Ed Miliband's prophetic voice

Ed Miliband's prophetic voice

Sande Ramage

16 October 2012

Ed Miliband, leader of the British Labour Party, took the risky step of talking about faith at his party's annual conference.  'Not a religious faith,' he was quick to point out, 'but a faith nonetheless; a faith that I believe many religious people would recognise.'
 
'I believe we have a duty to leave the world a better place than we found it,' says Miliband.  'I believe we cannot shrug our shoulders at injustice and just say 'that's the way the world is and I believe that we can overcome any odds if we come together as people.'  
 
The second son of Jewish refugees who came to Britain during World War II, Miliband expresses his search for justice outside of synagogue and void of God language or religious story.  A bit like the one in six American Jews who are now called The Unaffiliated by a study reported in tabletmag.com.
 
Being unaffiliated is on the rise worldwide.  The latest Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life indicate that around 20% of Americans have no religious affiliation (the highest percentages in Pew Research Centre polling) although many still consider themselves religious or spiritual in some way.  
 
Not hostile to religion, many of the unaffiliated believe it can be a force for good in society, with the ability to bring people together and help strengthen community bonds. That's consistent with Miliband's public good approach.
 
Even more interesting is this group's political leanings, heavily Democratic and liberal in ideology.  Pew Research report they have become one of the most reliable Democratic segments with 61% of them voting for Al Gore over George Bush in 2000.  
 
On social issues, 72% of them say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, compared with 53% of the general population.  And 73% of them express support for same-sex marriage whilst 48% of the population at large is opposed.  
 
Whilst we can argue the toss about the nuances of statistics, this research offers an uncomfortable perspective on my own experience that says being closely affiliated to religion means always struggling with conservatives on social issues.   
 
You could say Ed Miliband was just being a tactical politician, saying what people wanted to hear.  Allowing a glimmer of religion to sparkle while rationalizing his message for the unaffiliated, likely to be one of the largest groups to follow him in a Britain where pews are emptying at the rate of 1500 souls a week.  
 
You could also say he's being prophetic.  Saying how things really are and in so doing modeling a spacious political and theological approach that has to be the way of the future; something churches haven't quite come to grips with yet.  
 
How ironic that another youngish Jewish man is challenging entrenched religious positions and that his birthday happens to be 24th December.  An also ran, or right on faith for our time?
 
Image: BBC