Nelson McCausland: Church leaders must follow the example set by Rabbi Sacks and challenge the evil in our midst
Morgan Phillips, a former Welsh miner who was general secretary of the Labour Party in the 1950s, is reported to have said that the Labour Party owed more to Methodism than to Marxism.
That may have been true at one time and, of course, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, who were early trade unionists, were led by a Methodist local preacher. However, today the dominance within the Labour Party lies with the Marxists rather than the Methodists.
Labour is firmly under the control of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, who are both on the hard Left of the party. Indeed, McDonnell has openly declared himself to be a Marxist.
The “third man” in the Labour leadership triumvirate is Seumas Milne, whose father was the director general of the BBC. The former public schoolboy started out his political career as business manager for the magazine Straight Left, which was produced by the hardline, pro-Soviet faction of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). He wasn’t a member of the CPGB, but was clearly comfortable in that environment, as indeed were several Labour MPs.
That hard-Left triumvirate was put in place by the organisation Momentum, set up for that purpose in 2015. It has drawn into the Labour Party large numbers of far-Left activists, who can exert their efforts within the ranks of Labour, rather than in one of the many Trotskyist micro-parties.
It is reminiscent of the entryism of the old Militants, except that this time they didn’t have to weasel their way in, because changes in the party rules threw the doors open for them.
They have brought energy and, indeed, “momentum” with them, but they also reinforced the anti-Semitism that was already there on the left of Labour.
This has resulted in a bitter dispute within Labour and has been a constant story in the news over the summer, almost as constant as Brexit. Day after day, it has featured on radio and television and in newspapers and political journals.
In the midst of that controversy, I was particularly struck by the recent intervention from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, a former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth.
Speaking to the BBC on Sunday, Rabbi Sacks highlighted statements made by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and said that he should “repent and recant”.
He said that Corbyn had befriended Hamas and Hezbollah and that “when people hear the kind of language coming out of Labour that’s been brought to the surface among Jeremy Corbyn’s earlier speeches, they cannot but feel an existential threat”.
Sacks’ remarks to the BBC came after an earlier interview with the New Statesman, in which he described Corbyn as an anti-Semite and said that one of his recent statements was the most racially divisive speech in a generation.
In both cases, he called out the culprit and his words were clear and unequivocal. His intervention was incisive and impressive. It was, indeed, a lesson for other religious leaders in how to communicate.
In the New Testament, Paul told the Church in Corinth: “If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:8).
Hearing a bugle means nothing to a soldier if it is unclear. Even if it is played by the official bugler on the best instrument available, it means nothing if the notes are unclear.
Too often in the past, we have heard Church leaders speak in terms that are hesitant and ambivalent. Too often, the official statements are vague and vacuous.
So, when the leader of the second largest political party in Northern Ireland shouts “up the rebels” and eulogises the terrorist organisation that murdered so many people, should we not hear something from Church leaders? Could they not ask her to “repent and recant”? Repentance is a thoroughly biblical concept.
The example of the former Chief Rabbi is one that many religious leaders would do well to reflect on.