Don’t bind with what we won’t be bound by

Rishi Sunak has been in the news over recent days. More specifically, his wife and her non-domicile (non-dom) status in the UK. As the daughter of an Indian billionaire, she has retained non-dom status and, as a result, pays no tax in the UK. Leaving aside the morality of living in the UK and making that your setup for now, it is considerably harder to wear when you are married to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Some have argued that Rishi Sunak – or, more specifically, Akshata Murthy – have done nothing wrong. By which they mean they have not actively broken any laws. Their setup is a perfectly legal one. The issue, they suggest, is that they have merely not been seen to do the right thing. I mainly disagree with that assessment.

I recognise that nobody has broken the law. But not breaking the law and doing the right thing do not always go hand in glove. There are times that things are against the law that are, nevertheless, the morally right and appropriate thing to do. As Christians, we are painfully aware of such potential situations. Conversely, there are things that are not against the law but we can hardly say that doing them is to do nothing wrong. Neither Boris Johnson nor Matt Hancock – both of whom have been caught in flagrante delicto – have broken the law, but it is fair to say few watch on and think they have truly done nothing wrong either. The law and moral rectitude are not always perfectly aligned.

By the same token, I think Rishi Sunak and Akshata Murthy – who it should rightly be noted have not broken any laws in the matter at hand – have not ‘done the right thing’. Indeed, I disagree that they have done nothing wrong. I do not see how it is at all tenable for a Chancellor of the Exchequer to be raising taxes and taking decisions – particularly at the present time as many face a cost of living crisis – that simply will not affect them and their finances at all. Sunak’s defence that his wife does not interfere in government policy and he does not interfere in her business affairs was never going to wash. The idea that what impacts his wife’s finances is somehow independent of his own – regardless of the fact that he gave up his shares in their co-owned business (and signed them over to her) before entering politics – speaks to the issue. He may have given up personal ownership of the shares, but it remains the case that he still profits from those shares that are still held within his own household nonetheless.

This is the bottom line. You simply cannot inflict decisions on people that you will not have to wear yourself. You cannot claim to be doing the right thing for the country in raising or cutting taxes whilst not being affected by them, or even profiting off them, yourself. It is more than being seen to do the right thing; this is the right thing, regardless of what might be legally permissible. You simply cannot, and should not, expect others to wear what you impose when you do not have to abide by those same things and they will not affect you one iota.

There is a lesson here for the church. Particularly church elders. As a general rule of thumb, we probably shouldn’t be imposing things on the church that we will not have to wear ourselves. We should not expect of others what will never be expected of us.

That doesn’t mean all the elders must do everything before anyone else can be asked to do anything. But it does mean, we shouldn’t go telling our members to get on with the work of evangelism whilst not bothering to do any ourselves. We shouldn’t expect our members to give up nights of the week to serve in areas of ministry whilst never giving up any of our own. We shouldn’t expect members to obey bits of the Bible to which we do not bind ourselves quite so tightly.

But I also think it is important that we don’t ask people to do things that will not affect us and that we do not have to wear. It has been our philosophy to try and let those who are leading ministry works in the church be the ones to determine how those ministries will be run. One area of ministry I can’t be involved in on almost any level is the Sunday School. I am preaching most weeks. So it feels entirely inappropriate for me to start demanding the Sunday School is run in one way or the other when it is one area of ministry I am not involved in running. I have to trust that the Sunday School teachers and leaders will run matters appropriately. And I think they could rightly be aggrieved if I insisted they do things my way whilst never having to be bound by my own suggestions. There are few more irritating or dispiriting things than those who are not involved in your work telling you how you can do it best, or insisting you do it their way, as they do not have to deal with the realities of whatever it is they are suggesting.

That doesn’t necessarily mean we can have nothing to say about these things. But we do have to be careful that when we speak about them folks are aware that we understand the realities of what they are doing. As elders of the church, we do have a certain responsibility for all the ministries. But our responsibility is largely not in the mechanics of how things run, but whether things are being run biblically and whether they serve the wider ministry of the gospel helpfully. So, of course, we might have something to say if the Sunday School is peddling heresy or the mechanics of it are somehow dragging us away from more important things. But assuming it is not doing either of those things, the particulars of how things run ought not to be tinkered with by those who are otherwise uninvolved in them.

As a general rule, we only want to bind people by what we will be bounds by ourselves. We want to make sure that when we insist on things, they are within our purview. We ought to ensure that what we do want to make an issue of, we are clear that we understand the realities on the ground and how those involved will genuinely be affected by our decisions. If we can’t do that, we might be better not speaking at all.