Wednesday, 12 September 2018

ESL #3: Political

Another of the books I'm reading on my ESL is Justin Welby's Reimagining Britain. A couple of days ago the Archbishop fronted the publication of a report by the IPPR Commission on Economic Justice having served on the Commission. You can read ++Justin's remarks at the launch of the report here. ++Justin has copped quite a bit of flak for his involvement in the report, however, he isn't backing down and he explained earlier in the year why he is involved in politics in an article entitled Is Mixing Faith and Politics Worth The Risk? The Archbishop's argument is summarised in this paragraph:
We need to face our challenges today with a fresh vision that is confident, practical and outward looking. We need to be witnesses to the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed, as the churches often are (although the also often get things wrong) and also by speaking of a vision for society. I passionately believe it can be done.
Ian Paul has written an interesting blog post reflecting on the Archbishop's involvement with the IPPR Commission. I always find Ian's blog posts well considered even if I don't always agree with him. In this piece Should Christian Leaders Pronounce On Political Positions? Ian raises some important questions for those of us who are Christians in positions of leadership to reflect upon. Ian concludes his piece by commenting:
I think Christian leaders should avoid making pronouncements that align themselves with particular economic or political policies. I cannot remember anyone ever saying ‘Oh, I see that that bishop votes Labour—I think I had better find out more about this person Jesus’.
My concern is that as Christians we may end up with a pietism which limits our faith to the private and personal and abandons whole areas of public life and policy to others. As Christians I believe we have a responsibility to speak into the public square about the values and priorities of the Kingdom of God and we have a responsibility to make concrete proposals about what that means in practice. It's all too easy to sit on the sidelines criticising the proposals of others, but if we aren't prepared to put our necks on the line and take responsibility for the sort of society we want to live in then we forfeit the right to speak.

I remember very well the criticism the Church of England received when it published the Faith in the City report in 1985. At the time the usual arguments telling the C of E to keep its nose out of politics were plentiful; Normal Tebbit denounced the report as Marxist and inadvertently ensured it became the C of E's best selling report! However, the report was a considered response to the plight of the urban poor at a time of turmoil in our nation and made practical proposals for both Church and State to implement. Despite the initial hostile reception, in subsequent years many of the proposals were adopted by both the government and the C of E. The report certainly had a big impact on me as I embarked on ordained ministry. Should Archbishop Runcie, who commissioned the report, have kept out of politics and public policy, I don't believe so. I regard the Faith in the City report as a prophetic document that challenged both Church and State and helped shape debate, policy and action regarding the plight of our inner cities at the time. By the way, to those who responded to the recent IPPR report by saying the Church should put its money where its mouth is, by 2005 the C of E had invested more than £55 million supporting nearly 4,500 faith based projects in some of the poorest parts of our nation. This money was distributed through the Church Urban Fund set up in response to the Faith in the City report.

One final comment. The Taxpayers' Alliance responded to ++Justin's involvement with the IPPR commission with the following tweet:
The Archbishop seems to have forgotten Jesus' command to ‘render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s’. He should stick to his important theological work and keep out of politics!
In context Jesus is telling those questioning him to pay their taxes, which is both a political and theological statement, and one which goes against everything the TPA seem to represent.

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