UKIP councillor David Silvester believes that Britain’s recent floods are the results of sin. You may be surprised to learn that I agree with him. There the agreement ends, for we have very different ideas about what the sin is and how it has affected the weather.
In a letter to a local paper in Oxfordshire, Silvester has blamed the foods on the recent legalisation of same-sex marriage in England and Wales.
I respect the fact that many people interpret the Bible differently to me, but Silvester’s statements about the Bible are simply untrue.
In his letter, he writes “The scriptures make it abundantly clear that a Christian nation that abandons its faith and acts contrary to the Gospel (and in naked breach of a coronation oath) will be beset by natural disasters such as storms, disease, pestilence and war.”
This is, to put it bluntly, nonsense. The scriptures make no reference at all to a “Christian nation”. They have no concept of a “Christian nation”. At no point in the New Testament is there any suggestion that Jesus’ followers should build a nation-state founded on their principles or expect any nation to prioritise them and their religion. There is certainly no suggestion anywhere in the Bible of a Christian coronation oath.
What Silvester is doing, like many before him, is rejecting the grassroots radicalism of the New Testament in order to pick bits from the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) that refer to ancient Israel. The people who use the Bible in this way then decide that the Bible’s comments on ancient Israel (or at least, the ones they’ve chosen to pick out) somehow apply directly to Britain as a “Christian nation” today. This simplistic approach manages to insult and misrepresent both Christianity and Judaism at the same time.
I don’t know if David Silvester sees any tension between the Gospel proclaimed by Jesus and the policies of UKIP (including even bigger welfare cuts than the Tories, withdrawal from the UN Convention on Refugees, a forty percent increase in military spending and denying the reality of climate change). I don’t know if he thinks that the UK was a “Christian nation” when Britain was engaged in the slave trade or when Britain’s rulers were committing genocide in Tasmania or suppressing religious liberty in Britain. But I do know that Silvester’s comments will attract more amusement than anger, at least in the mainstream media. Sadly, they will also serve to give people a skewed impression of Christianity. People who have never read the Bible may well assume that Silvester’s description of its contents are accurate.
That’s why other Christians need to speak up. Let no-one misrepresent us as being less Christian than Silvester and his allies, watering down the Bible or compromising the Gospel. We too should speak about sin. Sin is all that separates us from God, from each other and from creation. Sin has played a major role in these floods.
It is not sensible to say that any particular flood was caused solely by climate change. What we can say with confidence is that the frequency of floods and erratic weather conditions is a result of climate change. That change has been brought about by human beings pursuing the goals of capitalism led by politicians worshipping the idols of “growth” and corporations pursuing short-term profit.
Jesus’ solidarity with the poor is central to his teachings. It is at the heart of the Gospel. It is already obvious that the poorest people and the poorest countries will suffer the most as a result of climate change. Christians need to work alongside people of other religions and none in working for new economic systems in which resources are shared rather than hoarded or destroyed.
I don’t claim to live up to Jesus’ teachings. I’m not a better Christian than David Silvester. But I can see that sin is present in destruction, poverty and inequality, not in the love between two people who happen to be the same gender.