Boris Johnson reminds us of the need for good polity

Boris Johnson has, in recent weeks, been somewhat under fire. Various letters from backbenchers have been going into the 1922 committee. Quite a few backbenchers have publicly called on the Prime Minister to resign. Those calls seemed to be dying off in the wake of party-gate, but he waded into the furore again by deciding to to use parliamentary privilege to allege – in the face of some clear evidence to the contrary – that Keir Starmer was responsible for the failure to prosecute Jimmy Saville when he was Director of Public Prosecutions. Mr Johnson does seem to have a habit of lurching from one crisis to the next and seems to have no concern for what his party, the media or the electorate seem to be calling on him to do.

I am minded of churches where something similar happens. A leader hangs on for grim death in the face of all reason and despite the calls from his membership to go. But on he goes, despite all protestations, because nobody put the polity in place to ensure that he could be removed. In the end, there is no mechanism to be employed and no lever to be pulled – despite all evidence and the view of the majority of the congregation – because nobody thought polity, governance and tedious things like constitutions really mattered.

Otherwise, it may not be the case that nobody thought these things mattered, but they didn’t consider the realities of the polity and governance that was in place at the time. When everything was going swimmingly, nobody really thought that long or hard about the constitution or the working practice of the church. But as the wheels began to come off, only then did anyone bother consulting anything. Only, at that point, it is too late to discover that nothing can be done.

If not this, there may be an apparent credible polity at play, but it has long since failed to be put into operation or has never been updated to take account of likely issues that might arise. It has fallen so far into disuse, that nobody ever reads it nor understands it. The working practice of the church is just what it has organically been. If anybody can dig out a constitution at all – and you will usually struggle to find it under such circumstances – all adherence to it may have long since gone out the window.

Tony Benn famously asked 5 questions of democracy that can easily be applied to the life of the church. You can read what they are and how to apply them here. We would do well to ensure that when we join a church, they can answer them helpfully. If there is no way to get rid of your leader, you might just be walking into a situation where they can do whatever they want with nobody able to do very much to stop them. I fear we are seeing some of how that plays out now on the secular stage and it isn’t very pretty.