One of the few things of which Bishops and Archbishops can be sure in this fleeting and fitful world is that if they comment on its affairs they will be criticised, and if they don’t, they will also be criticised. Thus, when the Archbishop of Canterbury intervened in the ongoing Brexit saga to protest against the idea that the Government was willing to abrogate international law, there were the usual cries for the Church to stay out of politics, intermingled with the usual “whabouttery” to the effect that how could a church where a recent investigation into child abuse had revealed real failures, comment on politics. The latter reaction, which we get in the Catholic Church too, would puzzle me if it were not so obviously the product of an inability to think. People who engage in that line of casuistry are best left to wallow in their own vomit.
The first cry, “stay out of politics” is odd in a country with an Established Church where the Archbishops and some Bishops have seats in the House of Lord. The Archbishop has responded with robustness: “Christians and people of all faiths take part in the national debate. This is democracy and freedom. I have seen the opposite. Treasure what we have.” He spoke a truth of which we stand in sore need of hearing on both sides of the Atlantic:
Politics, if it is to draw out the best of us, must be more than just the exercise of binaries, of raw majority power unleashed. It exists to seek truth, to bring diverse peoples together in healthy relationships.
If anyone is authorised to speak about morality in politics it is an Archbishop. The binary approach to politics which we have seen growing across the past decade is destructive of the body politic itself. If we cannot disagree civilly with those who have views different from our own then democracy is going to die. In this country at the last general election we had a choice between a communist and a clown, whilst the USA has one between an egotistical braggart and a man slipping into dementia, and neither of their financial affairs bears close scrutiny. Where a system offers people this sort of “choice” whilst failing to deliver on the first duty of government – public safety – then that system is on borrowed time.
We have already seen, with the growth of populist movements, where this could lead, and it is to be hoped that one of the few positives of the current debacle in the UK is that it will provide an object lesson in the consequences of entrusting government to those who make promises which they knew they cannot not keep. The Archbishop is right, if a government admits that it is willing to break international agreements in order to get its way, that needs calling out and condemning, and if it takes a Church to do it, so be it. Sometimes what Caesar needs is reminding that morality plays a part in his world too.
We have created an economic system which lacks any sense of an objective moral order – what Aquinas called natural law. We are stewards of this earth, not its owners. Our leaders are stewards, not absolute monarchs. When they, or we, put power, technology or money above the health and welfare of people, we makes them idols, and we frustrate God’s purpose for mankind. We cannot serve God and Mammon, and it is the duty of Church leaders to call our leaders to account.
*And to help those who wonder why the ABC does not talk about other things, he does, as with this about the situation in Nigeria.