Thursday 26 December 2013

A tale of two archbishops

George Carey disappoints me. As archbishop he was quite decent. He supported the move to ordain women, and he piloted the church through a  time of global internal division (the incumbent archbishop has had as difficult a job in that respect as the leader of the conservative party in the last twenty years - any attempt to lead in a particular direction would leave half the organisation stubbornly behind). Just recently though, Carey seems to have been pitching for the post of old religious curmudgeon with intemperate outbursts about how put upon Christians in this country are. He was at it again in the Telegraph this week. He may have a point about persecution in other countries (though I would like to see actual figures about numbers of different religions persecuted for their identity), but he spoils it with an overblown reference to Christians in this country feeling the need to keep quiet about their religion. This is a man whose religious identity gives him one of the most privileged positions in the country as a lawmaker for life, on behalf of a religion which sees the country shut down every year for its two major festivals - Easter and Christmas. (The fact that these celebrations have largely been taken over as retail festivals is a separate issue; it does not dilute the privilege that Christianity has in this country compared to all other religions.)

I have said before and I will say again - I do not have the slightest problem about speaking out about or because of my religion when the time is right. The biggest issue I have about being upfront about my religion is other Christians. The obsession with sex, and the concomitant failure to do anything about sex abuse in my church (as well as the Catholics). The constant  attempts by people like Carey to bolster our privilege even further. Having to share my religion with people like Iain Duncan Smith, who makes no secret of his Christianity, but persecutes the poor.

In recent years we have had Anglican archbishops (and now a pope) who are more prepared to speak out about the things Christians should be concerned about rather than bolstering our privilege. Just one incident shows how things are done and should be done. Iain Duncan Smith thinks it is “political” of the Trussell Trust to ask why people are so poor that they have to rely on food banks.  Then he refuses to meet them to discuss their concerns.  Sam Leith, in the Evening Standard nails this one: “It takes a special sort of narcissism, a special sort of persecution complex, to suppose that all this is done for your benefit: that the Trussell Trust’s hundreds of institutions and thousands of volunteers are working flat-out not, as they claim, to feed poor people but to embarrass Iain Duncan Smith.”

Another ex-archbishop, Rowan Williams, has a response to Iain Duncan Smith in the Cambridge Evening News. “Dr Williams, who is the patron of Cambridge City Foodbank, which supported 2,390 people in crisis last year, said the former Conservative leader’s “extraordinary comments” amount to an “attack [on] the motives of hard-pressed volunteers and generous donors”.

“He added the remarks are “disturbing, not least because they poison the wells for those trying to raise and maintain resources”, who are attempting to help people including those “left stranded by the benefit system”.

“He told the News: “It is not political point-scoring to say that these are the realities of life in Britain today for a shockingly large number of ordinary people – not scroungers, not idlers - but men and women desperate to keep afloat and to look after their children or their elderly relatives.

““The real scaremongering is the attempt to deny the seriousness of the situation by – in effect – accusing those seeking to help of dishonesty as to their motivation.”

So one ex-archbishop speaks in defence of privilege and one in defence of truth.

I'm with Rowan, not with George,


Paul Walter said...

Very well said indeed!

Rob Parsons said...

Thank you, Paul.

SuffolkJason said...

The Labour Party has been diffident in defending the poor. I hope the CofE will shame them into standing up to be counted.

Rob Parsons said...

It's going to take a lot, to be honest, Jason. Labour have thoroughly bought into the Tory narrative of labelling working age claimants as scroungers and blaming the victim. They need to work back a long way to get out of that.

Anonymous said...

I come late to the feast - er - blog. I am a retired C of E Clergyman, and as such I offer two thoughts :

1. Anyone can call themselves "Christian", we wait to see if there will be enough evidence to convict them of this adherence in court.

2. There is an old aphorism - "It is not that Christianity has been tried and has failed, but rather that Christianity has never been tried".

Rob Parsons said...

Thank you, Mondegreen; both sayings are worthy of deep consideration.

Jane said...

In reply to Mondegreen, I've blogged on a similar theme - see