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Politics needs to find a place for religion

Friday 16th June 2017

The Archbishop writes in The Telegraph today...

 

When Christians engage with politics their consciences are going to be bruised. They will be imbued with a vision of the Kingdom of God and at the same time will have to compromise, daily. It was Bismarck who first said “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable – the art of the next best.” To achieve anything worthwhile will often require settling for less than one’s ideals. 

Cynics, and I include some media interrogators among them, choose to ignore this painful compromise; they posit only the stark, unrealistic and inhuman alternatives of perfection or hypocrisy. In fact, the word “hypocrite” entered the English language via the New Testament, where it was used by Jesus to excoriate those who laid down the law for others, while pretending personally to be virtuous. They were “play-acting”. That’s what the word means in Greek. It has nothing to do with failure: applied Christianity is for people who recognise their moral inadequacy and daily look for divine help to deal with it. 

The pre-election hounding of Tim Farron was not acceptable. In interview after interview we were given the impression that his private views on gay sex were in the forefront of the Lib-Dem campaign. His tormentors should be ashamed of themselves. It is much to be regretted that he has now concluded that a leading role in politics is incompatible with his Christian faith. 

Politicians, like the rest of us, live in the here and now, en route to an ideal world. I haven’t done a tally of Christians in Parliament, but I think it’s very possible that their representation is higher there than in the population at large. They and their colleagues will have been prompted to stand for election by a desire to work for the common good, even if they differ from one another on how that might be accomplished. 

Our postwar politics have deeply Christian foundations. They were articulated at the height of the conflict by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple. In his book Christianity and the Social Order, he pressed for a proper balance between making a profit and serving the community; between individual freedom and state control. Crucially, he also distinguished between enunciating principles, which is the Church’s job, and putting them into practice, which is the politician’s function.  

Note that this implies an unambiguous connection between religion and politics. Those who would sever it are relegating their Creator to the spectator’s gallery. The Kingdom of God is not only the Almighty’s goal for eternity; it also outlines what he wants for us now. Its interim manifesto begins thus: 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

I do not predict that this would capture the majority of votes at the next general election, but we must not underestimate the capacity of people, not least young people, to rise to the vision of a new world.  

Justice is only possible when law, religion and morals are intermingled. Religion concerns the spirit in humanity, whereby we are able to recognise what is truth and what is justice; whereas law is only the application, often imperfectly, of truth and justice in our everyday affairs.

The common law of England has been moulded for centuries by lawyers and judges who have been brought up in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. The precepts of religion, consciously or unconsciously, have been their guide in the administration of justice. “If religion perishes in the land, truth and justice will also. We have already strayed too far from the faith of our forebears. Let us return to it for it is the only thing that can save us,” wrote the great judge Lord Denning, back in 1989. Those words remain as true today.

I am constantly inspired by these words of an Old Testament prophet: “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

May this be the politician’s hope too.

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