THE Archbishop of Canterbury has denied that last Saturday’s pastoral letter on the General Election, written with the Archbishop of York, included a coded endorsement of the Conservatives.
Speaking to reporters during his visit to the Holy Land, Archbishop Welby said that references to “stability” in the letter should not be read as support for Theresa May, who has repeatedly used the slogan “strong and stable leadership” during the campaign.
“Was the letter a shift to the Right? Absolutely not,” he said on Tuesday. “Just because in a political campaign various words get bandied around, I don’t think Christians should give up and say we don’t have the copyright of the word any longer. We do, and ‘stability’ is ours, thank you.”
Archbishop Welby was responding to criticism in an open letter, signed by hundreds of clergy, lay ministers, and other churchpeople which accused the Archbishops of naïvety in their letter.
“For your pastoral letter to focus so positively on such a politically freighted word seems to us, at best, as a case of desperate political naïvety, and at worst, an implicit endorsement of one party in this election,” the open letter said.
The pastoral letter, which was released on Saturday and addressed to the parishes and chaplaincies of the Church of England, attempted to wrest back the idea of stability 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.PAFree parking: Labour announced this week that, if elected, it would abolish charges in hospital car parks
Archbishop Welby said later that it was a mistake to try to place the pastoral letter on the political axis. “Christian faith doesn’t fit on to a left-right spectrum. You can pick bits out and say ‘Oh, that’s very rightwing’, you can go to the next bit and say ‘Oh, they’re a bunch of trendy lefties’, and you keep going to and fro. We’re not on the same axis.”
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 steered clear of endorsing any particular policies. The bulk of the letter was concerned with how Christian values of love, hope, cohesion, and courage, might apply to contemporary politics.
The faith of candidates must not be used against them in what promises to be “a frantic and sometimes fraught election campaign”, the letter said, in what was 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).
“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,” the Archbishops wrote. “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.”
Stability, as well as “courage and cohesion”, would also be required when it came to responding to the migration crisis, the Archbishops wrote. “Offering a generous and hospitable welcome to refugees and migrants is a vital expression of our common humanity.”
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 wrote. 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.