy away from ‘telling it like it is’ writes that the solution is to be found when our nation, once again, allows Biblical values to shape our morals; ethics; legislation and law making.  However, she is quite cynical about the Church of England and suggests that a solution will be found soonest, when the clergy “… stop prattling like soft-headed social workers and start preaching, once again, the moral concepts that underlie our civilisation …” I’m sure you’d want to say Amen to that, too (even though it is an uncomfortable truth for each one of us).

There is no doubt that these are troubled times in which we live, however, it seems to me that what we, as Christians, should not be doing, is sweeping our faith under the carpet and believing the minority liberal agenda that Christianity has no value in our society.  Indeed, much of what has been published in the secular press would suggest that the exact opposite is the truth.  It seems to me that if ever there was a time to share our faith with courage and conviction, it is now.

Now is the time to encourage folk to find out about why Jesus died for our sins and how he rose again so that we might have life in all its fullness. Now is the time to be prepared to answer some of the troubling questions that people are asking. And, dare I suggest, the Alpha Course, which starts at 6.00pm (for 6.30pm) on Sunday 18th September at Saint Mary Magdalen’s in the High Street, is the ideal opportunity for many folk (in our community and churches alike) to learn more about what Christianity is all about.

Further to this, we also continue to pray. Let us pray for our Nation; for those in Government; and those in authority. Let us pray for our Police, Fire and Emergency Services.  Let us pray for those people who have lost their businesses, homes and, in many cases, everything.  Let us pray for those involved in the looting and rioting. Let us pray for healing and the rebuilding of trust; forgiveness; and reconciliation in broken communities.  Let us pray that parents, guardians, godparents and grandparents, will take a greater share of the responsibility in nurturing our children and young people. And let us pray that God will do something supernaturally wonderful, in restoring our nation, as a result of events this summer.

As Graham Kendrick put it so succinctly in one of his hymns:

Restore, O Lord,
The honour of Your name,
In works of sovereign power
Come shake the earth again;
That men may see
And come with reverent fear
To the living God,
Whose kingdom shall outlast the years.

PS. Thank you to the 80 + folk, from within our Churches Together in Billericay, who responded to my ‘Call to Prayer’ on Tuesday 9 August at Emmanuel. The response, at short notice, was fantastic, and the fervency and passion in prayer was humbling, moving and extremely heartening.