Don't exploit the faith of your opponents, Archbishops plead in Election letter

09 May 2017

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Election call: the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, who have just released a joint pastoral letter on the snap general election

Election call: the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, who have just released a joint pastoral letter on the snap general election

THE faith of candidates must not be used against them in what promises to be “a frantic and sometimes fraught election campaign”, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have said.

In what will be seen as a reference to the repeated grilling of Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, about his views on homosexuality (News, 28 April), the Archbishops defend the open expression of religious beliefs.

In a pastoral letter to the parishes and chaplaincies of the Church of England, released today to be read in churches on Sunday, they write: “If we aspire to a politics of maturity and generosity, then the religious faith of any election candidate should not be treated by opponents as a vulnerability to be exploited. We look forward to a media and political climate where all candidates can feel confident that they can be open about the impact of their faith on their vocation to public service.”

Unlike the pastoral letter from the House of Bishops in 2015, which drew criticism from several Conservative voices because of perceived anti-Tory sentiment (News, 20 February 2015), the Archbishops largely steer clear of endorsing any particular policies. The bulk of the letter is concerned with how overarching Christian values of love, hope, cohesion, and courage, might apply to contemporary politics.

In one passage they attempt to wrest back the idea of stability — a key word in Theresa May’s early pitch to the nation — by recalling it as a Benedictine virtue. “Stable communities will be skilled in reconciliation, resilient in setbacks and diligent in sustainability, particularly in relation to the environment,” the letter suggests.

Stability, as well as “courage and cohesion”, will also be required when it comes to responding to the migration crisis, the Archbishops write. “Offering a generous and hospitable welcome to refugees and migrants is a vital expression of our common humanity.”

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They go on, however: “but it is not without cost, and we should not be deaf to the legitimate concerns that have been expressed. The burden of integrating newcomers to the UK must be shared more equally, they believe.

Christians must not fall prey to the mood of cynicism and disillusionment so common around elections, the Archbishops write. Instead, believers should engage with the debate, volunteer to help candidates, put on hustings, and at the very least vote on polling day, 8 June.

The pastoral letter also contains passing mentions of “Education for all” (including improved technical education), the housing crisis, marriage and the family, trafficking, and upholding the commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on international aid. There is also a warning against an economy which is “over-reliant on debt”, and a plea for “just finance” as part of a just economy.

Brexit is not mentioned, although the Archbishops write: “We must affirm our capacity to be an outward-looking and generous country, with distinctive contributions to peacebuilding, development, the environment, and welcoming the stranger in need.”

The letter finishes by focusing on faith in public life, declaring that the new Parliament “must treat as an essential task the improvement of religious literacy”, and not forget that the Christian faith — as well as the values upheld by all religions — is the “wellspring” of a flourishing society.

“If treated as partners in the project of serving the country, the Churches — and other faiths — have much to contribute to a deep understanding and outworking of the common good.” Solutions to religiously inspired terrorism will not be found in further secularisation, they warn.

“We keep in our prayers all those who are standing in this election, and are deeply grateful for their commitment to public service,” the letter concludes.

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