With his declaration that the bombing of Dresden, seventy years ago, was tragic and war is a terrible thing, even the one against the Nazis, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has led the way for his colleagues in Christ to get political, something we haven’t seen since the time of Mrs Thatcher.
This week, a group of C of E bishops have published at 52-page open letter to the government in which they set out their political ideas: They want continued membership of the EU, the end of Trident, no cut-backs in foreign aid, and the scrapping of the first past the post system at elections.
They hint at the evils of the capitalist state: ‘We need a richer justification for the state, a better account of the purposes of government, and a more serious way of talking about taxation.’
On Globalisation: ‘The problem is that no-one in politics today has a convincing story about a healthy balance between national government and global economic power.’
They ask voters to back, ‘the living wage,’ and demand a, ‘fresh moral position,’ from UK politicians in time for the May 7th General Election.
In recent weeks, the Archbishops of York and Canterbury have asked questions about the increasing divides between North and South, or richest and poorest in the UK. Pacifist and left-leaning, they stop short of actually advising people how to vote. But in the churches I have attended throughout my life, I have rarely met people who share the bishop’s views.
In November 2014 I attended a debate in Oxford, on the future of the Church of England. I was expecting something about getting a Christian message across, attracting more younger people in, perhaps a look at how the new liturgy since the 1960s had failed to do this. Instead the long, over two hours, discussion was completely diverted onto the issues of gay rights and feminism. Morals in the C of E are about money and who has it, not about sex.
The distinguished panel of theologians and pundits in the University Church, one by one stood up to talk about homophobia, as they saw it, and oppressive attitudes towards women. There was a fury about the patriarchy which they blamed for keeping women out of the church for so long, and the lack of women bishops. On and on it went, until questions and comments were welcomed from the audience in the nave.
I commented on what to me was glaringly obvious: The clergy read the Guardian while the laity read the Daily Mail. What were they going to do about that in the future? There was a silence; no one supported me, although the Dean of Christchurch smiled. But that seems to me to be to be the main problem now with the C of E; clergy and the mostly middle-aged, middle England congregation have little or nothing to say to each other, they don’t even remotely understand one another, possessing an almost entirely different world view.
Most people now go to church for the hymns, remembered from childhood, and the social life. They don’t go for the beautiful poetic service, which has been largely denied them, or the sermon which if it touches on politics eludes them and has no meaning to their lives.