Should Christian leaders pronounce on political positions?

Last week, Archbishop Justin Welby published an article in the Daily Mail in which he argued that wealthier families should pay more tax in order to reduce the widening levels of inequality in contemporary Britain. His comments accompanied the report of a ‘think tank’ group he has been part of, the ‘left leaning’ Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), which proposed a wide range of changes to policy, including a renewal of the manufacturing sector in the UK. Welby introduces his comments with reference to stagnation of income and growing inequality:

For more than a decade, most people have seen no improvement in their pay, even while the economy as a whole has continued to grow. As the Bank of England has shown, for nearly 40 years the share of our national income going into people’s pay has been falling while the share going to profits has been on the rise. Chronically low pay means that a hard day’s work no longer keeps people out of poverty: today, a majority of the poor are working families…

In London, we have the wealthiest region in northern Europe; yet six of the ten poorest regions are also here in the UK. I do not believe we can continue with an economy that works so badly for so many.

But he also makes clear the motivation for his involvement in the group:

As a Christian I start with learning from Jesus Christ that people matter equally, are equally loved by God, and that justice in society matters deeply – a theme that runs throughout the Bible. That’s why over the past two years I’ve been a member of the IPPR Commission on Economic Justice.

Welby’s comments immediately attracted criticism, and from the usual suspects. Jules Gomes published one of his notable rants, accusing the Archbishop of ignorance about economics as well as abandoning Christian understandings of morality:

Welby’s ideology is also morally corrosive. It undermines personal responsibility by transferring authority for crucial life-decisions from individuals to the State. The state supplies our basic needs and leaves us only to decide how we should spend our pocket money.

If you can get past the (at times toxic) rhetoric, Gomes raises some important issue. What does ‘equality’ mean—is it equality of opportunity or equality of outcome? From an economic point of view, how do you measure poverty—is it about poverty of income, poverty of assets, or poverty of consumption? What is the relationships between privilege and personal responsibility when it comes to income inequality? There are plenty of things to critique in these comments, such as his easy dismissal of high taxation economies when the ‘Nordic model’ is actually looking quite successful by many measures, but his rant illustrates the complex issues at stake.

Peter Hitchens’ equally polemic criticism also includes some serious questions about drawing a straight line from the value of Christian compassion to the conclusion of raising taxes:

Christians can be socialists or conservatives, or liberals in politics. Or they can be none of these things. It is their personal actions, not their views, that matter. It is absolutely not the task of the religious leader of England to take sides on political and economic quarrels of which he plainly knows little and understands less.

But does he understand the Gospels any better? In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ at no point says ‘Blessed are the Tax Collectors’. When he tells us to help the hungry, the sick and the homeless, he does not tell us to hand on the job to the State. He tells us to do it ourselves, not through the cold, impersonal agencies of PAYE and the Universal Credit system.

Hitchens also questions the way Government currently works in the light of the massive inefficiencies evident in both health and welfare systems:

Governments are often very bad at spending money. I pay quite a bit of tax, and wouldn’t mind at all if it went (for example) on an NHS that was well-run, schools that I thought were good, or on a criminal justice system that I thought was effective. But I get none of these things.

And it’s not because the State has too little money that this rich country now has so many food banks. It is because the state is so incompetent at helping those in real trouble.

Come and join us for the second Festival of Theology on Wednesday October 17th!

In light of all these questions, it was really fascinating to be involved in a debate on Radio 4’s Sunday programme last Sunday morning with Andy Walton, a friend of mine who is a member of the Centre for Theology and Community (item starts at 12m 36s in). I’m not sure I was on my best form (in part as I had a cold) but some fascinating issues came out of the discussion. You will hear me hesitate in response to the first question to me from the presenter, and there is good reason for that. I was asked ‘Was Justin Welby right to propose raising taxes?’ and that question can be understanding as asking one of two questions. The first one (which I think Andy answered very ably) is ‘Is there a Christian case for higher taxes?’ But the other question is: ‘Should Christian leaders be making specific economic and political statements?’ which is the one I attempted to address.

When they do, I think three key problems arise:

1. Economic positions are complex and technical and the answers are easy to get wrong.

There is an old joke which goes: if you laid all the economists in the world end to end…you still wouldn’t reach a conclusion. Economics likes to present itself as a science, but it is much less rigorous than that, since the ‘laboratory’ that you are working with is the real world, and the only experiments you can conduct are the ones of the past. So it is much more like history than physics—and yet it is primarily used to predict the future. When I studied microeconomics and macroeconomics as part of my MSc, I learnt that in the phrase ‘economic theory’, the most important word is ‘theory’. If you are unsure about how unreliable economic predictions are, just think back a year or so to the forecasts of doom around the referendum on the EU.

If economists and politicians can get these things wrong so often, what hope does a Christian leader, who cannot devote the time and expertise to this, have, and what are the consequences of buying into a theory which proves to be mistaken?

2. Christian leaders represent and care for people of all political persuasions.

If a Christian leader proclaims that a (more or less) socialist political agenda is the one they support, and they connect that explicitly with the teaching of Jesus, what impact does that have on Christians who vote Conservative? Conversely, if a Christian leader advocates Conservatism, what impact does that have on Christian socialists? It is not a little ironic that, through much of the 20th century, the latter was the issue (with the C of E being seen as ‘the Conservative party at prayer’) but in recent years it is the former. To my knowledge, only one of the 120 or so bishops in the C of E says he would have voted to leave the EU, which puts the leadership of the Church out of step with about half the population.

But there is more than a practical question underlying this. C S Lewis once said that people find his views on politics as a Christian very puzzling, since on issues of society and government he looked rather left wing, but on issues of personal morality he looked rather right wing. I find it very strange that church leaders seem quite happy to make public pronouncements on tax and society—but I cannot remember a single bishop every commenting on questions of personal morality, the importance of personal responsibility, or issues which have been the home territory of traditional Christian ethics, such as the family and the importance of fidelity in marriage. (Justin Welby does have a chapter on ‘family’ in his latest book Reimagining Britain but he singularly avoids actually saying anything about what ‘family’ means.)

This is an odd dynamic from a Christian perspective, but it is also odd given the state we are in. It is well established that the single most important factor in educational achievement is the presence of a stable, supportive family environment, so addressing this would in fact address a main cause of inequality. And you only have to tune in to a single episode of Eat Well For Less or one of any number of similar programmes to see that we are a culture which has lost any sense of personal discipline, and that this actually causes waste and poverty and poor health.

3. We are not called to proclaim salvation by economics.

I began my contribution by noting that ‘Jesus was not a member of the Labour Party’, which was intended to be an arresting expression of the conviction that we do not believe that salvation comes by means of a particular economic or political policy. My worry is that, in Justin Welby’s opening remarks, he makes it appear that he buys into the idea that economic prosperity and equality are the things that will buy us happiness—and even that happiness is the most import measure of a country’s achievements. (Might the alternative measure of ‘goodness’ be something closer to Christian belief?)

Any Christian leader who identifies with a particular political or economic policy too closely falls into the trap of accepting the terms and assumptions of the debate from the outset—that we are autonomous, rational individuals who’s happiness is the ultimate goal and this is achieved by material prosperity—in short, materialist utilitarianism. But it seems to me that the Christian gospel is far too radical to be captured in such a set of assumptions.

Take one example: the principle of Jubilee found in Leviticus 25. (Remember Leviticus, that primitive stone-age text that we should pay no attention to…?) Andy Walton mentioned this in the discussion as an example which offers a parallel to redistributive taxation. But it is actually nothing of the sort. For one, it actually assumes that, in between the 50-year Jubilees, there will be unfettered inheritance from parents to children (contrary to one of the proposals of the IPPR) and it also assumes that people can acquire wealth in proportion to their discipline and productivity. So far, so economically right wing. But the key assumption of the Jubilee is that actually no-one owns anything—that all wealth (in an agrarian society, in the form of land) belongs to God, and that we are mere stewards or tenants, who are entrusted with this for a short time, and at the end of that time we are to return what we have to its original state. So far, so radical Marxist! And yet there is also the assumption that we will give an account of how we have used the resources entrusted to us by the one who entrusted them.

If we were to take Jubilee seriously, then our economics would fit none of the models currently available, and we would ask radical questions of each of them. That seems to me to be what Christian leaders ought to be doing.

For all these reasons (and I suspect there are more) I think Christian leaders should avoid making pronouncements that align themselves with particular economic or political policies. I cannot remember anyone ever saying ‘Oh, I see that that bishop votes Labour—I think I had better find out more about this person Jesus’.

I am not suggesting here that the gospel has nothing to say about economics—quite the opposite. Jesus’ saying ‘Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s’ (Mark 12.17, Matt 22.21) does not separate the world into two adjacent realms ruled by the respective powers, but sets what ‘Caesar’ demands (which is limited) within the orbit of God’s demands, which are total. It has been part of my Rule of Life to engage in a disciplined way with the contemporary debate about politics and economics—but the goal is to offer a Christian perspective and critique of all economic and political claims, not to ally with any one of them alone.

Much more needed is a comment on the fundamental assumptions behind each of these positions, and a radical reappraisal of the goals we have set for ourselves as a society.

Additional note

Following the headlines this morning, it is perhaps worth adding a fourth reason for caution to the above three:

‘Practise what you preach!’ – Justin Welby blasted for ‘HYPOCRITICAL’ speech about economy

THE ARCHBISHOP of Canterbury has been branded a “hypocrite” for making a speech in which he heavily criticised Amazon and the gig economy while the Church of England invests in the giant tech company and uses zero-hour contracts.

The bottom line here is: do not pronounce on policy issues unless you are following through your own words with your own actions. That is challenging for any Christian leader, but it is particularly challenging for a national church leader since (in this case) the Church of England is such a complex organisation. In fact, Justin Welby has no formal role in setting the policy of the Church Commissioners—which most people will find incomprehensible, since they regard the Archbishop as CEO of the Church—but that won’t cut much ice with either the person on the street or the headline writers trying to catch their attention.

Come and join us for the second Festival of Theology on Wednesday October 17th!

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26 thoughts on “Should Christian leaders pronounce on political positions?”

  1. “the goal is to offer a Christian perspective and critique of all economic and political claims, not to ally with any one of them alone” – a bit of a docetic attitude, perhaps?
    As someone who is very explicitly political – even party political at one point due to Brexit – and who comes under a lot of criticism locally for being so outspoken on such things, I have much to say – but it’ll come as an article, not clogging up your comments section! But thanks for writing on the topic, I’m always stimulated and informed by what you write.

  2. Hi Ian,

    This is really good, thank you. I try to avoid saying anything at all about politics – apart from moral issues (e.g. same-sex marriage) because I want to avoid binding people’s consciences. My job is to help put these things into some kind of Biblical / theological framework, not tell people exactly how they should vote. (Although your post has made me wonder whether, before elections, it might be worth having a sort of ‘hustings’ where we ask people who vote different ways to outline their Scriptural reasoning, it might prove interesting if it could be done well.) When I was young I had very little guidance on what the parties were about or how to think about it from a Christian perspective, so I would have appreciated some guidance on how people think differently.

    I once read a pithy quote which I think sums it up – Christians are ‘more conservative than the conservatives and more liberal than the liberals’ (a bit like your C.S. Lewis quote, which I also like). Christians don’t and shouldn’t fit into any particular system because the solution to the problems of the world lies not in a political leader but in Jesus.

    I think any political system would work so long as people actually had non-selfish motives – i.e. the transformation of the heart which the Spirit brings.

    • “I try to avoid saying anything at all about politics – apart from moral issues (e.g. same-sex marriage) because I want to avoid binding people’s consciences. ”

      Am I understanding you correctly in suggesting that you believe that sexual issues are the only issues of morality?

      Are matters of exploitation of the poor or an unholy attitude to money not moral issues? Jesus certainly seemed to have a lot to say about them?

      • I didn’t mean to imply that sexual issues were the only issues of morality. But I don’t think all issues of morality are equal, so to speak.

        Economics and taxation are not black and white issues, we can agree that greed is bad while at the same time having different ideas about how exactly we run a country to try and make the best of it. I think Christians can legitimately differ on these things.

        Marriage, on the other hand, is a settled issue – the Bible and Christian tradition are agreed that it is the lifelong union of a man and a woman. And what I see in my pastoral work is that it is family breakdown which is causing huge problems. Perhaps if that could be sorted out it would help many of the other problems we have.

        Why an Archbishop can be relatively certain about economic matters while at the same time unable to answer a straightforward question about marriage, I do not know…

  3. I’d be interested in your thoughts about how to apply jubilee principles to today. Do you think the jubilee was ever actually carried out? What do you think about the classic distinction in the 39 articles between civil, ceremonial and moral law and the abrogation of the civil law – do you agree that Israel’s civil law, which I assume jubilee falls under, is not required for Christians?

    Jubilee has tended to seem to me quite dysfunctional as an economic policy – would it really work to reset property every half century? How do you make room for population growth and inward migration? But the principle of avoiding entrenched intergenerational inequality seems a good one.

  4. C H Sisson, commenting on some of the Reports and Resolutions of the Lambeth Conference 1988:

    “We all live on a diet of inaccurate news, supplemented by odds and ends from our own sources. To jump from that to an assumption of authority to judge the actions of countries of which we know even less than we do of our own must be a gross presumption. And in our own country, our role is limited to a very little rational action, and almost unlimited expression of ill-informed opinion. For my part, I should be more reassured by a Church which directed our attention to our neighbours, to the daily life we actually lead. The good Samaritan, after all, was attending to a man awkwardly placed before his own eyes, so he knew what he had to do. (“The Truth Shall Make You Free”, 1989).

    Sisson’s views about ill-informed opinion were, no doubt, coloured by his experience as a civil servant — working in the kitchen from which policies were served up.

  5. I think that what CS Lewis said will hold true for many Christians. They believe both in natural law and fairness/justice (egalitarianism in that basic sense). As who could not? Further, they are generally honest or truthful enough to reject unevidenced ideology.

    It does mean that the spotlight gets thrown on the rightwingers and leftwingers though. Are their packages really coherent? Are they trying to gain kudos with their peer-group? It is not plausible that most people really accept 1 of 2 unnuanced packages which are contrary to one another on most points. In my experience an awful lot of people do not – hence the pendulum of who is in power.

    Many might expect a given individual to be rightwing or leftwing, and regard them as eccentric if they are neither. But in reality the reverse holds; for the odd case is the party-liner, and the untenable position is the unexamined package-deal. Those who think carefully about the several issues are most unlikely to accept any unnuanced pre-package. So it is the dyed-in-the-wool or the keep-in-with-their-peers that need to justify their position. Is it a mere tribal loyalty, or is it something that can be defended in debate?

    Most issues have a political dimension, and it is not possible to cordon off ‘politics’ from the rest of life. The kingdom of God covers all life, so will impact on all subdivisions of politics.

  6. As for Jules Gomes’s words, I always appreciate his intelligence. I do think that a postmodern environment is enough to drive normal truthful people to distraction sometimes. (a) He’s doing a Chestertonian job in outmanoeuvring by plain speech those who think that unnecessarily long words are thereby weighty. But also (b) his model of neatly-pitched satire that is able to trick several people because ‘nothing surprises us any more’ is something that could proliferate (vide Archbishop Cranmer’s flags), and in its proliferation we can recapture joy and a warmer humanity and a saner and more accurate outlook too.

  7. This is such a minefield. Broadly speaking, I agree that Christian leaders shouldn’t imply voting for one party is the only Christian thing to do; but I have a few caveats to that. There are clearly times when a vote for one party – or enabling the election of one party by abstaining or voting for a party that would never get elected – is counter to the Gospel; the governing National Party in apartheid South Africa, for example, stand as a clear example that Christians should have unequivocally condemned. Christian leaders who don’t call that are, in my view, failing.

    Being an established church, like the C of E, makes it more difficult; the C of E’s relationship to power is complex – and nowhere is that more clear than in the Archbishop’s role. Stay quiet on politics and you become accused of cosying up to power (as I have often heard the C of E accused of); take a stance, as Welby has done here, and you’re accused of favouring one party over the other.

    For me the reality is that to say ‘Jesus is Lord’ is profoundly political statement – it means (as for early Christians) that Caesar isn’t Lord; for us it might mean that the nation state isn’t Lord, or the EU isn’t Lord, or a ‘strong’ economy isn’t Lord …. or whatever our own particular idol(s) might be. If the church is to be seen as saying that Jesus is Lord – and potential idol x isn’t – then that will mean making political statements when parties or politicians are elevating one goal to religious levels. That will mean challenging the party that’s in opposition, of course; but primarily it will mean challenging the idols the ruling party – in this case the Conservative Party – is setting up for us.

    So it might look Conservative voters get a rough ride when their party is in power; but the pendulum should swing when the government changes and a new set of idols are set up. On balance, I’d rather have an Archbishop getting involved and challenging office-holders, and popular perceptions, than meekly biting his/her tongue all the time. I do think that just because Welby is seen to be putting forward a more or less socialist economic policy, that should be differentiated from an encouragement to vote Labour; it’s clear to me from him, and the wider ministry of the church, and hopefully to most voters, that few elections are single issue ones, and most of our votes will to a certain extent cause us to compromise our beliefs.

  8. Justin said: “justice in society matters deeply – a theme that runs throughout the Bible”.
    So why did Jesus say: “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God”.
    The mention of Nordic prosperity was interesting (although the figures were pre-2015 mass immigration and its consequent social conflicts) because is there not a correlation between their increasing prosperity and their decreasing religious faith?
    I don’t pretend to be an authority on this but my quick mental scan of the Torah gives no recollection of taxes. However, when they asked for a King, ie to become a politicised country, then Samuel warned them that the rulers would tax them left, right and centre.
    The gospel message reveals the Door to a spiritual Kingdom and not an earthly political one: a Kingdom whose rules were annunciated in the Sermon on the Mount with the emphasis on relationships. That’s what Justin should be preaching.

    • Peter… I dont follow this:

      “Justin said: “justice in society matters deeply – a theme that runs throughout the Bible”.
      So why did Jesus say: “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God”.”

      They are not in opposition surely? Or have I missed the point?

      Isn’t the tithe in essence a tax?

      • Hi Ian, yes, as you say below, it’s complex.
        It’s how Justin is interpreting justice that is the conflict. He is proposing creating the justice of the Kingdom using human political means whereas the Kingdom is the abode of those born of God. The outworking was seen after Pentecost when they had all things in common so that all needs were met. This was a voluntary response and not legislated. The CofE seems to think that the Kingdom is British society. Addressing justice in that context is the easy option as it requires no more spirituality than any politician. Enabling ‘thy kingdom come’ requires spiritual wisdom, power and faith; it involves combating spiritual powers in preaching the gospel and not the ‘flesh and blood’ authorities of politics. The demise of CofE commitment shows Justin is not focusing on his real role.
        This does not mean the church has no role in helping the poor but it does it in its own way. Food Banks are a great example so it is sad that they are being ‘politicised’. The tithe mainly went to the Temple and those ministering there. There was a 3-yearly tithe which specifically supported those in need. Making charity political is sad. I thought Peter Hitchens made some good points above.
        I see Justin was at it again yesterday with the TUC. Why is he not as zealously denouncing the sins of the church? He seems to be promoting the kingdom of socialism rather that the Kingdom of God.

      • Justin did not cite the beatitudes. and I think Peter’s argument would have weight if he had done so.

        The thread of people acting justly in this life not just in the Kingdom does go through the Old Testament as a thread. Jubilee being just one example (though as has been said we are not sure if it ever happened).

        Can anyone put an argument forward as to why Micah 6:8 is not an an instruction as to how we should live our lives in this world?

        There is an argument I have heard – one that I don’t understand – that somehow companies are not people and so are not required to follow the rules of morality. Can anyone explain this argument of me?

        Yet in law a company is a person (though the law does distinguish between ‘natural persons’ – real people and others. However a company is run by people and owned by people who are required – as I understand it – to act Justly in all their life even when acting on behalf of a company.

        • Hi Nick, yes, I was assuming the Sermon on the Mount as a basis for measuring justice. When training, my fellow Readers kept telling me that the Sermon on the Mount could only be fulfilled in socialism; I believe Shane Claiborne goes in this direction too.
          I can’t see how we can easily transfer OT ideas of justice and fairness into our modern democracy’s economic models. In the NT, James chapter 5 is scathing about the basic justice of Christian bosses not paying wages. But Jesus spoils it all by using parables of the unjust steward in Luke 16; and, what might be termed in modern parlance ‘The Parable of the Zero Hours contracts’ in Matthew 20 where the boss paid out unfair wages.
          I would be amazed, for instance, if the introduction of something like the socialist idea of Universal Basic Income didn’t also lead to a desertion from Christianity because everyone became self-satisfied like they are in Nordic countries.
          I would see significant Christian influenced social changes like reducing the prevalence of crimes receiving capital punishment by the Quakers, or the abolition of slavery by the ‘The Clapham Sect, or the protection of girls by Josephine Butler as equivalent to Jesus healing the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter – a spin-off of his main mission. Similarly, we are called to work with Jesus in his mission: “I will build my church” – make and baptise disciples, and teach them to live in holiness.

          • “I was assuming the Sermon on the Mount as a basis for measuring justice”

            I am not sure that is what the Sermon on the Mount is about.

            “I can’t see how we can easily transfer OT ideas of justice and fairness into our modern democracy’s economic models.”

            Equally I am not sure what the problem is with OT ideas of fairness and justice in today’s society – with the possible exception of Jubilee. If people act morally then they will do as Micah 6:8 says. ++Justin quoted Amos “but let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”.

            I am not sure how that is incompatible with all but an extreme zero-regulation and unilateral free trade and raw competition model, advocated by a few politicians. But that is not where we are at present and I cannot think of a country where that is practiced (but there may be some) though Trump certainly advocates some aspects.

            To a greater or lesser extent our democracy has been based on using regulation to temper what Edward Heath called the ‘unacceptable face of capitalism’. Thatcherism tried to roll back some of this, but the concept is still (at the moment) part of our economic model.

            Legislating for morality will always be imperfect, but justice and fairness would be regarded by most of us as a virtue.

  9. It’s complex innit?

    I do think Christian leaders should comment on the outcomes of policies. That way they properly avoid being involved in the complexities in which they may not be accomplished. It still holds ‘experts’ to accountability.

    Hitchens…. the AB of C is usually being ‘downgraded’ because of his previous business career. Hitchens dismisses this, in effect, entirely. Because Justin isn’t an economist doesn’t mean he is totally devoid of understanding. Indeed economics doesn’t always look likes a solid science but best guesses which often prove wrong. Of course they all saw the crash of 2008 coming…not..

    The State… can be the enforcement arm of the government. That’s the way the government sometimes uses foreign aid as leverage. But isn’t it, in theory at least, the organised caring arm of the ‘people’…. I can’t see it as fundamentally wrong or necessarily anti personal responsibility. The ‘State’ helps me to help others beyond my easy reach. Mercy with enlarged borders?

    Justin? I fear his economy statements seem far more pronounced in the Nations ears than the irreducible core and churches (and his) prime task of declaring the gospel of Jesus the Saviour from sins. “It’s not what you say but what they hear”?

  10. “To my knowledge, only one of the 120 or so bishops in the C of E says he would have voted to leave the EU, ”
    Bit of a hobby horse, but I’m not the only person on here who has one of those. Think we have a few female bishops around now.

    Also entirely agree that morality is not just about sex but also about economics and many other areas of life. It seems to me entirely appropriate for Christian discourse to be in that realm as well. There may be debate and disagreement about how Christian faith informs economics, but inform it it surely must.

    I forget precisely what Margaret Thatcher said about the Good Samaritan but I recall it being met with astonishment at the time

  11. Jesus gave us objectives that stand for all time; He didn’t dictate short-term methods. Sometimes family or neighbours, sometimes local churches or small charities; sometimes larger or international charities; sometimes the problem is so big, or the resistance from vested interests so powerful, that only the power of the law will do to prevent the “adding of house to house, and field to field” and the persecution of strangers, orphans, widows and the sick. I don’t suppose He’s fussed what model we use to combat unjust privilege, greed and abuse of power, short of persecuting and murdering in our turn.
    I’ve already Tweeted, with some amusement, a quote from today’s Saint, whose “golden mouth” could apparently be a literal potty mouth as well: “Do you pay such honour to your excrements as to receive them into a silver chamber-pot when another man made in the image of God is perishing in the cold?”
    But he could be even more dangerous than that:
    “It is not possible for one to be wealthy and just at the same time.”
    Of course, he was sacked and exiled – as generally happens. We’re always happy to Saint them when they’re safely dead…

  12. I think former labour Prime Minister, Jim Callaghan, said that the Labour Party owed more to Methodism, (the Tolpuddle Martyrs -TM) than it did to Marx. Doubt that would gain much traction today. Then again the TM weren’t National Christian leaders, but were imprisoned and exiled.
    However, Trades Union would be in meltdown over the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard,
    Matt 20:1-16.
    And, yes there are economic entailments to moral questions and answers, but how often do we acknowledge, the economic, societal, spiritual cost of dishonesty and lack of integrity, of lying in all their forms.
    And greed and envy in all their forms.
    Where, I think Welby is at risk as a National, state church, Christian leader is where , I doing what he is doing, it is akin to the world seeing Christianity and what it stands for , and nothing more, through the lens of evangelicals who vote for Trump: it can close the door to those who may otherwise be receptive to the Good News of Jesus and weld Chritianity to the indentity of politics. Who would Jesus vote for?
    As a former lawyer, I voted against joining the EEC (as a non Christian) and to leave the EU (as a Christian), overwhelmingly on Constitutional grounds, not economy, nor migration. (Tony Benn’s speeches on this were and remain excellent on this). I do not want the ECJ to have any control in this Country, nor unelected bureaucrats. who have a purpose of their own to serve ( but it is not my place, nor the Bishops, nor the ABoC to tell me how or why or seek to influence my vote and it certainly has no place in the pulpit.
    As for the morality of economic spending is concerned this is the only place that I’ve seen any critique of May’s promise of £200 million aid to Africa and Asia. Warning: it is a no holds barred article. I’m not sure there have been any “noises off” from Lambeth on this, but surely we’d have heard? But then again it wouldn’t gain any traction, other than of the hostile sort.
    We pay our taxes but are not responsible nor accountable for how they are spent.

  13. This is crazy – it’s not labour policy to pray for justice- wages are too low to live on – that was the same when the Rowntree reports first came out in the !good old days’.

    • Hello Becky,
      Not sure what you mean by the “good old days.”
      My granddad was a humble man who fought in the Great War and afterwards was a coal miner. He went to bed every Sunday pm (Sunday work not permitted) shattered, his body shot through from exhaustion, and died aged 64. I went to a local Grammar School, went on to study law at degree level (at a time my mother received ECT treatment in a mental health hospital) and then onto post degree professional exams and qualifications. I practised law, mostly as a legal aid practitioner, including family and criminal law, in general practice that included conveyancing, wills and probate and some company law.
      But sewn through those times was, the cold war, Cuban crisis, Kennedy assassination devaluation of the pound, very high unemployment (which was counted very differently then), 15% interest rates, 3 day working week, 50 mph limits on motorways, miners strikes
      shattering and uprooting families and communities, car plant strikes, shipyard strikes, mines, shipyards and steel works closing, denigration and diminution of legal (please note, I’m not resting blame at the foot of Trades Union – I was in one at times I was employed in the NHS).
      At different stages I’ve been unemployed and employed part time on a minimum wages of £3:40 per hour or so (without benefits). Deciding how to spend money would involve a calculation of how many hours I’d have to work to pay for it. Student holidays were spent labouring. and I received a means tested educational grant. My parents couldn’t afford to pay their contribution. Given my time again I’d think long and hard about doing a degree. A few years ago a dental student I was talking to said that when he had qualified he’d have a £45,000.00 debt, but he had no qualms and would be holidaying in S America, on debt. Have I repaid the total of student grant I received. Don’t know, but probably, financially in taxes and contributions to society through the justice system and therafter.
      When I was employed by a Charity, I was surprised at how many covered up their inability to read or write: how confusing the benefits system was to them. It was a mental health charity – dysfunctional family upbringing played a large part in illness- as well as chemical imbalances and dual diagnoses with alcohol and/or drugs.
      From the Charity, I moved into management in the NHS and due to two internal reorganisations found myself in Public Health, with it’s wealth of epidemiological studies and information. One ward in Sunderland, if I recall correctly, had one of the highest long term unemployment rates combined with some of the highest morbidity and mortality rates in England and Wales – mens life span in the mid 50 year old, and (again if I recall correctly many dying in their 40’s) Yes, poverty was/is a factor but it is only one. I was astonished to learn that in the poorest places many didn’t know what many pieces of fruit and veg are.

      And there is a distinction between absolute poverty and relative poverty, as you will know from Roundtree and many other sources.
      And what does anything of the above relating to my life have to do with Welby, or more particularly his Church Office?

      While class may have dropped out of our vocabulary, today, it operates in practice, within all political and throughout society and the Church.
      David Shepherd in his comments on other blog post of has highlighted the thin veneer in the CoE, that overlooks race BAME recruitment differentials in the CoE, I’d ask if class distinction is not also an elephant in the room. It would be interesting to see figures on the class/educational background of clergy, particularly Bishops and as the CoE opens up age limitations on age 50+ vocations, what class of former vocations, careers, posts, will they come from? Existing Bishop appointments may give an easy and early indication.
      Only a couple of days ago I saw Nicky Gumble being interviewed on You tube by a New Frontiers leader. Gumble said that while the were many “Pauls” (educational standard background of Paul) there weren’t many Peters. (this isn’t a dig at you, Ian Paul!) and there is a need in the Church for people to be trained from working class backgrounds to peak to folk like them. On a CoE Alpha Course, when I was part of the team, a man came to the first DVD talk with Gumble speaking and didn’t return. He couldn’t abide Gumble as he came across to him as someone, a smoothie, from the privileged classes who didn’t know what it was like a have a real job. But he did become a Christian through the instrument of reading a book given to him: My God is Real by David Watson. (If he’d seen a video of David Watson speaking he may have had the same opinion about him.) I should add that it wasn’t a view expressed by any of those who remained on the Alpha course.
      Welby has found himself in hot water, today, through criticising Amazon’s tax payments. He doesn’t seem to acknowledge the distinction between tax evasion (illegal) and tax avoidance (legal) or if he does, has not been at pains to draw out the moral, ethical arguments, against international corporations avoidance schemes across national boundaries and tax laws. And for his stance on Zero Hours, (which I agree with and refuse to dignify with the term, contract of employment) as, evidently, one Cathedral adopts a zero hours approach has, understandably, been criticised as being hypocritical thus adding to a popular view of Christians being hypocrites.
      My view is that Welby should stick with his day job (vocation) and not get involved in politics at the level of Trades Union.
      His stance on usury is of a different category and is likely to have contributed to the downfall of Wonga. I don’t think any of his contributions against Wonger were given at a highly politicised forum.
      He’s got more than enough on his plate and I think is doing the church a disservice with what may be to him a welcome distraction. I don’t know him at all to know if he’s having second, reflective, thoughts.
      Now if Welby has anything to say about the Body of Christ and what a Christian is, he should speak up in public, whether people, listen, ridicule, avoid or not. Perhaps the Trades Union would give him a platform.
      Non of the above is to say that individual Christians, should not get invovled in politics. N American Presbyterian pastor emmeritus, Rev’d Dr Tim Keller spoke at a Parliamentary Prayer breakfast in June this year. I’d suggest that his speech is an example of where and how Welby could be directing the exercise of his office, grounding it all in the biblical theology of Christianity. It can be viewed here under the title: “What can Christianity offer our society in the 21st century?”

      • ” He doesn’t seem to acknowledge the distinction between tax evasion (illegal) and tax avoidance (legal) or if he does, has not been at pains to draw out the moral, ethical arguments, against international corporations avoidance schemes across national boundaries and tax laws.”

        It seemed to me he was talking about the immorality of extreme tax avoidance (legal) I didn’t see any confusion here.

        “And for his stance on Zero Hours, (which I agree with and refuse to dignify with the term, contract of employment) as, evidently, one Cathedral adopts a zero hours approach has, understandably, been criticised as being hypocritical thus adding to a popular view of Christians being hypocrites.”

        This is more difficult. There are some good uses of zero hours contracts. For example Our church employs vergers and organists on zero hours contracts for funerals and weddings which are highly erratic. They work on average about 2 to 3 hours a month. We also occasionally employ some organists who are self employed on a similar basis. The difference is purely dictated by how they are treated by HMRC. They can accept the work or refuse – that is why we have a list of people. We can’t afford to employ them on fixed hours and thy don’t want that. Most are retired.

        The evil of zero hours contracts is for people who rely on the work for their main income, and must be available at all times by their employer. They have virtually no option to take other work in the gaps and so end up in poverty.

        How does the Cathedral mention use them?

        • Hello Nick,
          1 I’m no longer a lawyer
          2 My knowledge of the law is well out of date
          3 I have no access to a reliable source of law
          4 I’ve subsequently had a triple heart by-pass
          5 And then some years later, a stroke
          But I did study the law of contract and company law as part of a degree and then as part of qualifying exams along with taxation and employment law.
          ZERO HOURS
          A couple of years ago I met a former lawyer friend in a supermarket and started talking in the aisle about the so-called zero hours contract, as you do. We agreed that at the simplest level:
          1 It isn’t a contract. Consideration must pass from the promissor to the promissee. In a contract of employment, the employer must provide work and the employee must do it. An employer who doesn’t provide work is in breach of contract(even if the employer continues to pay “wages.”
          2 At best it is an agreement to a agree, which isn’t legally enforceable.
          3 An illustration might be people hanging around outside a workplace, each day hoping to be offered work for the day. (Ring any bible bells?) There is no obligation to make an offer AND there is no obligation to accept the offer even if made. And here is another constituent of a contract: there must be an offer and acceptance of the offer with whatever terms and conditions are expressed or implied (at law or in common practice)
          4 There is a distinction between a contract OF service (employment) and a contract FOR services (independent contractor). This has consequences not only for taxation of both parties but also n rights and responsibilities of each party, which engaged, An example would be who would A sue injured by B while acting for C. If B is an employee acting in the course of employment it would be C, if B is an independent contractor it would be B. (This is the bare bones and there are factors that would need to be considered) HMRC have a number of factors that are taken into account in determining whether a person is n employee or independent contractor, for taxation purposes.
          Neither my friend nor I would get caught up in the populist language of Zero Hours.
          You seem to be aware that they are separate legal persons and there are rare legal exceptions when you can go behind the “veil of incorporation” to hold individual office holders personally accountable. Very generally they are formed to make profits for their “investors” even if it is an individual investing themselves or a public company with stock and shareholders. Companies like Amazon seek to maximise their profits for their shareholders (who are behind the “veil of incorporation”. So the CoE cannot be held “personally” accountable for the way profits are made (including tax avoidance schemes) end from which it benefits. Ethics are involved in investments decision as well as in company operations. The ABoC seemed to think he was on solid ground. It certainly gives me no pleasure at all to see how things have turned out. There is a risk for anyone in leadership be perhaps flattered to join think tanks and have a national platform.

          Zero hours and schemes used by international companies for tax avoidance are not new revelations, so why now? The Panama Papers and International Company tax avoidance were hot topics when Osborne was Chancellor. What were his purposes, objectives? He’s not daft, a former oil executive.
          It will be interesting to see the CoE response to Frank Field’s suggestion, today, that the CoE invests in rescuing Wonga. Financial ethics in action? And maybe disinvest in Amazon…maybe.

          • Thank you for the reference to Law. However, I was really trying to discuss the morality of these matters rather than the legality. For that, perhaps the legality of whether a contract exists or not, is of little relevance.
            The problem with treating it like a contract and asking the employee (or work or self employed person) to enforce the contract is that the balance of power is tipped overwhelmingly in favour of the company since the worker does not have the resources to take the matter to court and if they did they would probably find themselves out of work.

            I made the point that companies are staffed by (natural) people what the law does not forbid and what is moral is not necessarily the same.

            If we believe Micah 6:8 then people must act justly without hiding behind companies they work for. Otherwise the defence of acting under orders would be considered acceptable.

  14. The clear pattern here is that Matthew introduces *lots* of animal pairs *none* of which were there before. Goulder, Midrash and Lection in Matthew (1974), ‘Is Q A Juggernaut?’ (JBL 1996) etc. – lists 10, but they are not all necessarily of the same type.

    Most of these follow the Aesop model of contrasting pairs. Aesop is one of the sources from which Matthew bolsters his teaching/parables material to make it sufficient for his grand plan of presenting Jesus as the new Moses/teacher. Wojciechowski has an excellent article on Aesop in the gospels.

    The dog/pig pair is distinctly *not* contrasting (but is seized on by a lover of animal pairs) and is simultaneously in line with much of the Sermon on the Mount by being paralleled in the Catholic Epistles. This is what makes us look to the end of 2 Peter 2.22, not least because 2.20-1 is so similar to Matthew’s new teaching in 12.43, where the *kernel* is precisely the bit shared with 2 Peter and there is an expansion into a parable/teaching. This follows Matt’s practice in 20.16, 22.14, 25.13, 25.29.

    Sheep would normally contrast with wolves. Sheep/goat separation is a day to day occurrence that also invites a story (separation means contrast).

    The truth is that Matt twice already contrasts sheep with wolves. His other contrasting pairs are fish-snake, foxes-birds, serpents-doves, gnat-camel. 5 contrasts, total 6 instances.

    The non-contrasting pairs are dog-pig, snakes-vipers, hens-chicks.

    Which set does sheep-goats fall into? It’s the only unclear pair (though separation does mean contrast of a sort). Matt is not necessarily always concerned about whether his pairs contrast. On the other hand, the non-contrasting pairs would have arisen anyway even where the author was not concerned to produce pairs. And a disproportionate number of pairs seems to be of the contrasting sort.


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