Saturday, 13 April 2013

Whose church is it anyway?

A few days ago a local election leaflet dropped through my letter box. It was for a Tory candidate and would have been 'filed' in the same way as other posted spam if it hadn't been for a photograph that caught my attention. The picture showed the candidate standing in front of our church. My first reaction was to rack my brains to try and think when I had seen this person in the church. Now she might have been at the Remembrance Day service, when we get quite a few visitors we don't see the rest of the year, or at one of the major festivals when we average over 350 and I don't get to meet everyone. I can't say with certainty that this candidate hasn't been to the church during my time as Rector but she is certainly not a regular member of the congregation and not known to me. I found myself asking what right has this person to use a photograph of the church as part of her political propaganda? Looking at the rest of the leaflet and some of the boasts in it about the achievements of her party in local and national government and the pledges for the future disturbed me and I wouldn't want the church to be identified with these claims. A couple of examples of my misgivings are the way in which the leaflet frames issues of welfare reform and immigration.

As I thought about this leaflet I began to consider what place the church building had in the community, why the candidate chose to use this picture and what they hoped to communicate by using this particular image? I also began to ask myself who the building belongs to and what rights there are, for example, in terms of image control?

I haven't worked through all these questions but one thing does strike me. The candidate obviously thought it was a good thing to be identified with the church, or at least the church building, otherwise why use the picture? My concern is whether it is a good thing for the church to be identified with the policies she and her party espouses not least in the leaflet which was shoved through my front door.





- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

8 comments:

Charlie Peer said...

It's a public building. As a part of the local landscape, it doesn't "belong" to you or anybody else inasfar as anyone who wants to can take a picture with it in the background.
Probably the best thing you could do is say something in church and/or write to the local paper saying, while you have no particular for or against this particular candidate, people ought to know that she has no personal association with the church and she does not have your support over and against any other candidate.

Steve Hayes said...

After the fall of the Bolsheviks in Russia, public opinion surveys showed that people trusted the church more than any other public institution, more than the army, the universities, and politicians came near the bottom of the list. A recent survey shows that still, 20 years later, 65% or Russians trust the church more than other institutions.

So suddenly there was a mad rush of politicians looking for photo-ops that would associate them with the church in people's minds.

The leader of the Communist Party did not impress church people with his gauche attempts to light a church candle with his cigarette lighter, but must of the secularised masses wouldn't know any better either. As long as the politicians could gather some of the pixie dust that they saw falling from the church.

I wouldn't have expected the same phenomenon in Britian, where the secularism trend is going the other way, but it seems that there is still something about it that makes some politicians, at least, want some of it.

Paul Trathen said...

I would agree with Charlie's sentiments and advice. The church building has a wide variety of semiotic values and they do not belong exclusively to the community of the worshipping and stewarding faithful. Nonetheless, a letter to the local press making statements of fact about the candidate not being part of said family - and about your own political disassociation - would be in order...

changingworship said...

One of the cathedrals (possibly Durham) had something similar with the BNP (I think). May be worth googling what they did.

UKViewer said...

I suppose that an invitation to them to come to address the congregation alongside other candidates in a sort of hustings (presumably most are potential voters and constituents) when perhaps the congregation can demonstrate their feelings personally to the candidate(s)?

A public meeting rather than a service. It would be interesting to see if they had the courage to do it?

Peter Kirk said...

It is a beautiful church. My wife and I had the privilege of being married there, and also photographed outside it. Also it is the most recognizable symbol of Great Baddow. So I'm not surprised they used the picture.

My suggested response? Send something like this blog post to the local newspapers. They would probably publish as a letter, and might even run it as a story.

Heather France said...

Why not invite her along to a service? Say something like thank you for using our church in your campaign literature we would love to see you one Sunday. Her are the service times .......

Gill said...

Ooh, hustings! Now that would be fun. I think it would be good to contact the lady herself and ask her why she wanted to use the photo of the church.

The church is a local landmark to many, I expect she was just demonstrating her local-ness. With perhaps a bit of reclaiming the old "Tory party at prayer" idea.

I can see what people are getting at with the letter of disassociation, but I disagree. I doubt most people gave the leaflet much attention. If the next thing they see is a letter to the Chronicle saying "She's nothing to do with us, guv", we're hardly doing ourselves any favours.

My initial response to the leaflet was along the lines of "Oi! Tory! Gitorf my church!" but on reflection I don't think that's a very charitable or mature approach. Better to strive for honest, open, mature debate. So bring on the hustings! I'll even make some bunting...