Thursday, 4 April 2019

Beyond Yes/No

There was something odd about the indicative voting process in parliament recently. It was intended to find which way forward might have the most support, but MPs were given the option of saying no or yes (or nothing at all). As a result, preferences simply cancelled each other out. Having to make a simple two-way Yes or No (in or out) decision in the referendum is, of course, a contributory factor to our current difficulties and a part of the steady shift towards ever-more-polarised politics.

A speaker in a radio discussion today suggested that if we do end up with a far more muddy outcome based on compromise, then no-one would be happy. Compromise seen as failure rather than the potentially more creative and inclusive process that it could be.

In the last two world wars, British men faced the challenge of whether to refuse to fight. As others have said, killing people a little bit is as nonsensical as being a little bit pregnant. But even within that, there have been shades - from absolutists who refused any alternative service, to those who drove ambulances in the thick of war. 

We don't know whether William Penn ever actually used his sword for its intended purpose, but we do know the story about George Fox advising him to wear it for as long as he felt able to. In doing so, he highlighted a key approach to faith and conviction at the heart of Quakerism - an approach based on the sense of continuing revelation. What we believe to be true for us now, we might understand differently in the future. We are advised to think it possible that we may be mistaken, whilst at the same time being in a faith community with strongly expressed and lived testimonies.

Back to politics. We can admire people with strong convictions (particularly if those convictions are the same as our own). On the other hand, can we do better by both accepting and even encouraging those whose decisions affect others' lives to think it possible that they also may be mistaken at times? Party/theological orthodoxy can really get in the way of that approach, and the sign of increasing numbers of parliamentarians currently falling out with their own parties reveals the inadequacies of such rigidity.

Perhaps we are approaching a point at which we might nurture those spaces and opportunities where people can say 'Yes,  'ish, for the time being...' and be ready to explore, with others, our different understandings, being open to new light as well the light we have already been cherishing and protecting from the gales of modern life.