Lutfur Rahman and disqualification from office

It is often interesting when a new political party forms. But the Aspire Party is particularly interesting because it is backed by two former mayors and a convicted fraudster. Better yet, one of those former mayors has been previously convicted of “driving a coach and horses” through electoral law and has been found guilty in civil law. The other former mayor of London has himself resigned from the Labour Party because of his ongoing suspension by them for an antisemitic rant. It is quite the notorious line up.

The party has formed in order to facilitate a run at the mayoralty of Tower Hamlets by its former mayor, Lutfur Rahman, who was banned from politics for five years for committing corrupt and illegal practices. The Times previously reported:

Mr Rahman bribed voters by taking public money from organisations, even the Alzheimer’s Society, and giving it instead to “lunch clubs” which served the Bangladeshi and Somali communities.

They further note here that Mr Rahman portrayed his opposite number as a racist who supported the English Defence League when he had, in fact, spearheaded the anti-racist movement in the borough since the 1990s. The judge further found that all the councillors elected for Rahman’s “Tower Hamlets First” party were elected corruptly.

It is hard not to see such a litany of rule breaking and disreputable behaviour as disqualifying Mr Rahman from office. Whilst it may well be legally appropriate to allow him to run again, following his five year ban from politics, it is hard to see how he is in any way qualified to run. It is being suggested that his current campaign tactics are not showing any evidence of lessons having been learnt. Whilst it is perfectly legal for Mr Rahman to run, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that he probably shouldn’t.

There is a parallel here, I think, with those who disqualify themselves from office in the church. There may well be no legal issue with hoping to go back into ministry after falling into serious disqualifying sin, but that does not mean it is appropriate for one to do so. Just as Mr Rahman’s behaviour has made it all but impossible for people to trust him in office again, so certain disqualifying sins make it virtually impossible to trust see such men restored to leadership roles in the church again.

It must always be possible for disqualified leaders to be restored to the church. True repentance should always lead to restoration to church fellowship. But it remains the case that certain sins make it all but impossible for a disqualified leader to re-qualify themselves. That does not mean every character failing or disqualifying sin means that such a person could never be restored to church leadership. Peter was, after all, restored by the Lord after denying him despite being one of his Apostles when he did it. But it is to say certain sins will inevitably disqualify in perpetuity. One cannot acts as an example to members of their church as a one-woman-man, for instance, having failed in that very area. That sort of marital unfaithfulness in the ministry is a disqualifying sin that cannot be undone.

Just as Mr Rahman would send a much better message by owning his misdemeanours and, instead of running again, choosing to campaign for somebody else instead, so a disqualified leader would send a better message not by seeking office again, but by actively supporting and sitting under somebody else’s ministry. Disqualification from office does not mean disqualification from all aspects of service. But genuine repentance that acknowledges office and position is no longer for them should seek to serve in ways that make that clear. If we really believe ‘he must increase and I must decrease’, for the good of Christ and his gospel, we should gladly eschew any sort of public ministry under such circumstances.