Labour and Tory parties’ internal divisions are stifling any ‘viable vision for the common good’ says General Synod

23 February 2019

GEOFF CRAWFORD/CHURCH TIMES

The Archbishop of Canterbury speaks on Saturday afternoon

The Archbishop of Canterbury speaks on Saturday afternoon

THE strongest, not the poorest, in society should bear the weight of the risks of Brexit, the Archbishop of Canterbury told the General Synod on Saturday.

Moving his motion on the state of the nation, he said: “We must be ready for any difficulties and uncertainties, and not allow any destructive forces to create further divisions in society. It is true that no predictions on the economy are certain.

“That is not Project Fear; it is saying that where there are risks, it is the strongest, not the weakest, who must bear the weight of that risk. That is not currently the way we are going.”

The motion, which states that “social divisions feel more entrenched and intractable than for many years”, and that divisions in political parties are “stifling the emergence of a hopeful and viable vision for the common good in our communities”, was presented by Archbishop Welby and the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu (News, 25 January).

It was carried nem. con. with 240 votes in favour.

Archbishop Welby began his speech by emphasising the strengths of the UK, including its stability, global influence, generosity in overseas aid, soft power, and robust and effective democracy. Also, “many of us are among the most privileged people alive in the world today.

“But not all,” he continued. “Today we see signs of division, perhaps more clearly than for generations in peacetime. There is exclusion from a sense of common purpose and of equal rights in our society, politically, economically, and socially.”

“Brexit has . . . revealed how our politics and society have not paid sufficient attention to the common good: that shared life of society in which everyone is able to flourish. That pain and exclusion continues in this country.”

A national failure to pay attention to this, he said, would lead to “greater division and ultimately strife”.

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He called for solidarity with the poor, and the common good. “We hear the prophets tell us that justice must roll down like rivers: the Bible does not do trickle-down economics.”

The challenge, he said, was to “unify as a country, to have a healthy and functioning democracy, and to have a strong, ethically and morally based economy that works for all”.

“The challenges to the nation must define our mission and what our nation thinks of us,” he argued.

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, spoke of the need to learn humility as a nation. Before it was too late, the Synod must realise that it had been having one debate over the four days about living in love and faith, about living in disagreement, and showing concern for the marginalised, rather than having separate debates on social issues and legislation.

Canon Andy Salmon (Salford) and Canon Zahida Mallard (Leeds) both spoke of the impact of budget cuts on local councils. They both argued that local government needed the Church’s support, as well as national government, at a critical time.

Canon James Walters (Universities and TEIs) said that the Church must be aware of the use of Christianity as a cover by extremists in Europe, such as Viktor Orbán in Hungary, or Matteo Salvini in Italy (Comment, 5 October 2018).

Theirs, he said, was an ideology that was racist and nationalist, cloaked in empty Christianity. “We are unprepared for the likelihood that this will get worse.”

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, said that Synod members should be aware that, if they carried this motion, they might attract opprobrium, as Archbishop Welby had after his speech to the TUC (News, 12 September 2018). “We will be seen as those who take a stand, and I hope that we will do so wholeheartedly today.”

The Church was always political, especially looking after the marginalised, and the Church’s approach to the common good was to offer a direction, which some people might disagree with.

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, concluded the session by leading Synod members in his Brexit prayer (News, 18 January).

The full motion reads:

That this Synod, knowing through the experiences of parishes across the country that social divisions feel more entrenched and intractable than for many years, and concerned at the divisions within the major political parties which are stifling the emergence of a hopeful and viable vision for the common good in our communities:

  • call upon every diocese and parish regularly to hold in prayer their local MPs and politicians and the members of Her Majesty’s Government and civil servants, seeking God’s strength and wisdom for the responsibilities they bear;
  • reaffirm the Christian commitment to putting the voices of the poor and marginalised at the heart of the nation’s concerns; and
  • call upon the nation’s leaders, drawing on Christian hope and reconciliation, to work together for that common good at this time of division.

Day of prayer. A senior Church of England source said that there was an expectation that the presidents of Churches Together would be leading a five-day period of prayer in the run-up to Brexit on 29 March to bring the country together.

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