Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Dr. Williams & the British economy: don't shoot the messenger

The Archbishop of Canterbury is an easy target for those of us who now find ourselves, even to our own surprise, on the right. His 'Greenham Common' past and his membership of the Jubilee Group lend more than a touch of credibility to allegations of hard-left allegiances. But, as we know, Rowan Williams is a much more complex man, and in many ways much more conflicted in his sympathies, than the caricatures of him being currently presented by the press. Those who portray him as just a 'bearded lefty' don't do him justice at all.
And it's hard to fault his recent comments on directors' pay and bankers' bonuses which clearly arise from a deep concern for the state of our society, and a fear of the social consequences of the kind of flagrant irresponsibility being shown by some of those at the top at a time of economic hardship and, for most of us, enforced austerity.
This is the legitimate concern of an archbishop and should have the backing of those from across the political and religious spectrum - at least, up to a point.
Where we might differ is over the role of the State in trying to enforce what ought to be, in a less disordered culture, a matter of simple common decency and civic responsibility.
I have to confess to being very wary of any proposals from the Church which would lead to an increase in the power of an already over-mighty State. Christian charity itself, one could argue, is primarily a voluntarist rather than a statist virtue. Moreover, we should be wary of the intervention of the Church - however expertly advised - in the detail of economic and fiscal policy. Yet the concern of the Church for the spiritual, moral and even material welfare of society is simply part of its mission.
We are always being told (regrettably, mainly by those who do their level best to undermine the reality of it) that we should re-focus our attention on the importance of ecumenism. Perhaps we could begin (doing together what we do not need to do separately) with an agreed statement on the part of the leaders of the Christian traditions in our country (perhaps even focusing on Christ, the Gospel and the Christian tradition) concerning the state of this broken society which we have all had a hand in creating.

On a related issue, it's encouraging to see reports of sanity and a degree of steadiness returning to the life of the City of London's Anglican Cathedral. The Church - even perhaps an established church - does not have the same agenda as the State, and it's good to see that fact being made more clear and, we hope, consistently.

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