Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s new leader-Demon or Messiah?
He's neither but this is why I voted for him
I was not originally going to vote for Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. I was going to vote for Andy Burnham. A much safer bet I thought. Jeremy was just the wrong type of leader , who couldn't possibly win a general election. He was too old, too scruffy, hadn’t gone to the right university and had the wrong track record as a rebel rather than a front bencher. Most of all he was too extreme and controversial. On Facebook I publicly endorsed this widely shared view of Jeremy Corbyn. Yet when I thought and prayed about it I realised I'd been looking at it all the wrong way. It was when I tried to look at it from God’s perspective, a biblical perspective, that I had my Damascus road type conversion. I realised to my surprise that Jeremy was the right choice, because e he was the one who best fits what God requires of a leader (and indeed of all of us): “…and what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6 v 8
Let's be clear. Whilst Jeremy Corbyn may share his initials, as a Christian I believe Jesus Christ is the only true Messiah. I also believe He will one day return earth to bring true and lasting peace, prosperity and justice for the poor and for all. In the mean time we have to settle for mere fallible men as our leaders. Yet as a Christian I believe in choosing a leader you need to assess how both their character and message measure up against the big JC. They will all fall short of course. However, I found to my surprise that Jeremy Corbyn ,despite professing no faith in Him, best matched both Christ's character and message.
And I found some surprising parallels between the two.
An unlikely leader
Both men seemed unlikely leaders. Both were apparently "the wrong sort." Jeremy is too old, had the wrong experience, the wrong education , from the wrong wing of the party, etc., etc. But Jesus's background would also have marked him out as "the wrong sort" to be a leader. He was untrained and inexperienced as a teacher- not schooled as a rabbi and with the wrong background; an illegitimate son of a simple carpenter from Nazareth. As one of his critics said, can anything good come from there? Interestingly, being the “wrong sort” is something they seem to share with most of the greatest leaders in the bible God chose. Abraham, father of the Jewish nation, only started to father the nation in his 90s. Moses, the founder of the Jewish nation and religion, led the Jews from Egyptian slavery towards the promised land. But when he was an old man of 80 with a criminal record as a murderer and a phobia of public speaking. One of Israel's great ruler- judges Gideon, who led them to victory against the much stronger Midianites, was from the least clan from the least tribe and was excessively cautious. David, the greatest King in Israel's history, when chosen as King was too young surely. Wouldn’t his bigger, older brothers have been the more obvious choice? And Paul, the great evangelist of the early church, started out as one of its greatest persecutors. In fact, very often it is the people who in human eyes seem the least likely sort to be leaders are in fact the right sort in God’s eyes . “People look at outward appearances, but the Lord looks at the heart”. 1 Samuel 16 v 7
A heart for the poor and needy
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31 v 8/9
When it comes to the heart there is something else that that Jesus shares with Jeremy Corbyn; a heart for the poor and needy. Jesus saw his mission particularly to “bring good news to the poor” (both spiritually and materially). (Luke 4 v 18). He reached out to heal and help them. He saw himself as very much on side of poor and expected his followers to put that heart for the poor and needy into action. He challenged his followers to give generously to the poor. A mark of his true followers was to be how they helped the poor and needy and a mark of those who were not was how they ignored them (Matthew 25 v 34-36). Jeremy Corbyn as a politician makes it very much his own mission to support the poor and needy. For example, speaking out against welfare changes that have doing such great harm done to poor and needy in our country and speaking out for the plight of refugees.
A peacemaker who mixed with sinners
“…blessed are the peacemakers…” (Matthew 5 v 9)
Jesus was the ultimate peacemaker, reconciling men and God through his crucifixion and in his earthly mission he demonstrated this by reaching out to reconcile those considered to be beyond society’s pale, “the sinners” such as prostitutes and tax collectors. Indeed he was much criticised by the establishment for even eating with such outcasts. He also spoke out against armed violence “Those who live by the sword will died by the sword,” he warned Peter. His was a peaceful revolution of heart and mind. You will also hear much criticism of Jeremy Corbyn for having associated with his own “sinners” like palestinian terrorist groups. Yet he has done so only in order to try to bring reconciliation and peace. Indeed, Jeremy Corbyn has strongly spoken out against the use of violent force in Iraq and elsewhere and instead encouraged more peaceful means of resolving conflicts.
Of good character
“Now a leader must be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” 1 Timothy 3 v 2/3
It’s rather difficult to compete with Jesus over “good character” as he was and is the perfect, sinless son of God. However, good character is very important in a leader and Jeremy Corbyn exemplifies key points of good character that the bible says should be looked for in a leader. He is indeed temperate, gentle and self-controlled in his speech and does not do “personal” sniping and insults(but sticks to the issues). Anyone who has met him even if they strongly disagree with him speaks about how “nice” and decent he is, for example offering to share his sandwiches with them on the train. He is able to communicate a clear message. Far from being a drunkard he is teetotal (and a vegetarian). He is certainly not a lover of money. He is no champagne socialist but lives quite simply, wearing ordinary (sometimes slightly scruffy) clothes. With no flash car, he rides a bike and uses public transport. He generally makes the lowest expenses claims of all MPs. Most importantly, there is no hint that he is open to any sort of bribe. (“By justice a king gives a country stability, but one who is greedy for bribes tears it down.” Proverbs 29 v 4)
The Humility of the Servant King
Humility is too often devalued as a leadership quality, but it should be a key part of the character looked for in a leader. This was exemplified in Jesus, “ who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant …he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross.” Philippians 2 v 6-8. Like Jesus Jeremy Corbyn does not seek leadership for his own personal advantage but only to fulfil a mission for the good of others. If he wanted to grasp at personal advancement he would not have spent over 30 years as a backbencher, speaking up for often unfashionable causes. As the Servant King Jesus rode into Jerusalem not on chariot or mighty steed but on a humble donkey. I guess Jeremy Corbyn as new Labour leader will enter Westminster on his push bike.
A different style
Jesus spoke the truth straightforwardly and honestly, in a language ordinary people understood (including his use of parables), yet with real conviction and authority. Many remarked on Jesus’s teaching being different in style to the teachers they were used to. Jeremy Corbyn too has a very different style of speaking to his contemporaries; straightfoward and direct, answering not avoiding questions. He says what he believes and speaks from the heart, rather than using use the spin and soundbites favoured by his rivals and avoiding personal sniping. Many find his style a breath of fresh air, just as Jesus’s hearers did.
Challenging the rich and powerful establishment
Jesus was no respecter of the rich and powerful and was prepared to challenge them directly. Jesus warned “woe to you rich”, who would find it very hard to get into his kingdom and he often encouraged them often to give away their wealth. He tackled head on the hypocrisy of the religious establishment- the Pharisees and Sadducees, speaking out against them - “woe to you Pharisees.” Jeremy Corbyn too challenges the establishment, the vested interests of the rich and powerful, who have grown ever more so on the backs of poor and ordinary folk.
Challenging orthodox beliefs
Hand in hand with his challenge to the establishment of his day, Jesus’ message challenged the orthodox beliefs and attitudes of the Jewish religious establishment, Sadducees and even Pharisees (who shared some key beliefs with him) . He spoke out against their excessive legalism, ritual and judgmentalism, and their lack of compassion; too much love of money & status and too little love for God and men. Jesus’ message in word and deed was like a “new wine”. It was and is a message of love, compassion, reconciliation and forgiveness that crossed national boundaries , extending even to the Jews’ bitterest enemies- the Romans and Samaritans (“love your enemies”, “turn the other cheek”). His was and is the supreme message of hope through grace. Jeremy Corbyn’s message is also very much at odds with our current political establishment, both Tory and New Labour. It is, as he says, a kinder politics that takes pity on the poor and refugees, that rejects the orthodox blind faith in the free market (that actually make our public services and our economy run worse not better) or unquestioning trust in austerity economics (that actually stifles growth) or in a nuclear deterrent (that actually deters no one and makes the world a more less dangerous place) and that advocates higher taxes on the rich (in order to lower the burdens on the poor, ordinary and young ) and offers real hope of a better future for all.
Like Jesus Jeremy Corbyn is the man who seemed to come from nowhere on a sudden popular wave. Having spent 30 years in relative obscurity, like Jesus he was suddenly thrust into limelight with crowds flocking to hear his message.
Like Jesus, Jeremy Corbyn is a leader with a message of apparently mass popular appeal, but an appeal rejected by an establishment in whom he has had lots of enemies. In Jesus’ case these enemies were the Pharisees, Sadducees , scribes and teachers of law (and Satan behind them). From early on they were plotting his downfall, because he challenged what they believed and stood for. Jeremy Corbyn faces his own raft of enemies in the political establishment today, who are very much conspiring to bring him down (starting even before he was “up”) ; the predominantly right wing press and media papers (and even much of the more left wing media like the Guardian), big business , the ruling Conservative politicians of course and even most current and former leading figures in his own party.
Jesus entered Jerusalem triumphantly yet humbly on the donkey to the acclaim of the crowds praising their new leader. However, less than a week later the establishment forces of his day had got him. The scribes Pharisees and Sadduccees had apparently completely defeated him. It was a campaign based on lies and half truths about him and his message. Through these means they got him arrested, twisted the arm of the Roman governor to put his life to a public vote and then persuaded that public to vote for his crucifixion. Jeremy Corbyn I have no doubt is destined for his own crucifixion in the press and media with another campaign of lies and half truths. This will be spawned by a mass of establishment forces and voices who are surely bound to conspire together to try to bring him down. The vicious campaigns launched against his predecessors Neil Kinnock and Ed Milliband will be as nothing compared to what Jeremy Corbyn will surely face. With so many voices speaking against him what chance does he have of keeping the voting public on his side?
The end result- failure or victory?
Jesus was a man of miracles who had healed thousands of incurable diseases and had fed 5,000 with a few loaves and fishes. But his earthly ministry ended in apparent utter failure in a criminal’s death on the cross. Yet in fact his greatest miracle, his ultimate victory was achieved in and through his crucifixion. God was working through his crucifixion to pay the price for our sins , rescue us from Satan’s clutches and reconcile us with Himself. And he proved his victory by doing the impossible and rising from the dead and appearing to his followers .
The forces ranged against Jeremy Corbyn are such that to me it seems to me an almost impossible task that he could overcome them and win the next general election. This is why I was originally not going to vote for him. He has already achieved something of a political miracle in being elected labour leader as the original rank outsider. Yet to win over a whole electorate is going to be a much higher mountain to climb. The first election was like climbing Ben Nevis, which he has just conquered very convincingly. However, his next election will be like scaling Everest. His crucifixion in the media is almost certain. By some miracle can he overcome this seeming impossibility to be victorious? Jesus of course had the mighty power of Father God behind him and He specialises in doing the impossible. “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19 v 36.
Pray for victory?
This raises an interesting question. To my knowledge Jeremy Corbyn does not believe in Jesus. However could his supporters who do believe in Jesus pray in aid the power of the almighty to achieve the apparently impossible victory ? Does God answer those sort of prayers or does he just leave it completely to the free will of individuals whom they vote for (and for which they must later account to Him )? After all, dreadful as I believe they are, there have been plenty of rulers far worse than our current British government. And such rulers have remained in power for many years despite earnest Christians praying against them. (Few worse than the evil emperor Nero who heavily persecuted the very earliest Christians). Yet the bible tells us that “he deposes kings and raises up others” (Daniel 2 v 21). That was certainly seen with God’s original chosen people, Israel. And there certainly were times when He raised up rulers who did not believe in Him, such as the Persian King Cyrus. But since the end of the original Jewish state does God still intervene in affairs of state like that? Some would say that He did with the later Roman emperor Constantine, who converted to Christianity and then adopted Christianity as Rome’s official religion. And many would also say that God has done that in the life of our own nation. Most obviously He did so perhaps 75 years ago when Winston Churchill called on the nation to pray to bring about the miracle of Dunkirk. So what about today? Certainly God could intervene. Whether and when He chooses to do so I simply don’t know. But in the knowledge that He can and the hope that He might, I for one am already praying, praying that He might deliver a seemingly impossible election victory for Jeremy Corbyn in five years’ time. I do so because I believe the society he would help bring about as our Prime Minister, whilst still very imperfect ,will answer Jesus’s call of Matthew 25 so much better than the society we are currently becoming.