Welby identifies Government policies to celebrate

27 February 2015

JOINT PUBLIC ISSUES TEAM

Impressed: Archbishop Welby challenged cynicism about politics in his address in Coventry

Impressed: Archbishop Welby challenged cynicism about politics in his address in Coventry

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has urged Christians to become politically active. Preaching the gospel and involvement in politics were two sides of the same coin, he said.

In a speech to a meeting of about 400 Methodists, Baptists, and URC members in Coventry last weekend, Archbishop Welby defended the letter from the House of Bishops about the forthcoming General Election (News, 20 February).

And he warned Christians not to get drawn into "miserablism" - the state of being happy only when things were really bad.

The Bishops' letter had been criticised by Conservatives, and the Archbishop took care to praise several government initiatives - such as the fall in unemployment, the economic recovery, the Modern Slavery Bill, and work to end sexual violence in conflict.

"I am not saying this to get myself out of trouble," he said, "but because I do believe in being fair - and that, if we are going to talk about justice and involvement in politics, we can't go in saying, simply because someone wears a certain badge on their lapel, that they are therefore bad. That is not what Jesus did. So let us celebrate what we should celebrate."

But, in his speech at the "Love Your Neighbour: Think, Pray, Vote" conference, organised jointly by the three Churches, the Archbishop acknowledged that "there have been appalling social problems,"and said that involvement in politics was a way of "loving your neighbour".

"If you love Jesus Christ, you will care about drains," he said, making a broad allusion to a remark attributed to the 19th-century Anglo-Catholic slum priest Robert Dolling about his motivation.

"The business of proclaiming the Good News of the saving love of Jesus Christ . . . and the business of seeking to transform society go absolutely together. They are indistinguishable. . . two sides of the same coin. You do one: you do the other."

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Archbishop Welby encouraged Christians to use their vote, and "more people to support our politicians".

"The more I meet politicians, the more I am impressed, and the less cynical I become. I wouldn't have said that two or three years ago, but in this job you meet a lot of politicians and, on the whole, in one-to-one conversations, they are very straightforward and honest. They are hugely impressive."

The speech was welcomed by the Conservative MP for South West Devon, Gary Streeter, who chairs the cross-party Christians in Politics group. "I agree that preaching the gospel and engagement in the public square are two sides of the same coin," he said afterwards.

"It is increasingly recognised by Christians that the best way to change our society and make it better is not to bellyache from the sidelines, but to get on the pitch and take part, even though that is much trickier to do.

"I think the Archbishop phrased this well, and he has my full support. He must not allow his fresh approach to be captured and diluted by the men of lesser vision who doubtless populate the higher echelons of the Anglican Church."

Rachel Lampard, who led the joint-public-issues team that organised the conference, said: "To tell Christians that they should not be involved in the political life of this nation is to tell them to stop being followers of Jesus Christ, who has told us to love God and to love our neighbours."

The Regional Minister of the North Western Baptist Association, the Revd Phil Jump, said: "Our hope and vision is that every member of our churches will enter the polling booth on Election Day, conscious that, above everything else, they are called to be followers of Jesus."

The joint-public-issues team has produced an election pack, together with the Church of Scotland. It explores four themes of truth, justice, peace, and well-being, through short films, postcards, prayers, and Bible studies. It has been designed to be used by churches and small groups in the four weeks before the General Election.

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The election pack can be downloaded at http://bit.ly/lyntpv

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