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Welby: why I engage in politics

15 November 2013


Political engagement: the Archbishop Canterbury speaks at the Lord Mayor's Banquet at the Guildhall, on Monday

Political engagement: the Archbishop Canterbury speaks at the Lord Mayor's Banquet at the Guildhall, on Monday

FRESH from speaking out on energy prices, Wonga, and demand for foodbanks, the Archbishop of Canterbury was unrepentant this week about engaging in politics, arguing that "when justice is not at our heart, our worship makes Him sick."

Addressing the Church Urban Fund's Tackling Poverty Together Conference at Stratford Old Town Hall, on Wednesday, Archbishop Welby said that his interventions had prompted some people to tell him to "stick to God". "I do," he replied, to laughter. "The common good of the community and justice are absolutely central to what it means to be a Christian".

He drew a clear distinction between politics - "the art and science of securing the common good of the community through government" - and party politics - "civil war civilised". Although many Christians made a "valuable contribution" in the latter, he suggested that "politics in general is something from which none of us should seek our dispensation."

"We are not allowed the luxury . . . of saying 'something must be done,'" he said. "The Church Urban Fund is among those leaders who add 'and we will do something.'"

Asked about how the Church could use its "prophetic voice" without drifting into party politics, he said: "The Church's prophetic voice comes from being immersed in local communities in a way that nobody else is." He gave the example of the so-called bedroom tax, where churches could be "saying, 'from our local communities, we know that this is happening,' and challenging with the reality of life on the ground".

He confessed that commenting on welfare reform was something "I really struggle with. . . If you say anything, the headline the next day is 'Archbishop slams Government'.

. . . I am quite clear as I meet people in Government . . . you do not find that they have two horns and a tail; they are people struggling with really difficult issues. . ."

The conference was also addressed by Lord Glasman, the founder of the "Blue Labour" movement. He argued that both the Market and the State had failed, and that the faith groups were key to building a new society based on "agency, relationship, solidarity and vocation". They should join with Trade Unions, "an obvious ally".

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