As an Anglican Christian and political activist, I felt compelled to comment on the attacks on Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury after his critique of the government.
I don’t think people should be shocked that Archbishop Rowan chose to speak out against a government he and many others believe is causing great harm to our nation. Certainly, Christians shouldn’t be surprised. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of the Bible (and that should include all Christians!) should be aware that throughout both the old and new testaments, God sends his prophets to speak not just to believers, but to governments.
Isaiah goes to speak to the nations. And he speaks to those nations not just about faith, but about poverty, economy, and immigration (sound like familiar issues?) Daniel is a senior government minister, Nehemiah is a civil servant, Mordecai is a lobbyist (literally), Esther is at the heart of government, Jesus Christ disputed the right of the Roman Emperor to rule over him, and his disciples travelled the known world of the day, telling city councils about the gospel. In short, the Bible is full of politics and Christians should be comfortable being politically active. There is a long history of Christians speaking out. Christians and non-Christians talk with great respect and reverence about Wilberforce, Luther King, and Tutu. So nobody should be surprised to hear from Archbishop Rowan.
If the Chairman of the Confederation of Business and Industry, with a membership of around 240,000, – or the General Secretary of Unite with 1.5 million members – spoke out to criticise the government of the day nobody would be shocked. But when a man who is the head of a body with 80 million members does the same thing, he is decried by the right-wing media and Downing Street.
Proverbs 31:8 says that Christians should
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
And that is exactly what Archbishop Rowan was doing. It’s also important to note that he wasn’t doing this as an individual. He didn’t just decide this on his own over a bowl of corn flakes. He spoke as the head of the Anglican Communion after listening to his Bishops, deacons and parish priests from up and down the country telling him what was happening in their communities. UK churches of all denominations have unrivalled community links with schools, daycare, immigrant groups, and the heavily indebted.
This is why rebuttal of the Archbishop’s critique of the coalition strikes me as somewhat hypocritical. On the one hand, David Cameron rushes to promote the idea of the ‘Big Society’, where voluntary groups are expected to sustain services being cut by the coalition government – voluntary groups of which church organisations form a significant number. On the other hand, he dismisses the opinions of the leader of one of the biggest church organisations. If Christian groups are to be expected to help fill the gap left by state withdrawal, then Archbishop Rowan clearly has a right and a responsibility to question Government initiatives. If the Prime Minister set up a voluntary community health centre, would he expect a doctor to volunteer her time freely but not allow her to voice an opinion on how that health centre were being run?
The Prime Minister and his party cannot promote the idea of a cohesive, communal ‘Big Society’, and simultaneously dismiss the views of the leader of a group which helps maintain that society as ‘plain wrong’, ‘unacceptable’ and, according to Roger Gale, ‘offensive’. The Prime Minister cannot have his cake and eat it too.
- Archbishop of Canterbury defended by Lord Tebbit (telegraph.co.uk)
- Archbishop of Canterbury was wrong, Downing Street says (telegraph.co.uk)