Gordon Brown believes himself to be a prophet
This statement is probably Mr Brown’s way of saying, like Tony Blair, that he also does not ‘do God’ in office, for to do so would make him appear to be a ‘nutter’.
But unlike Mr Blair, the problem for Mr Brown is that he appears to be a nutter regardless, and may therefore be doing God but in denial.
Ruth Gledhill gave an insight into the Prime Minister’s religio-political upbringing, for she tells us that, following a general election, the Reverend John Brown, Gordon Brown’s father, would make his choice of hymns dependent on which party had won. If the ‘right party’ (presumably Labour) won, he would choose 'Now thank we all our God'; if the wrong party (presumably Conservative) won, they would sing 'O God our help in ages past'. And if the outcome was a complete disaster (Liberal?), he would select 'Dear Lord and Father of mankind’ in the hope that the Lord might indeed forgive our foolish ways. Apparently, the Reverend John Brown subtly communicated his politics in this manner because ‘he didn't think preachers should espouse particular parties’.
Cranmer fully accords with that. The mixing of religion and politics tends to be incendiary if not terminal.
But Gordon Brown does it in an apologetic 19th-century emancipationist kind of way. He espouses a privileged place for the poor, which is why he enjoys making more of them. He then likes to be generous unto them with an abundance of welfare. In order for there to be justice for the poor, poverty must be alleviated, always mindful that relative poverty keeps politicians in work. He wants the faithful and prudent sheep to flock to him while the rich goats cling to their crosses of gold. Unless, of course, those goats contribute to Labour coffers, in which case there shall be treasure in Heaven and on earth; a spiritual seat to the right of the Lord and a temporal place in the Lords.
But how does the Prime Minister’s faith affect his practical politics?
He eschews the fundamentalist obsession with sex and sexuality, preferring weightier matters of social justice. He is by no means a secularist, believing that spirituality is intrinsic to social progress. But he is firmly of his father’s calling in the belief that his dispatch box is his pulpit; his exposition of policy is the articulation of prophecy.
This is not prophecy in the sense of foretelling the future, but prophecy in the sense of forth-telling the mind of God and articulating moral truth. The Prime Minister is awkward, cantankerous and odd because he is of the Old Testament mould. He does not lie naked, cook dinner with dung or grow a beard, but he does infallibly diagnose the present and righteously point the way to a just solution and eternal salvation.
And he irritates the hell out of everyone.
Gordon Brown is at one with Obadiah – the Day of the Election and the destruction of Conservatism are imminent, and Britain shall be restored. He believes that God is speaking directly through him, which is why, as the ‘credit crunch’ spread like a plague of locusts, he announced to the world that he was made for such a time as this.
Like Joel, Jonah, Hosea, Amos, etc., etc., God has raised the Prime Minister to prominence because he has something to say. The people may not listen to his message, but that is a sure sign that he is indeed a prophet. If a prophet is without honour in his home town, Gordon Brown has no expectation of praise from his Labour colleagues.
Indeed, the more they spit and curse, the more they inadvertently fortify him in his vocation. If they wish to remove him, they must love, embrace, accept and affirm. For Gordon Brown thrives on conflict and feeds on opposition. When there is no-one contending, he is without purpose.
And so he stubbornly perseveres with his prophetic message. And the more the people turn away from his wisdom, and the more politicians scorn and religious leaders mock, the more the Prime Minister is affirmed in his divine ministry. He slashes Africa's debts, quadruples aid, dispenses free mosquito nets, increases tax credits for the poor, for this is the Year of Jubilee. He proclaims liberty to the captives through redistribution, for he speaks with an authority not his own. And he utterly rejects the 'pleasant oracles' of the false Tory prophets.
Because the word he speaks is divine, gleaned from heavenly deliberations, he prefaces it, concludes it, and even intermittently punctuates it with the reminder 'Thus says Gordon’, the oracle of political truth. Sadly, he has not the artistry of spirit to speak in imagery via metaphors and allegories. And no matter how personally risky this task becomes, or how likely the message is or is not to be believed, he represents the God of the Reverend John. This is his self-understanding.
It is not possible to grasp Gordon Brown’s rejection of genial society until one grasps that he believes himself to be possessed of knowledge not otherwise available to humans. He is called; endowed with a special commission from God and accorded a special position among mankind to call people back to obedience in order to be blessed and cured. This is what permits him to save the world; this is what enables him to pontificate with absolute confidence that the word he speaks is fully God's word.
The British people may or may not choose to believe his words. But Gordon Brown has no choice. And in his fervour, the rational, cognitive faculties are apparently bypassed as he effuses his inspiration.
He thinks he is a prophet, new inspired. He is driven to express the essence of his covenant message effectively. He considers himself the occupant of a divinely appointed societal office, correcting by divine word inappropriate beliefs and illegal practices. When he is called to excoriate prodigal Britain or other nations for their profligacy, he is effectively attacking crimes against this covenant. They are religio-political crimes of heterodoxy, or civil-ethical crimes of heteropraxy, or a combination of both.
Gordon Brown perceives himself to be a radical social reformer, a great thinker and a pioneer. As with the prophets of the Old Testament, he is an ardent patriot, as the covenant demanded, and so he talks of his love for ‘Britishness’ as much as they exalted the purity of Israel. He exists in the days of Ahab. To him, the Conservatives are the prophets of Baal and his enemies within are the prophets of Asherah. It is his raison d’être to cleanse the temple, to halt social and moral decay, and to punish the rich who oppress the poor. And so, in his ecstasy, he proclaims judgment from his dispatch box in accordance with the covenant curses of deprivation, devastation, disease, deportation and death.
Discerning readers and communicants may have noticed that Cranmer has referred to such prophets as Obadiah, Joel, Jonah, Hosea, Amos, etc; and not to Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah or Daniel.
The reason, quite simply, is that if Gordon Brown is a prophet, he is a very minor one. He possesses an irrational apocalypticism, and the Old Testament contains none of that. He expounds nothing original, and his oracles appear quite incomprehensible. He refers to an age of renewal, reconstruction and return from exile, but he does not point the way. He proclaims what is certain, but he is vague. And there is no artistry, no poetry in him. And, for Cranmer, ‘The man that hath no music in himself, Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils.’