One of the great surprises for me in moving to Scotland was to discover that Margaret Thatcher was and is for many a loathsome and divisive public figure. As a teenager I grew up with Ronald Reagan and his partnership with Britain and Margaret Thatcher in particular was hailed as the strongest since Roosevelt’s friendship with Winston Churchill. I was never more proud of my dual nationality that when the US/British alliance was credited with the downfall of Communism and the breakup of the Soviet Union. Most Americans believed then and now that she was a good leader and an effective Prime Minister. Of course, Americans only know a portion of the story and coming here and reading a bit of history has made it plain to me that her record on the home front was decidedly mixed.
I am writing neither to defend Margaret Thatcher nor to castigate her. There’s enough commentary in the media and in the coffee shops without my adding my two cent’s worth. What I would like to do is help us consider her role, and the role of any government in light of what scripture teaches us. Romans 13:1 is quite plain on the matter, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.”
When Jesus was talking with Pilate only hours before his crucifixion he urged Jesus to speak up in his own defence. “Don’t you realize that I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” And Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above,” (John 19:10-11).
During the time of the Babylonian exile, when the Israelites lived under the heavy hand of their Babylonian oppressors they had every good reason to hate the government, and yet the prophet Jeremiah counselled them to pray for their city that it might go well with them, (Jeremiah 29:7).
It’s a strange thing to consider that it is God who establishes kings and governors over us. It is easy to praise God when our leaders are good and fair and just, but not so easy when they make decisions and do things that are unpopular or evil.
15 years ago when President Clinton had disgraced himself with his affair with Monica Lewinsky a nation watched incredulous. I’d voted for him in two elections and was appalled that he could stoop to such a level. Someone asked me for my thoughts on the matter. “How can you respect him after all he’s done?” “Well, if you can’t respect the man, then respect the office he holds as your President.”
Friends, I know that the Thatcher government made decisions that brought pain and devastation to individuals and communities across Scotland, but when we celebrate her death with street parties, when we sing “Ding, Dong the Witch is Dead,” when children as young as four are taught to chant angrily, “Thatcher is dead, Thatcher is dead, Thatcher is dead,” we disgrace ourselves and abuse our freedoms in this nation.
We cannot begin to understand the tremendous luxury and privilege we have with the freedom to speak out in protest against our own leaders. We cannot begin to grasp the tremendous gift we have with the power of the vote. “Throw the bum out” as the expression goes and leadership is passed on from one party to the next without bloodshed or disruption in our way of life.
Things are very different in North Korea. I quote a young woman named Lee Hyeonseo who escaped from North Korea with her whole family.
The North Korea that the government hides from the outside world is characterised by food shortages, indoctrination, military paranoia and labour camps where thousands toil to stay alive; locked up for showing even the slightest dissent.
Attempting to escape the country is a capital offence. The regime is determined to keep its iron grip on the population.
Defectors send messages home revealing that the outside world is not determined to crush North Korea and that people do not need to live in a twilight of perpetual shortages.
Some do make it, accepting they will never see their families again. They spend their lives living as anonymously as possible; a picture of them in the south on any type of media would condemn their families at home to instant imprisonment.
In North Korea punishment lasts three generations. A husband and wife, their children and their grandchildren will all be punished, will all be locked up in the camps. (Ramsay, Stuart. North Korea: Defector Reveals Harrowing Escape. 12 April 2013, Sky News Online)
I don’t always agree with the decisions of the government, nor can I understand their reasons for making them, but I give thanks to God that I can express my opinions freely and without fear of repression. Some of our governments are better than others but I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are trying to lead with the best of intentions. I am also grateful that someone is willing to step into the difficult role of leader, for we all know too well the embarrassment of looking round the room with shifty eyes and nervous coughs when no one is willing to stand up and say, “Here am I, send me.”
I invite you to pray with me for our leaders and for our nation…
Our heavenly Father, you who establish and secure our governments and direct our leaders, we give you thanks and praise this day that we are blessed to live in a nation that enjoys unprecedented freedoms. Democracy remains a new experiment in world governance. For too long nations have lived under despots, dictators, kings and queens whose sole intention is to glorify themselves and not you. We give you thanks that our own Queen is a woman of faith whose commitment to the welfare of our nation has never wavered. We ask that you would guide and defend her in that role. We give you thanks for our Prime Minister David Cameron and ask your blessing on him and on his government.
We may not always agree with these people or the decisions that they make. We may believe they are unfit for office or incompetent or selfish and uncaring. But, we give you thanks that they are trying to lead us through a painful and difficult time in our history. We give you thanks that we have the freedom to complain and protest and we give you thanks that we hold the power of the vote and we give you thanks especially that in our country governments change without bloodshed or warfare.
We pray for the vulnerable in this country whose lives are directly impacted by the decisions of our government and we pray for the courage to speak and to act on their behalf. Let us glorify you not by complaining from the comfort of our living rooms, but by standing to serve and to give our time and energy and resources to act for effective change.
We pray for the people of North and South Korea who have for sixty years lived beneath the dark cloud of a sham state of war against one another. We pray for families long divided and for those in the North who even now languish in prison camps, for those who are starving and for those who live their lives in constant fear. We pray for their leader, Kim Jong-un, that he would stand down from the insanity of nuclear warfare and that he would consider instead the grave needs of his own people. We pray that in his nation and in every nation swords would be beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks and that we would study war no more.
Forgive us, collectively for the disgraceful protests and celebrations of this past week. Let us, whether we loved her or hated her, honour her in death as we would have our own enemies honour us in ours.
Let us be mature in our faith and trust that all things will be made well in your time. We pray in the faith of children who have been forgiven that we might forgive others, who have been served that we might serve, saying “Our Father…”