Obedience in Politics


It is difficult for many people in this world to accept a higher power, one who is greater than any earthly beings or institutions. It seems an alien concept, particularly in the West, where swathes of people have turned their back on Christianity – which offers a higher power – in favour of a more secular, relativist view. In the West Christianity has fallen out of favour with many; perhaps it is something to do with the Christian faith ultimately being a call to obedience. 


This challenging call to obedience is one which doesn’t sit comfortably in our postmodern, progressive, live and let live world. There is a ‘new freedom’ and any suggestion of ‘obedience’ immediately attracts cynicism and thoughts of a totalitarian regime. The ‘new freedom’ of the West is freedom without limits; to do as one pleases. There is no need for obedience. How often do we hear the phrases: ‘Don’t worry about what other people think’, ‘It’s all about you’, and ‘Look after number one’? In some contexts these phrases are harmless, but in many others they are representative of a cultural shift away from the traditional Christian approach of love of neighbour and the common good to love of self. And they also represent a shift away from the example of Christ who obediently gave up his life for others.


Yet, despite antipathy at the very thought of being obedient, we inevitably are. Consider the inescapable fact that the vast majority of people are obedient to the laws of the land and the authorities responsible for their enforcement. We are also obedient to the decisions of Parliament, even though we might often disagree with them.


Last week, when Mass was celebrated for the first time in the Scottish Parliament I thought about this call to obedience. I thought about how difficult I personally find it to be obedient in the same way that Christ was obedient. And then my thoughts migrated to just how difficult it must be for Catholic politicians to heed that call, especially in the western world, which has become incredibly hostile to the Gospel message. Like many of us, politicians and those in civic office will often struggle with being entirely faithful to Christ and his Church. Yet we are not alone. Peter, the Rock, denied our Lord and wasn’t present for His Crucifixion. Still other disciples failed to be there at the Saviour’s most distressing hour. Only John accompanied Mary in those final hours. So, in many respects, we are in reasonably good company on those occasions when we fall short! Yet even when we do fail, and we inevitably will, Christ is still there with arms outstretched, waiting for us to return. He never stops loving us.


Our Parliament has a duty to be the conscience of the nation, particularly in relation to human dignity and the common good and this brings with it a great responsibility. On some level this responsibility is recognising and responding to God’s call to obedience. In answering a recent request for evidence by the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland took the opportunity to express the Church’s teaching of human rights; that these rights originate in humanity and that society must be ordered to the human person as its ultimate end. So, by our very existence we are entitled to human rights and those rights must be respected. This is objective truth and we are called to be obedient to this truth.


It is apt that the historic celebration of Mass in the Scottish Parliament should come just days after the Church’s submission to the Equalities and Human Rights Committee. The Holy Cross upon which Christ was crucified should serve as a reminder to all about the pain human beings can inflict on one another. There is still great suffering in our world, including here in Scotland where many children continue to grow up in poverty and more and more people suffer social isolation. There is also the plight of many unborn children and their mothers who suffer greatly as a result of abortion.


There is much work to be done. But it is a collective effort and all parties must work together for the benefit of all. That is why the celebration of Holy Mass in Holyrood is of significance. Not only because it is the celebration of the Eucharist and with that will come many graces and blessings; but also because it brings people together on common ground and is recognition of a call to obedience. The Church, the Parliament, the Government, and all MSPs, and civil servants, recognising their responsibility to promote the dignity of each and every human being and to work for the common good.


The Church acknowledges the great responsibility on political institutions and whilst she will never overstep the mark and try to do the job of Parliament or Government she is ever willing to be of service to the nation. Last Wednesday’s Mass is an example of the Church at the service of the nation, reaching out to those who serve in public office in a spirit of fraternity in order to work towards the betterment of society and to respect and promote the inherent dignity of every human being. It is a delicate task, especially in a world where interest groups compete with one another for rights, often at the expense of others. And in this sense the job of the modern day politician is very challenging.


Compounding this challenging environment is the politically correct culture. A wrong word or comment, even with the best of intentions, can result in an angry backlash. This can even spill over to abuse and threats of violence; and in a world where social media facilitates the mob, hate can escalate quickly. Leaders of all description are no strangers to a disgruntled public. Just a few days ago we recalled Christ’s Passion and death. Christ was the Messiah; he was greeted with waving arms and song to Jerusalem, and yet within a few days he was nailed to a Cross, betrayed by the same people who had given him such a warm welcome.


Political leaders are much maligned. Of course they will sometimes make the wrong decision and this might even be contrary to the teaching of the Church. But Christ suffered and died for all. In responding to the Equalities and Human Rights Committee the Church makes it clear that central to human rights is human dignity. Just as we call on those in civil office to uphold human dignity so must we afford them this basic right.


It is important to engage with civic life. If we want to effect change in the world we need to be involved in public life. The Church doesn’t seek preferential treatment and she has no desire of entitlement to the workings of political office; she simply looks for the opportunity to express her vast knowledge and experience in order to protect human dignity and the common good. She has something good to offer and it is right that she at least be heard.


The Mass in the Scottish Parliament was a fine example of the Church’s mission to take Christ to the world; to make His love and mercy visible. In this instance Christ was truly present in our parliament and prayers were offered for all civic leaders and for our country. It was also an opportunity for Catholic MSPs to come together before the Eucharist; seeking strength and courage to do good works and to be true to their faith in an increasingly hostile environment. I think it was important for them to see the Church so present; to know that she is there.


I left the Mass thinking about the duty to obedience, and I prayed for our civic leaders. I prayed that whilst many of them might not recognise or appreciate the kind of call to obedience we saw on the Cross, I hoped that they would at least recognise the duty to be obedient to the inherent dignity of each and every human being and to work for the common good of our nation.