THE GLUE THAT HOLDS US TOGETHER
One intangible quality is prized above all others today but the more we talk about it, the further away it seems to recede.
Trust is in short supply today. The statistics concerning the Church are on the face of it somewhat gloomy, with trust levels markedly down in the last two decades. This is consistent with public attitudes to institutions in general. Trust in the clergy, though still high relative to other professions, has declined more rapidly than any other profession in this time. This may be a product of the child sex abuse scandals which have rocked the Roman Catholic Church and which colour public perception towards the Church in general and also the voluble atheists asserting that religion is a lie and God does not exist - ergo, the clergy are not to be trusted.
Loss of trust in institutions across society has led to some remedies which may have made the problem worse. Regulation and measurement is supposed to increase public confidence but as Onora O’Neill suggested in the 2002 Reith Lectures:
The pursuit of ever more perfect accountability provides citizens, consumers, patients and parents with more information, more comparisons, more complaint systems; but it also builds a culture of suspicion, low morale…Currently fashionable methods of accountability damage rather than repair trust
Technology makes speed and transparency possible, but this too can erode trust. The systems which make information more readily available can be used to obfuscate and mislead; while the ability to communicate instantly tempts people to employ language they would not normally use face to face. The hastily written word is easily misinterpreted. The human face is capable of over ten thousand expressions, but all these are lost when communication is digitally made. The inevitable recourse of churches to new technology to save the need for meetings has been a blessing to time-strapped people, but few have done a meaningful audit over its impact on the quality and durability of relationships: see how these Christians email one another (Tertullian’s words, more or less).
Widely agreed indicators of trust nevertheless show the Church to be a place where confidence is expressed in one another. Shared values; a sense of ownership; goals larger than profit or personal gain; individual people feeling known and supported are evidence of high levels of trust in a place. It is good for a person’s well-being to be surrounded by people they can trust and they bring the strength thereby gained to their other relationships. This is part of our witness for Christ in the world.
There is however a danger for communities where high levels of trust exist for an unhealthily cosy consensus to develop where disagreement and differing opinions are frowned upon. Defining moments of spiritual development: Jeremiah’s prophecies, the inclusion of the Gentiles in the early Church and the Protestant Reformation depended on a dissenting tradition which the establishment resented.
The time-honoured refrain of Christians to ‘trust in the Lord’ is instructive for we base our trust on experience and express it instinctively. God gives to those who express trust in him both peace and contentment. Trust is the fundamental component of any relationship, so the pressure that circumstances can place on some people not to trust God is upsetting to witness because it goes to the heart of all they hold dear. Yet faith that is tested and not broken develops resilience which others are blessed by too.
While research shows the Church is less trusted, respondents usually feel very favourable towards the Christians they know in person - rather like the way people criticise the NHS but have nothing but praise for their personal experience of nurses. And it is at this level that the work of evangelism is done.
Obama's Covert Wars
The use of drones is going to change warfare out of all recognition in the next decades.
Through A Glass Starkly
Images of traumatic incidents caught on mobile phone can be put to remarkable effect.
What Are British Values?
Is there a British identity and if so, what has shaped the values and institutions that form it?