You know the game ‘Spot the cliché’? The one where you’re listening to a new item or documentary and you spot the number of times someone uses a worn-out expression?
The current leader is a reference to some remarkable event or feature that is the biggest/fastest/oldest etc ‘on earth’ or ‘on the planet’. It’s the must-have measure of greatness at the moment, preferably voiced by David Tennant.
Well, here’s a variation called ‘Spot the dead hand.’
It’s to do with recognising where, given a range of responses, a decision-maker takes the most restrictive, the least imaginative of them.
This Monday there was an item of news concerning two neighbouring secondary schools that, by mutual agreement, have different policies on selection. It results in far more children being taught with others of similar ability – a form of setting or streaming that not so long ago was normal. Apparently, the results of both schools have improved by 30% or more since the changes from mixed ability teaching. The vast majority of parents and pupils are happy with the system.
But... it doesn’t reflect the orthodoxy of comprehensive education and some people have objected. One speaker at the centre of events summarised those who object to what appears to be good practice in education as ‘the chattering classes’.
Do we, in effect, talk ourselves out of common-sense solutions?
Today’s European verdict on four Christians dismissed for expressing their faith at work would seem to suggest that we do. ‘The policy states’ becomes the bottom line for running an organisation, yet no legal definition is ever going to fit the way people actually behave and relate in practice.
‘The letter – (he means ‘the letter of the law’) – kills’ says Paul in one of his epistles. We impose what we think is the meaning of the law but that may well kill off any sensitivity to what is actually important in a situation.
As a Christian, I’m well aware that this has often been the church’s approach. It’s quoted the Bible as a rigid and largely negative comment on the way people are trying to sort out their lives.
Jesus was highly critical of those religious leaders who used the Torah (the Law of Moses) in the same way. ‘I know what the scripture says but what is the Spirit behind that scripture? What does this present situation require?’ He made a lot of enemies in so doing, people who liked cut-and-dried rules, but he won a lot of friends too among society’s least advantaged.
It’s interesting that, although three of the four appellants against unfair dismissal had their appeals rejected today, the verdict was not unanimous. The judges who disagreed said this of one council who had objected to the actions of a Christian employee: “Instead of practising the tolerance and the “dignity for all” it preached, the Borough of Islington pursued the doctrinaire line, the road of obsessive political correctness. Policies are all very well but too often we use them as a substitute for thinking.”
We should never take our eyes off what God has revealed in Jesus. Jesus is the perfect expression of how to do life – perfectly. The problem is that referring to ‘what the policy says’ is not only easier – the lazy way of doing life – but it also lacks responsibility and moral courage.
To say ‘I know what it says on the tin – but it’s wrong’ takes a lot of courage.
By Nigel O’Dwyer, who leads Goring New Life Church, and lives and works in Worthing.