In his latest column for Exepose Features, Theo Stone takes a look at the church’s role within politics, especially in light of the recent document urging political engagement.
On the 17 February 2015, the Church of England released a 52-page open letter to urge a renegotiation of what they describe as being a “fresh moral vision of the kind of country we want to be.” Within the document, leading English Bishops are calling for the church to join the political debate within an “increasingly consumerist society”, whilst also urging for welfare reform and similar forms of legislation
The leading Bishops who authored this paper proclaim that they want to encourage voters to participate in democracy and vote. It insists that members of the church should not isolate themselves and should instead ensure that they have an active role within society.
The Church is also calling for the reversal of modern wealth accumulation, that being the growing wealth of the smallest number, which ties into wealth distribution, a greater involvement from those affected by changes in laws and regulations, the recognition of varying communities, a pursuit of the common good, and a more mature form of debate concerning Britain on the international stage, instead of petty squabbling.
In many ways, these policies are in line with the manifestos purported by the more left-wing parties within the UK, something that the Conservative Party has been quick to note, with several of their MPs lashing out at the letter. However, the Church has denied any political bias.
In a subtly ironic twist, the typical Church of England attendee is more likely to be a Conservative voter, with the Labour voter being far more likely to be an atheist than a Conservative voter would be. Indeed, one could see this as an attempt by the Church to reach out to the more liberal members of the Church, due to the fact that they may be perceived to be modernizing too slowly, and are in themselves far too conservative to allow for progress.
Indeed, it is clear that this letter is designed to re-energize the political spectrum of its arm of the faith. Despite their recent appointment of the first female bishop in the Church’s history (something that was 481 years overdue), they have also been resistant to the so-called “Three-People Babies”, despite the great benefits that would come from this. In recent memory they have proven themselves to be greatly problematic when it comes to homosexual equality, with the first same-sex marriages only taking place in June 2014.
In light of these problems, it does not come as a surprise that the Church would like to reconnect with what it perceives as its populace. They want to prove that they are still socially relevant, and are able to provide a supportive moral pinnacle for those who follow their religion. They feel that they should ensure that their policies should reflect a modern variant of what they believe their holy texts to dictate. Despite their proclamations of a non-biased perspective within politics, it is the Left and those who distrust Conservative traditionalism who are less connected to the Church than the latterly aforementioned, and therefore, the Church must reiterate their social similarities.
Does this mean that the Church should thus continue its affairs in the political system?
The Church acts as a form of moral support, and it appears to aim towards this when it comes to political insight. However, its obsession with tradition and its reluctance to accept equality means that it has forced itself into a highly problematic position. Now, whilst it may prove useful for the UK’s largest religion to weigh in on a matter, it can do this through the faith of the politicians who choose to adhere to it, instead of a direct consultation. The politicians already in power can make the counter-arguments on the behalf of a religion. The problem that exists with religious interference was, to Thomas Jefferson, that if it was accepted, the government will spend too long trying to preserve their understanding of an everlasting soul, and too little on trying to preserve the politics of the state.
Whilst it does provide a certain moral structure, it is also notable in its aforementioned failings, as mentioned previously. Furthermore, the idea that religion will never lose ground is a dead, or at least dying, concept. According to the 2011 Census, whilst 59.5 per cent of the population still identify themselves as Christian, 25.7 per cent of the population identifies themselves as not being affiliated with any particular religion. In 2001, 71.7 per cent of Britain’s identified themselves as Christian, whilst only 14.6 per cent only identified themselves as not belonging to a religion. Christendom is shrinking within the United Kingdom.
The religious constructs that we look towards for guidance are all well and good as recommendations, but it’s clear that their difficulty to adapt to current cultural and political climates, and their anti-progress based conclusions regarding scientific movements are damaging to the political climate, and their input has been largely ignored. Furthermore, their actions within the political spectrum are based almost entirely upon the traditionalist notion that religion can interfere with state decisions. Indeed, large swathes of British political history are marked by decisions by and relating to Christian institutions and their reactions to their opponents of the time.
The Church has made a recommendation, and that is acceptable. However, if it was to move from this to a position of political push-comes-to-shove, then we should resist it. The contents of the letter are, for the most part, extremely agreeable. It is a cry for social democracy, and though I do not attach myself to the Church of England, or indeed any Church, I would be happy to fight alongside them. However, at the same time, we should not see it as a direct demand, or a governing assessment. We must not overreact, and as such we must take it for what it is. It is a suggestion.
And it’s quite a refreshing one at that.
Theo Stone, Online Features Columnistbookmark me