Thursday, 19 June 2014

PC or not PC isn't the question.

Over the last few weeks the blogger Cranmer has been having a dig at the Church of England and has developed a particular narrative. During the European elections he attacked the House of Bishops for being too pro Europe in a piece entitled The Church must now reconsider its Europhile bent. I won't get into that particular debate as the bishops are more than capable of defending themselves as bishops Pete Broadbent and Nick Baines ably demonstrate.

Today Cranmer published a post entitled Why does the church preach a PC gospel of middle-class respectability? The simple answer is it doesn't. Cranmer's blog post is prompted by a report into the educational challenges facing white working class children and the Church of England's response. I don't know where Cranmer lives or in which church he worships but he is clearly detached from the reality on the ground in white working class parishes up and down the land. Why am I qualified to speak about this? I was born in white working class Kentish Town in 1960 where my father worked as a London City Missioner. I grew up on the streets of white working class Belfast in the mid 1960s. I've lived in Brixton, Hull and Durham. My title post as a priest was in a white working class parish in Thurrock. My second parish was a church plant on a white working class urban overspill housing estate. My third post was on the white working class Becontree Estate in Barking and Dagenham in the 1990s. I am still good friends with parishioners in these places. I have many close friends and colleagues serving as priests in white working class parishes today. They are often the only professionals working and living in these parishes, serving sacrificially and faithfully proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. What Cranmer describes is a reality I simply do not recognise. The Church of England does not preach the gospel he claims.

What I do recognise is that there are particular challenges regarding the educational under-achievement of children living in some of the most deprived parts of our country and the church takes these very seriously. Cranmer has the grace to acknowledge this in his article. I am glad Cranmer recognises this commitment because through its church schools the Church of England is working hard and dedicating resources in some of the most challenging parts of our communities.

So what is Cranmer's real problem with the Church of England. I think he gives the game away in this revealing line:
While His Grace welcomes this development, he can think of one or two bishops who might find this sort of language a bit Ukippy, not to say BNP-ish or 'racist'. Funny - isn't it - how the Church permits matters of social justice to be determined and developed by ethnic identity, but those policy issues of considerable concern to the working class - such as immigration, housing and employment - may not.
For Cranmer the issue is all about ethnic identity and so he completely misses the point. The Church of England is concerned about the education of white working class children, not because they are white and working class, but because they are children precious in God's sight and deserving of the same life chances as anyone else. The tragedy is that many of these children have struggled generation after generation long before immigration was an issue. I hope and trust that if the report Cranmer refers to had highlighted that children of another ethnicity had been shown to be those struggling most educationally, then we would be committed to addressing those particular needs. The truth is that there are children in other communities, for example some Afro-Caribbean communities, who are also really struggling and the church is just as committed to meeting those needs through its church schools.

It is also wrong of Cranmer to claim the Church of England is not concerned about immigration, housing or employment. If you want to know how concerned the C of E is about housing and unemployment read Faith in the City published in 1985, look at all the work done arising out of that ground breaking report since and the real difference it has made to people's lives, including those from white working class backgrounds. Also check out who was most opposed to that report and you may be surprised to discover it was Cranmer's political party. So much for being concerned about white working class people.

Finally, we come to immigration. The Church of England is concerned about immigration as am I. I am particularly concerned about the way we seek to scapegoat and blame the other for the ills of our society; pandering to prejudice; stirring up hatred; fostering resentment and pretending that if only we could keep x, y and z out then all our troubles would be over. What Cranmer is concerned about is not that the Church of England isn't concerned about immigration but that it isn't concerned in the way that he wants it to be. Well, here's an example of how we have got into a mess as a society over immigration.

The Diocese of Chelmsford is linked with several Anglican dioceses in Kenya. We take groups of curates there regularly and greatly value our partnership. We are amazed at the welcome, hospitality and generosity of our brothers and sisters in Kenya, giving so much often from so little. This year we are holding a year of mission and outreach in our diocese and as part of that we invited a group of Kenyan Christians, including some ordinands, to come and share with us in mission during June and July. All of the ordinands invited have had their visas turned down and only two women invited have been granted visas. These people are not a risk to our country, they are not going to seek residence here because they are called to ministry in their own country. We wanted them to join us as our guests. Yet, despite all the assurances given and appeals for common sense to prevail, visas have still been refused. And so the Church of England in our diocese will be impoverished because of the pernicious application of rules which suggest we are a country that trades hostility for hospitality, rejection for welcome and suspicion for generosity out of fear. Of course the Church of England is concerned about immigration!

The Church of England is concerned about issues that affect all the people who live in our parishes and we address those issues day in and day out. That is not about being PC, it is about proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to all people, whatever their ethnicity.


Doug Chaplin said...

Thanks Phil. Wish you wrote these pieces more regularly again.

Philip Ritchie said...

Thanks for the encouragement Doug.