Two trustees of Moden Church have joined the debate about how Christians should respond to the current political situation in the UK, following controversial comments from a Church Times columnist.
Letters from Revd Jonathan Clatworthy and Revd Dr Jeyan Anketell were published in the 19th May issue of the weekly Anglican newspaper, in response to comments by regular contributor Canon Angela Tilby, who said that church leaders say little about political issues which is not better said elsewhere.
Jonathan Clatworthy writes:
Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby complains that church leaders say little about political issues which is not better said elsewhere (Comment, 12 May).
But Canon Tilby’s appeal to 'the art of the possible', and her depiction of church utterances as 'a manifesto on behalf of all good causes', leave open the question what we are trying to do in the first place. Politics is not just about strategy and tactics: it’s also about where we are trying to go, what kind of society we believe in.
The division between Left and Right in modern politics largely echoes the distinction between biblical ethics and the polytheistic societies surrounding ancient Israel. Big empires such as Assyria and Babylon taught that humanity existed not for its own sake, but to serve the gods. Empires were run hierarchically, and resources were dedicated to imperial bling and annual wars.
In contrast, the Hebrew scriptures describe a single God who needs nothing from us. We were created not to provide labour for God, but for our own sakes, as an act of blessing.
On one account, individual humans are created for work. The biggest contributors are the most important, and non-contributors are a waste of space. Let them die. On the other account, all have been created for their own sakes in a world designed to be good for us. What remains to be done is to celebrate God’s goodness and look after each other.
The Welfare State, though it had atheist support, would never have been set up without the biblical and Christian belief that everybody matters.
Unfortunately, over the past four decades, neo-liberal economic theory has revived ancient polytheism. The god who now enslaves us goes by the name of The Economy. Politicians and the media constantly talk about the economy as though the purpose of human beings were to serve it.
So, one of the richest countries in the world can apparently afford less and less. Wages are reduced, public services are cut, and ever-increasing numbers are starving or homeless, all in the name of the economy. We are like frogs in slowly warming water, year after year getting used to the latest deterioration, and forgetting that things could be any different.
It doesn’t have to be like this. To paraphrase Jesus: the economy was made for people, not people for the economy.
Jeyan Anketell writes:
Sir, — I have been astonished by Canon Angela Tilby’s partisan support for Theresa May’s Conservative party. First she describes Mrs May’s cynical calling of a general election as a bold choice (Comment, 21 April), going on to praise her Christian values; then she launches a vicious attack on Jeremy Corbyn (Comment, 28 April) worthy of the ultra-right-wing Daily Mail; and, last week, she finds herself wearied by the Archbishops’ plea for us to consider Christian values before voting on 8 June.
I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn would call himself a Christian, but his policies seem to chime well with Jesus’s own teaching about society. Consider the parables of the good Samaritan (Luke 10.29-37); the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16.19-31); the labourers in the vineyard (Matthew 20.1-16); the expulsion of the financiers from the Temple (Matthew 21.12-17); and, finally, the sheep and the goats/the Last Judgement (Matthew 25.31-46).
After Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation, just days after the 2016 budget, he pointed out both the economic incompetence and the hypocrisy of the Conservative Government’s budget (fully supported by Mrs May) in taking from the poor and vulnerable in order to give to the better off.
I leave you to judge whether Mr Corbyn or Mrs May is more deserving of your support.