Getting upset about the Home Secretary’s speed awareness course is missing the point, says Jonty Langley. Christians should be more concerned about unjust systems and the policies that create them
The Guardian-memorising, tofu-guzzling wokerati have really done it this time. Suella Braverman is close to being forced out of a job, just because of her right-wing views. And, of course, for using her position to try to avoid the consequences of her own actions.
Our Home Secretary apparently attempted to get special treatment after being caught speeding, and now it looks like her head is on the chopping block. The Right blame the speed awareness course furore on the ‘woke blob’ attacking on principle. The Left (which could better be described as ‘what’s left’) think it’s important.
Christians might agree, justifying their gotcha-fuelled glee by citing, of all things, the Bible. After all, Jesus tells his followers pretty clearly in Luke 14:7-11 that special treatment based on position isn’t his vibe. And James 2:1 and 2:9 also emphasise that favouritism, particularly towards the rich and powerful, is sinful. The whole Bible, actually, tends to denounce people of status, wealth or influence enjoying special treatment, particularly under law.
But applying biblical standards to public figures is a little dangerous. We only need to look at Afghanistan to see the consequences of theocratic fascism, or to the United States to see how it starts. And Ms Braverman is not a Christian. If we criticise her attempt to avoid the hassle and indignity the rest of us must face when we make an honest mistake, we should do so on the basis of secular fairness. We are all equal citizens of a democracy, after all.
If this is all we care about, we are straining the gnat of polite detail while missing the camel of cruelty and inhumanity
Except, of course, we aren’t really. Those with long memories might be able to access an image of a human being, no more righteous than any of us, being cloaked in literal gold and handed, in hilarious irony, a ‘rod of justice’ before having a priceless crown placed on his head, all because he was clever enough to be born into the right family.
We like paying lip service to equality, but the instances of wealthy and privileged people paying for their crimes in the way poor people would is vanishingly small. Aristocrats walk free after their wealthy parents pay huge settlements to their alleged victims. Meanwhile the poor, convicted of the crimes available to them, tend to go to less comfortable prisons than white-collar criminals, and so on, ad nauseum. We assume this is normal – unavoidable, even – and rarely question whether it is right.
Fear and loathing
Against such a backdrop, is it really that unreasonable for Ms Braverman to presume she need not rub shoulders with the ‘great unwashed’ just because she broke the law?
Personally, I don’t care about her driving. If her politics were different, her attempt to avoid unpleasantness would still be nauseating, but I’d forgive it in someone I admired. I just don’t admire her. I fear and loathe her. You may feel the same about a different politician. We can quote scripture about favouritism, or codes of conduct about decorum but, if we’re honest, we just like bad things to happen to people whose politics we dislike.
We are not, as individuals, courts of law. We are not constitutions or bills of rights. And yet, the tendency of the last few years has been for us to act as if we are. The middle class zeitgeist dictates that we must be impartial, concerned primarily with official rules being broken rather than the technically-legal-but-wildly-unjust.
Missing the point
We have a right to revile Suella Braverman for her entitled attempt to leverage her privilege. But if this is all we care about, we are straining the gnat of polite detail while missing the camel of cruelty and inhumanity.
Applying biblical standards to public figures is a little dangerous
Suella Braverman’s “dream” and ”obsession” for deporting the alien, the widow and the orphan to Rwanda, her support for policies that harm ‘the least of these’ – this is what we should revile, not her as a person.
But when we start to do that, we will realise that it is not just one woman, but a party to blame. And not just one party but both our main parties. Indeed, the entire edifice of our social hierarchy is at odds with Christ’s call to grace, mercy and generosity. Challenging that would take courage and imagination we prefer not to exercise.
It’s easier to play ”gotcha” with unlikeable people than to acknowledge and dismantle unjust systems. But that is what prophets do. It’s what we should do.