On this feast of St Alphege, Archbishop of Canterbury and martyr, there is a sharp reminder that the role of a Christian is to stand as a challenge to many of the norms of society, and to criticise authority, whatever the personal consequences.
Alphege, a saintly hermit, was called to high office by Dunstan, and became his successor as Archbishop. He was captured by the Danes, who demanded an enormous ransom for his release. Alphege refused to pay it and forbade anyone from doing so, knowing that it would impoverish the ordinary people even more. He was brutally murdered by his captors at Greenwich on this day in the year 1012.
As we approach a general election, the political parties invite us first to consider our own interest. Who will reduce my tax? -allow me to jump ahead if there is a wait for health care? -secure my pension? -keep England for the English? and so on.
In the days of Alphege ordinary people had no say in the affairs of state, but today we do have a share, both through the ballot, and through the freedom to keep campaigning on important issues between elections. Christians have a responsibility to look at the coming election through Alphege’s eyes, and identify those policies which would impoverish the marginalised, who miss out on many of the good things our nation has to offer.
Beyond casting our votes, now is an excellent time to remind those seeking election of our concerns. We need trade justice, not just a free market. We need to give a welcome to those who need asylum, knowing that those we welcome will enrich our nation as generations of immigrants have done before them. We need to care for children and the elderly, and health provision assigned by need.
The present Archbishop has written to our political leaders about negative campaigning, which appeals only to the greed, the fear and the selfishness of the electorate. He said, ‘Election campaigns can quickly turn into a competition about who can most effectively frighten voters with the prospect of what “The Others” are going to do.’
Surely no party would want to claim that fear, greed and envy were their core values. Wouldn’t the British rather be known as the true heirs of Alphege?