What sermon might Gordon Brown’s father now preach to his son?
Cranmer is not into necromancy, but he has been wondering what sermon the Rev John Brown might today preach to his son, the Prime Minister. He has prayed hard and considered this for many weeks, and feels led to share the following:
A Sermon preached by the Rev John Brown at St Bryce Kirk on the occasion of the visit of his son, the Rt Hon Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Do you remember, my son, being born of humble parents in Glasgow? No, you cannot, for what man can recall the day of his birth? Do you remember, my son, your childhood here in Kirkaldy? This you ought, for they were happy times in a warm and friendly town where everyone knew each other and believed in the social values I preached every Lord’s Day, and did my best to live from Monday to Sunday, fifty-two weeks of the year, every year of my walk with the Lord. And that path was not only concerned with compassion or solidarity with the poor and homeless, but loyalty to Raith Rovers Football Club. The strong sense of community I sought was not only concerned with political action and issues of social justice, but play-offs at Stark’s Park. For the humility of Christ demands meeting people where they are at. You saw all sorts coming in to our home – some who needed a good meal, some with desperate financial needs and others who just needed loving. And you saw them leave with full bellies and hearts overflowing with love. We had frequent visitors from down-and outs and hard-up families whose only income, as the pits and factories closed, came from gathering sea-coal from the town's blackened beaches. These people knew that they wouldn't leave empty-handed.
In our home, religion was not confined to the saying of prayers: it was enacted through social action in a world where, as you later acknowledged: “As a minister's son you see every problem coming to your doorstep. You become aware of a whole range of distress and social problems. I suppose it's not a bad training for politics."
How many down-and-outs and hard-up families have you entertained at Downing Street? How many of the lonely and destitute have witnessed your hospitality or generosity?
You say you have a ‘Presbyterian conscience’, yet you seek to impose morality upon people. Have you forgotten that the problem is the human heart, and that these need transforming one by one? You cannot legislate for renewal; you cannot compel revival. I brought you up to see that real religion – real Christianity – is realised in the action; performed in ministering to a world full of problems. And as a minister’s son, Gordon, you saw every problem which came to our doorstep. You became aware of a whole range of loss and distress, of struggle and hardship. You’d see me help people as best I could – dealing with their problems, visiting them when they were ill. That was really what I was most involved in.
This should indeed have been an excellent training for politics.
These people, son, are not your constituents: they are those you grew up with; those who watched you fall and graze your knee; those who prayed for you when you were injured and lying in the darkness of a hospital bed; those who loved you when you were unlovely; who persevered with you when you ran out of patience; and who gave freely of their time and meagre means as the coal mines closed and the factories declined.
I want you to listen to me, to hear of three old themes, and to reflect upon the mind of God on these matters:
Today's Christian Duty
You honourably sought to address the Thatcher legacy of individualism with a new moral crusade. Helping poor families was supposed to be your political vision – which is why you enacted tax credits, brought in a 10p tax band, provided jobs to bring down unemployment, provided support for pensioners and lifted children out of poverty. This was your mission. As Harold Wilson said, the Labour party is either a moral crusade or it is nothing.
But you have made it nothing. You abolished the 10p tax band, unemployment is now rising at a faster rate than at any time in our history, pensioners have seen their pensions taxed and their savings wiped out, and the gap between the rich and the poor is greater now than ever it was under the Tories.
Your politics is vacuous because it is amoral; it is amoral because you have no vision; you have no vision because you have no moral direction; you have no moral direction because you have taken your eyes off the Lord. There is nothing to boast about, no New Jerusalem in England’s (or Scotland’s) green and pleasant land, and you resort to smearing your political opponents to conceal the failure of your mission. You have brought the nation to the abyss, and God weeps with shame at what you have become and what you have done to a once-great party. Labour is corrupted by spin while your own heart is blackened by sin. You have a ‘Stalinist ruthlessness’ about you and treating colleagues with ‘more or less complete contempt’. What you cannot control, you seek to extinguish. Those who will not submit, you seek to destroy.
Is that love? Is that the Christian way?
The Need for Humility
You have forgotten your roots - right from the time you were elected to Parliament in 1983 and you refused to speak at the Scottish Grand Committee as all Scottish MPs traditionally do. You avoided it. You didn’t have time for that. When you were offered your first frontbench position as shadow Scottish Secretary, you turned it down. You didn’t have time for such parochial concerns, preferring instead to await a national brief, which came with Trade and Industry in 1985. And thence to shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and thence to shadow Chancellor.
It was never about service: it was all about you.
And when you went Africa, you were fêted by finance ministers in a hotel in Cape Town. But then you heard about the fire. A rapid blaze had swept through one of the townships a few minutes from the conference hotel. Some 12,000 people had been made homeless. It would seem callous not to visit. Do you remember what you asked an aid worker whose family lived in two small rooms, who fried and sold sheep's intestines for a living? You met her amid the charred mattresses and scorched furniture, and said: "Tell me, do you find it hard to get micro-credit?"
The woman had lost everything, was bereft, destitute, and your only words of comfort were: ‘Do you find it hard to get micro-credit?’.
Is this the compassion you have for the world's poorest? Is this what you can remember of my example in Kirkcaldy when you were a boy? People’s poverty is not simply addressed by finance, but with empathy, compassion, love. At the age of 82, I was still knocking on doors to raise money for Christian Aid, but it never interfered with my sacrificial love. Your mother once told you that the party you lead must have more than a set of policies – it must have a soul.
You say you went into politics out of faith – faith in people and their potential. Unlike Tony Blair, who converted to Christianity at university and is still converting, you were born into it: it is in your DNA. Tony Blair said he didn’t do God because he didn’t want to appear ‘a nutter’.
Why aren’t you doing God, son?
Or are you attempting to by one throw-away reference to your ‘Presbyterian conscience’? Are you struggling between expressing your Presbyterian Calvinism in the language of the Scottish Enlightenment? Can you not find a ‘third way’ mode of communication?
In truth, you have privatised your faith and are as secular as your predecessor, if not more so. You speak of churches only as important ‘social actors’ for 'community cohesion' and the perpetuation of ‘Britishness’. The Union Flag is more important to you than the cross of Jesus Christ.
You are perceived as being dour and mean and suspicious. The things that shaped your private life should influence not just your political beliefs but your personal dealings with fellow parliamentarians as well. There is no point being clever if you cannot be courteous or kind. Yet my son is a bully, impatient, quick to anger and slow to forgive.
You manifest carelessness; you’re unwilling to admit you’ve made a mistake. You’re stiff, unbending, intransigent, stubborn. You alienate those who caution and give sound counsel, and surround yourself with yea-sayers. People believe my son to be stubborn, cross-grained and defiant, and I am ashamed. These are not qualities you learnt from me or your mother. All we sought to instil was a sense of morality in all three of you: there was nothing dour or Calvinistic about our home life. It was easygoing because it was dedicated to the Lord and based on faith, hope and charity.
But there’s nothing of the father in the son. John Brown does not live on in wee Gordon. When you evangelise about the West’s absolute moral duty to help the poor of the world, you aren’t thinking of the poor but of yourself. I taught you boundless optimism and the belief in things greater than yourself. But your passion is now that of ego: your creed is that of self. That is the sermon to which you return again and again, fuelled by the conviction of your own infallibility, deluded by the perception of your own omnipotence.
Our Need of Vision
Without it, the people perish. Yet you have neither vision nor direction: there is no leadership or inspiration to follow. Instead, you itch to centralise and place your faith in bureaucratic control which speaks of nothing so much as an attachment to power itself. Your debates offer no hope, but simply condemn and attack. Instead of building people up, you demean and denigrate. Instead of introducing a new style of government, you simply perpetuate the politics of division and distortion .
A breakdown in morals inevitably follows a breakdown in religion. When men and women lose sight of God, there follows a deterioration in ethical standards. Back in 1997, faith in the inevitability of progress was held by many, but such facile optimism has given way to despair because they are blind to God and his salvation. There is a close correlation between church-going and what we might call the heavenly vision. When church-going ceases to be practised, people are in danger of losing the vision of the Eternal.
There may be political theories that appeal more than Christ's Gospel, but it must be asked of them: What value are they? Will they work? Will they stand the test of time?
At one Labour Party conference, you quoted from one of my favourite stories: the Parable of the Talents and its lesson ‘to find goodness in everyone’. You have become incapable of doing so because you have ceased to find the goodness in yourself. If it’s there, people can no longer see it. You have dragged the once-great Labour Party into the gutter. You have undermined its moral foundation and replaced it with blatant lies. You bear false witness, and perpetuate hypocrisy.
So this is the way New Labour ends - in a shower of immorality. The heart is now rotten, and body is corrupt. The only solution is surgery. If the hand offend you, cut it off.
You’re not the ‘son of the manse’; you’re a liar and bully, dedicated to gangsterism and deceit, surrounded by an inner circle of bruisers and opportunists. While you portray yourself as a man of principle, it has been said that your actions are those of a Scottish clan chief, demanding of your followers nothing more than blind loyalty and an appetite for bloodshed.
You can no longer lambast the Tories for ‘not caring’ about the unemployed and the dispossessed. You can no longer pour scorn upon them for lacking a ‘moral dimension’. Politics is the means by which a country is run and good politics means a country is run well. You have no good politics, and the country is not run well.
Son, you are now damaged beyond repair. You have chosen as friends the nasty, unscrupulous people whose unquestioning devotion to you takes precedence over truth, justice or any civilised ethical standard.
I’ve never before from this pulpit declared how I might vote. But I’d rather vote Tory than for your brand of Labour.
Let us now sing from the Church Hymnal number 537, 'O God our help in ages past'.