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Synod: Celebrating liberty and politics

18 July 2014

Magna Carta


Foundation: the Magna Carta from Salisbury Cathedral

Foundation: the Magna Carta from Salisbury Cathedral

MOVING a Guildford diocesan-synod motion about the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, Keith Malcouronne (Guildford), described the Archbishop of Canterbury Cardinal Stephen Langton as both "gifted remarkably and used remarkably" by God.

During a time of constitutional crisis, "Langton was labouring for the liberties of England and seeking to check the royal tyranny, which was the chief danger to the Church in England at that time."

"The Magna Carta is about Christian values. It is not a grand constitutional document," Robert Key (Salisbury) said; "yet it is the best known and most influential medieval document in the world." He described it as a "grubby little peace treaty - an explosive mixture of special pleading by feudal, judicial, economic, and political interests".

The Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, said that the Magna Carta was a "theological document" that "requires the authorities to accept their responsibilities to people under God"; it was an "ecclesial document" that "promises that the Church shall be free; and it is a "humanitarian document" that "embodies principles that embed freedom and justice in the lives of the nation".

Freedom of religion, enshrined in the Magna Carta, continued in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, and was "as relevant today as it was 800 years ago". He spoke of those persecuted for their faith throughout the world, including an estimated 250 million Christians.

The Revd Dr Hannah Cleugh (Durham & Newcastle Universities) said that the anniversary posed a challenge "to think about what it means to have freedom in this land and to challenge our political leaders about freedom of movement, about the power of the State to detain people", she mentioned asylum-seekers and immigrants.

The Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Alan Smith, spoke to and moved two amendments. The first, which was welcomed by Mr Malcouronne, sought to encourage churches to engage with politics; while the second, which Mr Malcouronne resisted, called on churches to encourage voter regis-tration and participation in political processes. Mr Malcouronne said it would "not be helpful" for "the Church to become the recruiting officer for politicians".

Canon Richard Mitchell (Gloucester) wanted the Church to use the anniversary to "broaden out the discussion in the area of limits on freedom". "Some of the boundless limits of what people consider to be their rights are in question," he said.

A former Conservative MP, Peter Bruinvels (Guildford), questioned whether the amendment was "really necessary".

The Synod voted to accept the Bishop's first amendment and the debate continued on the second.

The Archdeacon of Lincoln, the Ven. Timothy Barker (Lincoln), joked about a "throwaway line" in the minutes of a Lincoln Cathedral Chapter meeting, which said that its copy of the Magna Carta was "preparing to leave for America". "This conjured up the image of the Magna Carta packing for its holidays; but it made the point that this is a living document," he said.

Philip Fletcher (Archbishops' Council), who chairs the Mission and Public Affairs Council,also supporting the amendment, said that "it is tremendously important that we use our votes and encourage others to use theirs."

A local councillor, Penny Allen (Lichfield), said: "If we are going to support the common good, we have to hold people to account and seek to influence."

Gavin Oldham (Oxford) said that, in the last European Elections, for every 100 people: "12 voted labour, 11 Conservative, six UKIP, five Liberal Democrat, two other parties, and 64 did not vote - 64. That's a really serious problem."

The Bishop's second amendment was accepted by the Synod, and debate continued on the amended motion.

The Archdeacon of Bath, the Ven. Andy Piggott (Bath & Wells), said that the anniversary was an opportunity "to invite people around the world to think very seriously about fundamental core issues to our humanity".

Janet Perrett (Ely) said that only one clause of the Magna Carta, "To no one will we refuse or delay right or justice," spoke to the ordinary person. "Almost all the other clauses speak to the Church: they speak to free men; they speak to barons. They don't speak to everybody."

Dr Philip Giddings (Oxford), said that the Magna Carta was "so foundational across the world" because of its "extraordinary and very important principles". The first of these was the rule of law: "This is obvious to us now, but it is very precious and not fully observed across the world."

The amended motion was carried.


That this Synod:

(a) recognise the 800th Anniversary, on 15 June 2015, of the sealing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede as an important opportunity to celebrate the Charter's principles - which established that the EnglishChurch and all our citizens shall live in freedom and have contri-buted to human flourishing in this country and around the world;

(b) urge dioceses, deaneries, parishes and other church bodies to affirm the significant part played by the Church through Archbishop Stephen Langton and the Bishops in the Charter's formulation and implementation and warmly commend the continued engagement of the Church in transforming community at national, regional and local level - which might include projects such as food banks, debt relief, community kitchens and other ways of caring with Christ's love for those in need or facing exploitation;

(c) urge members of congregations to exercise their civic duty by engaging positively and creatively with local and national politics;

(d) encourage churches to seek to increase the number of people voting in elections, for example by hosting hustings and supporting National Voter Registration Day (5 February); and

(e) welcome with enthusiasm the events throughout 2015 already being organised by dioceses, deaneries, parishes and local authorities to mark the Magna Carta and encourage dioceses, deaneries and parishes and other church bodies to undertake further local initiatives around the Anniversary - which might include street parties, community fairs or pageants, and the ringing of Church and Cathedral bells.

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