Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: Notes from the Underground

The Third Sunday after Trinity
28 June 2020
10.30 Morning Service

Revd Nicholas Mercer

On Monday morning I started the day by listening to Pope Francis

It is rather dramatic way to begin any week but he had recently given an interview for what was called a “Rethink Podcast”

The purpose of the interview was to ask a number of eminent commentators how the pandemic might act as a turning point in our history?

What the podcast termed a “hinge moment”

How things could things change after this crisis, whether in our own lives or collectively?

Indeed, I believe this is a question we should all be asking ourselves as we edge towards the end of lockdown.

The Pope spoke with great reverence and humility

He said that this was a moment for both for “integrity” and opportunity”

He then focussed on the poor remarking that they are “hidden from view”

“They are there but we don’t see them because we don’t want to see them

 “They are people, not garbage, yet we often treat them no better than rescued animals”

This has a certain resonance with the reading this morning where we heard, once again, about the parable of the lost sheep

Although he was talking about the poor, he could equally have been talking about all those who are lost to society

And I could not help thinking of those who are tortured around the world

On Friday it was the International Day for Victims of torture

This is designated by the United Nations as the day when we need to speak out against torture and remember the victims

People like Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe now entering her fourth year of imprisonment

The previous secretary General of the UN, Kofi Anan put it this way

This is a day on which we pay our respects to those who have endured the unimaginable. This is an occasion for the world to speak up against the unspeakable.

However, for the vast majority of the world, including the United Kingdom, “we don’t see them because we don’t want to see them”

We don’t “speak up”

Indeed in our own country, they are skilfully hidden from view by our politicians and legislators

It is an astonishing to even have to discuss the issue of torture in 2020

Like the slave trade, one might imagine that it had been consigned to history but this could not be further from the truth

Despite been absolutely prohibited in 1987, it was recently estimated that torture was taking place in 141 countries around the world

It is most often poor and marginalized who are tortured but, at the other end of the scale, there are the high profile cases such as the CIA’s secret detention and rendition programmes

And as we know from the case of Abdul Hakim Belhaj, UK fingerprints are all over this crime scene

Despite spending over a £1million trying to cover up their crime, the UK were forced to admit that, not only had they taken part in his rendition, but had handed him over to Gaddafi’s chief torturer with a letter of comfort, to boot.

No one has been held to account

With ironic timing, the so called Overseas Operations Bill will shortly come to the Houses of Parliament for its second reading

The opening shots have already been fired

Field Marshal the Lord Guthrie, the former Chief of the General Staff described the Bill as the “de facto decriminalisation of torture”

Dominic Grieve said that it “skewed” the legal system to benefit the Government from “wholly deserving claims”

The former Judge Advocate General said it could bring UK Forces “into disrepute”

Yet it is set to pass into law without so much as a murmur

Quoting Fyodor Dostoevsky, the Pope invited us in his interview to “go underground”, to look beneath the surface and see “the suffering flesh of the poor”

I inadvertently wandered “into that underground” and saw inhuman and degrading treatment first hand

I have never forgotten that moment.

It is now part of my ministry to try and rescue the lost sheep from being tortured in some foreign cell

But it is not just my ministry but yours too

And so at this hinge point in our history, I invite each and every one of you to look beneath the surface and stop this abomination once and for all

This is our hinge moment – where we can act both individually and collectively

As the Pope said, this is the conversion we all have to undergo