Thursday, 9 June 2011


I'm not going to comment directly on the Archbishop of Canterbury's comments on the effects of the policies of the governing coalition, only to say that it is in the nature of coalition politics that no one does get exactly what they voted for.
Obviously the Archbishop has a right, and clearly believes he has a duty, to make his views known and to attempt to subject the current direction of government policy to the scrutiny of the insights and values of the Gospels and the Christian tradition.
But therein lies the problem; how, in fact, do we distinguish between the vital insights of the faith and the easy assumptions of our upbringing and our social and 'professional' background?  We each have our political views and preferences, and they are largely bolstered by the friends and colleagues we gather around us, our reading material, the media comment to which we naturally gravitate, not to mention the everyday human interactions of the social milieux in which we operate. In these circumstances it's not always easy to bring "the clear light of the Gospel" to bear upon the issues which face both us and the society in which we live.
Ironically as fewer and fewer seem interested enough to become involved in it, our political life seems increasingly tribal, and nowhere is that more true than in the leanings of the senior clergy (I can only speak about Anglicans here,) which are, by and large on the liberal, left spectrum, in keeping with the general assumptions of the 'great and the good,' the universities and the broadcast media. The New Statesman, to take a topical example, would be a much more congenial read for most senior clerics than, say, the Spectator. I can remember the general outrage in establishment circles when, in the 1980s, Graham Leonard, then Bishop of London, dared to challenge some of these assumptions, particularly on the subject of nuclear deterrence; he found himself, by no means fairly, branded as an apologist for the then Tory Government.
I, too, was brought up in the South Wales valleys. One of the nearby mining villages was referred to either as the 'Kremlin' or 'Little Moscow,' because it consistently returned Communist councillors to the local authority. One way or another - we either accept them or react fiercely against them -  one cannot help but be influenced by the visceral loyalties of the society in which one grows up; that's probably shining through every word I've written now. should be possible for us not to be entirely determined by our backgound or our present circumstances. The Gospel's concern for truth and justice should cut through the influences and inherited prejudices of our background or of our particular 'tribe's' reading of history. The Church herself, whilst concerning herself and involving herself on the ground with every aspect of the welfare of society, should try at all costs to stand above and beyond the narrow party political fight, so as to be able to be heard more clearly and more respectfully when it does become necessary to speak out. As Cardinal Hume demonstrated, less is more when it comes to 'political' pronouncements on the part of spiritual leaders.
It does help, of course, if the Church is able to draw on a wider experience than that afforded by the urbane, liberal assumptions of the "North- Atlantic" intelligensia. Perhaps being more tied to its immediate surroundings and culture, a national church cannot help but be more influenced by the tribalism of its society's politics, and its ability to communicate universal truths that much more restricted.

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