One rule for them…

The Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer got themselves into hot water yesterday. Both have been pinged by the NHS Test & Trace app; both decided that they would suddenly be part of a pilot scheme among government officials that would allow them to avoid self-isolation. Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days and both the Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak were identified as close contacts.

No 10 Downing Street said, ‘they would be able to work as normal by taking daily tests as part of a trial being run in 20 public sector organisations including government departments’ (The Times). A mere three hours later, they U-turned and decided that this was not acceptable after some significant backlash. Sunak tweeted in the aftermath:

Of course, this isn’t the first time the government had to face these sorts of accusations. There was that fated trip to Barnard Castle by the former chief adviser to the Prime Minister. Then, more recently, there was the Matt Hancock affair – in both senses of that word – which he initially tried to ride out in the hope it would all go away. Both were (minimally) apparent breaches of COVID-19 regulations. Both sought to cling onto their position regardless. Many still believe it appears to be one rule for the ruling class and another for the rest of us.

Those of us in church leadership can easily fall into this sort of trap too. We can be guilty of a one-rule-for-them mentality. In some particularly bad cases, this can amount to serious sin played down on the part of the minister on which they would come down like the proverbial tonne of bricks if it were seen in a member. The importance of the role, the significance of the ministry or the damage it would do to the gospel if it got out are all hackneyed excuses that get trotted out. There is no doubt that it is one rule for them and another for everybody else.

But for most of us, I think, that is not where the issue lies. We aren’t in gross sin of the ministry-ending kind. We aren’t calling out, with full force and fury, the sins in the heart of our members knowing full well that they are our own unrepentant sins that we continue in without care. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, I’m just saying that’s not how the one-rule-for-them attitude plays out for most of us.

I think for many of us in ministry, it plays out more in certain emphases from which we gladly excuse ourselves. We may preach a banging sermon on a Sunday calling for more gospel fervour, more evangelistic endeavour, more of our people need to take a look at themselves at get about the business of sharing the gospel. That may well be true and need saying, but it is amazing how often the person saying it is no better at sharing the gospel. Indeed, if it is ever mentioned, there is a bit of foot shuffling, and obfuscation, and some comment about how pastors aren’t evangelists and we can’t all do everything, etc, etc. But what is good for the goose is, surely, good for the gander? We can’t easily call our people to more, or better, evangelism when they don’t see us doing any either. That smacks a bit of the one-rule-for-them mode of thinking, doesn’t it?

If not evangelism, maybe for others of us it’s hospitality. We call our people to open their homes to people, spend time with people, make sure that the church are truly engaging with each other and welcoming as Christ did. But the pastor is only ever found in his study, nowhere near his people, never engaging with them at all. Again, there may be some foot shuffling, and a bit of obfuscation, then some explanation about personality types or different members of the body serving in different ways, etc, etc. In the end, it sounds very much like a one-rule-for-them approach to the commands of Jesus that ought, surely, to apply to us all.

These are just two examples, but I’m sure you can think of many others. We can be quick to call our people to do things that we aren’t seen to be doing ourselves (or, if not seen, doing at all!) People are rightly irritated when the government dictate rules that they decide they do not have to follow; it smacks of elitism. It isn’t right when the church find these same things among its leaders too.

Jesus did not call anyone to do what he did not do himself. He did not ask anyone to walk where he had not walked. By the same token, our leaders ought not to call people to do what they have not, or will not, do themselves. That way lies only the cry of one-rule-for-them.