Be full of grace and truth: Archbishops’ Advent plea for Election

20 November 2019

Election round-up: truth-telling, anti-Semitism, selection

PA

The Archbishop of Canterbury at the CBI annual conference on Monday

The Archbishop of Canterbury at the CBI annual conference on Monday

PEOPLE should “set aside apathy and cynicism” and leave their “echo-chambers” in the run-up to the General Election, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have said.

In a pastoral letter published on Wednesday, Archbishop Welby and Dr Sentamu also urge all political parties to reassure Jewish and Muslim communities who are feeling anxious and threatened.

And they write: “We all have a responsibility to speak accurately, to challenge falsehoods when we hear them, and to be careful to separate facts from opinion.”

The Archbishops urge people to fulfil their “democratic duty to vote” because “important decisions are being made that will affect us all.”

And they state: “It is time to set aside apathy and cynicism and to be people of hope.”

The eight-paragraph pastoral letter is considerably less prescriptive than the 126-paragraph letter released by the House of Bishops before the General Election in 2015 (News, 20 February 2015).

“Each of us is called to honour the gift of truth,” the Archbishops write. “People who hold different political views are not our enemies. Two people can look at the same facts and in good faith interpret them very differently. Issues need to be debated respectfully, and without resorting to personal abuse.”

No political party is endorsed, but certain issues are highlighted. Archbishop Welby and Dr Sentamu argue: “Let us be guided by a love for our neighbours, near and far, and seek that common good that truly benefits us all.

“That includes justice for the oppressed, protection for the persecuted, and a commitment to combat climate change and adapt to its effects. It also includes a just economic system, open and encouraging to aspiration and ambition, supportive of those who struggle.”

The letter also refers to the fears of Jewish and Muslim groups (News, 8 November, 15 November). “We call on all standing for election to reject the language of prejudice and not to stoke stigma or hatred towards people on the grounds of their religion, their culture, their origin, their identity or their belief. Several groups, especially in Jewish and Muslim communities, feel threatened and are in much anxiety.

“No individual or community in our shared society should have reason to lack confidence in their belonging or security, so parties must make it an absolute priority to offer positive reassurance and avoid anything that increases the perception of fear.”

On Tuesday, the Conservative Party candidate for Aberdeen North, Ryan Houghton, was suspended over allegedly anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and homophobic tweets that he had written seven years ago.

A Liberal Democrat candidate, Waheed Rafiq in Birmingham Hodge Hill, was suspended on Wednesday after it was discovered that he had posted anti-Semitic comments online, expressed support for Bashar al-Assad and endorsed Donald Trump

ITV/PAThe Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in debate on the ITV studio set on Tuesday night

During a televised debate on Tuesday, the Prime Minister provoked audience laughter when he agreed that truth mattered in the election.

The Conservative Party was criticised after the debate for rebranding one of their official party Twitter accounts to make it look like a fact-checking service. The Conservative campaign headquarters changed its name from CCHQPress to “factcheckUK”.

In a statement, Twitter said: “Any further attempts to mislead people by editing verified profile information — in a manner seen during the UK election debate — will result in decisive corrective action.”

The new Dean of Westminster, Dr David Hoyle, speaking at his installation on Saturday, said: “As an election gets into gear around us, we can see, more clearly than ever, that we have poisoned our own wells. Our political parties now have to be reminded that they should tell the truth. As if there was an alternative.

“Beset by disinformation, we must acknowledge we have kicked truth into the gutter. Self-determination is the name of the game; say it loud, say it strong, and let the devil take the consequence. We crown assertion, we canonise aspiration. Be grand, be ear-catching, and don’t worry whether or not it is actually true. Debate is just people shouting across a street. We are divided, atomised, and we are so angry.”

Appearing at the CBI annual conference in London on Monday, Archbishop Welby spoke about community responsibility: “Nobody can fix it [society] by themselves, but I think business is completely and absolutely indispensable. . . No business exists for itself alone, because if you do, you become part of a dysfunctional society, and if you’re part of a dysfunctional society, your business model collapses.

“A good business has a community aspect to it.”

He went on: “The profit motive is absolutely essential. It’s essential, but it’s not sufficient. If you stop there, you end up with the grossly unequal society, as we see around the world, which in the end collapse on their hollow centre.”

Asked about the state’s growing involvement in society, Archbishop Welby said: “I am instinctively cautious about the state taking over responsibilities for things. I think you can set the culture. . . It’s a hearts and minds thing. . . Rules encourage tokenism and box-ticking.”

Concurring with a questioner who stated that diversity was about more than just white women, he stated: “Globally, the average Anglican is a woman in her thirties in sub-Saharan Africa, on less than $4 a day, with more than a 50-per-cent chance of being in a zone of persecution or close conflict.”

He stated that “32 of our 41 senior leadership [in the Anglican Communion] are Global South, and what in the UK we’d call minority-ethnic, although in the world they’re majority-ethnic. . . And therefore the irony that we’re so bad at it in the Church of England is all the greater.”

He went on: “Of course our founder, Jesus Christ, was not white, middle-class, and British. By any standard of the imagination, he certainly wouldn’t have got a visa, unless we’re particularly short of carpenters.”

The Liberal Democrats this week deselected a Roman Catholic as an election candidate after concluding that “his values diverge from ours.” Robert Flello was removed as the party’s candidate for Stoke-on-Trent South, The Tablet reported. He said: “I feel utterly misled by the Lib Dem Party, who claim in their constitution to acknowledge and respect the right to freedom of conscience.”

After the 2017 General Election, Tim Farron stood down as Liberal Democrat leader, saying that it was “impossible” for him to reconcile his position with being a “faithful Christian” (News, 16 June 2017; interview, 6 September 2019).

 

The Archbishops’ letter in full:

As we approach this General Election, we also herald the season of Advent, the birth of Jesus Christ and the reminder of his return as our judge. In Christ’s birth God chooses to come and live among us, intervening in our imperfect world, and offering the hope of life reordered and restored. At his return he promises the setting right of all things. It is time to set aside apathy and cynicism and to be people of hope.

We often forget that our political leaders face huge responsibilities and challenges, and these come with personal sacrifices too. In our prayers for this election we should be thankful for those who put themselves forward for public service and ask that they will seek the common good and justice. We should take part, as important decisions are being made that will affect us all. That includes fulfilling our democratic duty to vote.

As followers of Jesus Christ each of us is called to honour the gift of truth, both to speak it and to seek it. We all have a responsibility to speak accurately, to challenge falsehoods when we hear them, and to be careful to separate facts from opinion.

Offering facts and opinions should be done with humility and in love. People who hold different political views are not our enemies. Two people can look at the same facts and in good faith interpret them very differently. Issues need to be debated respectfully, and without resorting to personal abuse.

We should engage responsibly, especially on social media. If we leave our echo-chambers and make a conscious effort to listen to people and ideas we disagree with it will help us understand where others are coming from in this election period, even though we may disagree vehemently. As Christians, in recognising God’s image in others who are not in our own image, we can start to build relationships that bridge political divides.

We will be praying for debates that seek to unite rather than divide, to bring us together and to rebuild trust in each other, in our institutions, and in our politics. As Jesus did, through his birth in poverty, his actions and words and his warning of judgement for those who seek only their own wellbeing, we must put the vulnerable and those on the edges of society first.

Taking part in a democracy is a privilege and a responsibility, so let us be guided by a love for our neighbours, near and far, and seek that common good that truly benefits us all. That includes justice for the oppressed, protection for the persecuted, and a commitment to combat climate change and adapt to its effects. It also includes a just economic system, open and encouraging to aspiration and ambition, supportive of those who struggle.

We call on all standing for election to reject the language of prejudice and not to stoke stigma or hatred towards people on the grounds of their religion, their culture, their origin, their identity or their belief. Several groups, especially in Jewish and Muslim communities, feel threatened and are in much anxiety.

No individual or community in our shared society should have reason to lack confidence in their belonging or security, so parties must make it an absolute priority to offer positive reassurance and avoid anything that increases the perception of fear.

Let us seek the wisdom and guidance of our Heavenly Father, the source of all wisdom, who inspires us as we wrestle to address the questions and challenges of our time and is both authority and judge over all human beings. May His wisdom and His vision guide our debate, campaign and vote, for those who will be elected as our representatives.

As we head into the season of Advent, as Christians, let us be filled with hope and call on him who is the ever-present guardian and final judge in our nation and in our politics.

In the name of our Risen Lord, who was and is and is to come. Amen.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

The Archbishop of York

20 November 2019

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