Anglicans have some very problematic politics

Tuesday, 11th February 2014 at 6:00 UTC Leave a comment

It’s probably a surprise to no one that members of the Church of England, as a generalised group, tend towards some pretty problematic politics. Whilst official views on LGBT people and Women as potential church leaders are well documented, perhaps our positions on economics is much less well known (update: the Guardian just helpfully published this on Anglican views on benefits).

First of all, it needs to be noted that the Church of England is a very broad church. This is probably not a surprise given just how big we are compared to everyone else. We’re very much the default church, and the one people are least likely to leave if they have major issues – often (not always) people will find a different Anglican church to attend. The church which is headed towards women bishops at the same time as a small but notable minority of parish churches maintain a ban on women taking the role of vicar or celebrating communion. Some call it broad, some call it contradictory, and despite my views on the matter, I think its a pretty good example of unity transcending policy.

Recently, a report (summary of findings) was released showing that amongst Church-goers, being Anglican is the most likely to lead to voting Conservative, and that, unusually, actually being a Church regular is more likely to tip you in to the political Blue zone rather than out of it. They even did some stuff to figure out whether this was all just a case of Anglicans being richer than others (we do, still, jump the job queue through very subtle institutionalised privileges, it must be noted).

It was also interesting just how little difference the survey showed between religious and non-religious voters’ political views. Despite being more likely to be engaged in society, Christians in general, and Anglicans worst of all, seem to be developing their politics on anything other than the bible. The salt, to follow a biblical allegory, has pretty much lost its salt entirely, and its flavour is unnoticeable amongst the prevailing narratives around us. This is all deeply depressing.

In an attempt to pick at the pieces in this rather messy situation, the God and Politics blog has been asking supporters of different political parties from within the church to explain themselves (and as I write this, the most recent is a UKIP voter). First off, I suspect this bunch of articles to be statistically unrepresentative, as well as biased in terms of who was selected to bat for each party. Still, they’re unlikely to be unique viewpoints.

The writer from the Conservative Party persuasion highlights two things, one explicitly and one implicitly – explicitly he points out that Christians who vote Tory often feel guilty about talking about this. This is probably a bad thing, because it creates the climate in which bad theology is likely to fester. The other, which seems implicit, is that the bible doesn’t get a look in. I want to take just one sentence, or series of statements, which seem rather telling of the attitude being described:

Your station in life is not apportioned, your wealth not kept in the hands of tyrants, or given to you through obedience to power, but gained freely by doing or making something that other people want.

Parental wealth is still the most significant determinant of life-time outcomes, not just globally (where geographical boundaries account for lack of opportunities) but within single cities. Our wealth (if we have any) is truly built on obedience to powers. Those powers may not take human form in the same way – the invisible hand of the stock market allows those who destabilise ‘weaker’ businesses to hide in the shadows. Our work provides profits for those who maintain the upper hand in the wage-relationship – perhaps not tyrants, but certainly no less likely.

The final sentence seems very much to be wishful thinking. In the last 20 years, marketing and security have outgrown manufacturing. Put bluntly, the biggest profits are to be found in either convincing people they want something they don’t, or making it harder to gain access to things they need. That’s before we dissect the growth in global trade, which reveals vast money-flows with no social use except tax avoidance and bypassing regulation. In fact, the very word ‘want’ is dubious. Where is the mindfulness of the division between wants and needs? As the somewhat tacky soundbite goes “God provides for our needs not our greed”.

This is not the politics derived from a Christian discipleship that puts money in its correct place, but rather a top-to-bottom failure to analyse the world around us and shine a light of truth upon it.

The Labour voter who’s piece appeared a week later did little better (see here). Perhaps I was being optimistic that this would be a strong departure from the Conservatives. First of all, It would have been nice to have an ex-Tory voter who switched, just as the Conservative voter went the other way. Whilst I would agree with the author that Labour contains many great people, a few of whom have deeply held Christian belief, this account lacks stated political values before we even get to theological arguments. At least the alternative account given here does better.

Two biblical quotations come to mind to describe my frustration with this level of debate. From Romans 12:

2 Do not be conformed to this world,[a] but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

And from Revelations 3:

15 ‘I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot.16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.” You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

Now, if we started out from those two passages, and many like them, where would our politics end up?

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Entry filed under: Bible, Faith, Party Politics, Politics, Theology.

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