Tuesday, 17 February 2015

House of Bishops' Pastoral Letter on the 2015 General Election

Updated Tuesday evening

Press release

House of Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on the 2015 General Election
17 February 2015

The House of Bishops of the Church of England have today expressed the hope for political parties to discern “a fresh moral vision of the kind of country we want to be” ahead of the General Election in May of this year.

In a pastoral letter from the House of Bishops to the people and parishes of the Church of England, the Bishops urge Christians to consider the question how can we “build the kind of society which many people say they want but which is not yet being expressed in the vision of any of the parties?”

The letter also encourages church members to engage in the political process ahead of the General Election and to put aside self-interest and vote for ‘the common good’: “The privileges of living in a democracy mean that we should use our votes thoughtfully, prayerfully and with the good of others in mind, not just our own interests.”

The letter also states that: “In Britain, we have become so used to believing that self-interest drives every decision, that it takes a leap of imagination to argue that there should be stronger institutions for those we disagree with as well as for those ‘on our side.’ Breaking free of self-interest and welcoming our opponents as well as our supporters into a messy, noisy, yet rich and creative community of communities is, perhaps, the only way we will enrich our almost-moribund political culture.”

The letter defends the right of the Church to enter into the political arena: “It is not possible to separate the way a person perceives his or her place in the created order from their beliefs, religious or otherwise, about how the world’s affairs ought to be arranged. The claim that religion and political life must be kept separate is, in any case, frequently disingenuous - most politicians and pundits are happy enough for the churches to speak on political issues so long as the church agrees with their particular line.”

The pastoral letter draws on the experience of the Church of England as a Christian presence in every community to warn of the disengagement between politicians and the people. They note that “with few exceptions, politicians are not driven merely by cynicism or self-interest” but nevertheless, “the different parties have failed to offer attractive visions of the kind of society and culture they wish to see…. There is no idealism in this prospectus”.

The letter encourages political parties across the spectrum to seek bold new visions of hope and idealism rather than “sterile arguments about who might manage the existing system best.”

The bishops also argue Britain is in need of a stronger politics of community to boost solidarity between people and reverse a drift towards social isolation: “The extent of loneliness in society today, with the attendant problems of mental and physical health, is one indication of how far we have drifted into a society of strangers. But that drift is far from complete - and few people, if asked, would say that a society of strangers represents a vision of society which they desire.”

The letter specifically avoids advocacy for one any political party but instead encourages those in the Church to seek from political candidates a commitment to building a society of common bonds over individual consumerism. The bishops say Britain is hungry for a new approach to political life which reaffirms our ties at a national, regional, community and neighbourhood level. There is a need for a strong corrective to halt the move towards increasing social isolation, they say, through strengthening the idea that that Britain is still a “community of communities.” This, they say, is a theme which has roots in the historic traditions of different parties: “We are seeking, not a string of policy offers, but a way of conceiving and ordering our political and economic life which can be pursued in a conservative idiom, a socialist idiom, a liberal idiom - and by others not aligned to party.”

The pastoral letter argues that the Church of England finds its voice through being a presence in every community with churches remaining one of the primary agents of social action and social care in parishes across the country. The letter argues that Intermediate institutions such as housing associations, credit unions and churches are needed for their role in building stronger communities. A thriving society needs many intermediate institutions, they say, including those who disagree with each other.

The letter also recognises the inherent danger in the current situation where people are disengaging from politics, arguing that restoring faith in both politicians and the political process requires a new politics that engages at both a deeper more local level within a wider, broader vision for the country as a whole.

In the letter, the bishops warn against despair and urge people to vote in the General Election: “Unless we exercise the democratic rights that our ancestors struggled for, we will share responsibility for the failures of the political classes. It is the duty of every Christian adult to vote, even though it may have to be a vote for something less than a vision that inspires us.”


The Pastoral letter can be read here.

A guide to the pastoral letter and its contents can be found here.

The statements from the Bishop of Norwich and Bishop of Leicester can be found by clicking on the link on their names.

The Church of England & Church Urban Fund research “Church in Action” can be found at:

Updated to add links to pdf versions of dock files.

guide to the pastoral letter
statement from Bishop of Norwich
statement from Bishop of Leicester

Posted by Peter Owen on Tuesday, 17 February 2015 at 1:05pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

The guide to the letter is in the wretched docx format which many cannot read.

Posted by: John Roch on Tuesday, 17 February 2015 at 1:48pm GMT

What is an otherwise thoughtful and wide-ranging document simply reduced me to hysterics when I read it in the wider context of the Green Report, the shenanigans of the CNC and a lurch towards more authoritarian models of episcopacy. "One important principle here is the idea of subsidiarity – the principle that decisions should be devolved to the lowest level consistent
with effectiveness. Subsidiarity derives from Catholic social teaching,and it is a good principle for challenging the accumulation of power in fewer and fewer hands." Yes, your graces. Also "Inequality... can develop quickly but take a long time to overcome." They're not kidding, are they? Best of all "The purpose of education is not simply to prepare people to be economic units but to nurture their ability to
flourish as themselves and to seek the flourishing of others." That didn't come from the Green Report, did it?

Posted by: James A on Tuesday, 17 February 2015 at 2:00pm GMT

Very commendable. But the main point is that a significant number of the population do not trust any politician and are unwilling to change attitude. We should not be blamed for reacting in this way.

We all share the blame but I have to say the church has been particularly short on leadership and demonstrative example. By and large we are are very strong in personal faith but for many that faith does not fit well alongside the CofE hence the fall off in support. This too needs changing and the current leadership which I see as being remote needs to aspire to the challenge of connecting with individuals. This can be done - Pope Francis is an example. I may say that within individual parishes are some brilliant priests who in my view aspire to the qualities which Jesus displayed. These are the people who shine out and inspire hope in individuals everywhere but sadly they appear held back and frustrated by the current administration. Until this is rectified, there will be little light of inspiration. It is down to the Bishops not just to prognosticate but to talk with the masses and make radical change within.

Posted by: Peter Griffiths on Tuesday, 17 February 2015 at 2:06pm GMT

The document - at 56 pages I'd hardly call it a letter - reduced James A to hysterics. It reduced me to tears. "Motes and beams" came oft to mind as did "Physician, heal thyself."

Jesus mercy, Mary pray.

Posted by: RPNewark on Tuesday, 17 February 2015 at 4:36pm GMT

James A hits the mark well.

It seems to me that the whole fiasco surrounding Lord Green and his report are a prime example of the sort of leadership and direction that Christians should not espouse. I suspect the whole thing might sink without trace because of the dubiety that surrounds it.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Tuesday, 17 February 2015 at 5:18pm GMT

Well done Bishops on this one. Prophetic, pastoral and political.

Posted by: Andrew Lightbown on Tuesday, 17 February 2015 at 5:44pm GMT

I actually want to tell the Bishops to get stuffed.I am not a Roman Catholic and I do not want Bishops to tell me how to use my democratic rights. We have an excellent constituency MP who is helping us locally in a tough battle with a marketing giant. He also spoke and voted in favour of local mitochondrial research. I trust him much more than the Bishops.

Posted by: Jean Mayland (Revd) on Tuesday, 17 February 2015 at 8:04pm GMT

I've converted the guide (and the statements by the two bishops) from docx to pdf and uploaded copies. I've added links to these to the end of my article.

Posted by: Peter Owen on Tuesday, 17 February 2015 at 8:54pm GMT

I do not agree with (Revd) Jean. 'The Bishops' - whatever that phrase means, are not telling us how to use our democratic rights, but they are perhaps pointing to the messages of the Gospel in providing (at the very least,) a guide to the questions we should ask of those who want our vote.

As to the value of local MPs some will be good others self serving nonentities.

Unlike James I think the value of the letter/statement is not devalued by arguments over the Green report

Posted by: confused sussex on Wednesday, 18 February 2015 at 6:29am GMT

An excellent letter....and which party does not want disaffected people to vote? The conservative party of course. If there was compulsory voting in the UK the latter would be out of power forever.

Posted by: robert ian williams on Wednesday, 18 February 2015 at 7:34am GMT

Well done, Bishops.

Some of you want the CofE to be disestablished? Well this 'Letter' brings that day a lot closer.

Where to start? With the factual errors on unemployment and in-work poverty? With the wilful misdescription of much of the debate about immigration when so many have been so anxious NOT to cause offence?

It makes no attempt to even acknowledge the very real problem of welfare dependency, never mind how to counteract it.

It makes me ashamed to be a member of the Church of England.

Posted by: J Gibbs on Wednesday, 18 February 2015 at 10:19am GMT

To cut through all the 'fog' of information re.Church and politics, I would suggest that any thinking Human reads 'Brussels laid bare' by Marta Andreasen.This shows what a Tyrannical monster the EU is. We need to distance the UK from it immediately! W.May.

Posted by: William May on Wednesday, 18 February 2015 at 10:33am GMT

Not left-leaning? Then why do so many left-leaning types regard the 'letter' as endorsing their politics and as one in the eye for the Conservatives?

Posted by: Jill Armstead on Wednesday, 18 February 2015 at 2:17pm GMT

In response to J Gibbs, could it possibly be that the so-called "left-leaning" policies are more in consonance with the Sermon on the Mount? The Church has declared a bias to the poor.

Posted by: gerry reilly on Wednesday, 18 February 2015 at 3:26pm GMT

A practical matter - is this going to be made available as a printed booklet? I would like people to read it, but I don't particularly fancy running this off on my desktop printer for every member of the congregation.

Posted by: Matthew Duckett on Wednesday, 18 February 2015 at 5:43pm GMT

It has been a while for me to summon up the courage to read this document - a commentary on how far the Church of England has dropped in the esteem of the Nation that some of its own members can barely bring themselves to listen to their message.

Anyway, the document is occasionally a bit glib, simplistic and contains the required quota of common place truisms (it could have stood some editing on this point). Nevertheless as I came to the end of it I thought it was, overall, a very thoughtful piece of writing and, unusually for the CofE in recent years, a genuinely useful contribution to our current political situation.

Of course it's a little 'blue Labour' in political orientation and owes much to Burke (but no worse for it on both counts in my view, though some references to thinkers who clearly have influenced the document would also have helped).

I would have valued a section on human rights, seeing there have been Lambeth Conference resolutions in support of human rights (a serious omission bearing in mind the withdrawal from the ECHR might well be in the Conservative manifesto); I thought the pot shots at Health and safety 'gone mad' were a bit cheap when one considers people are still being injured and losing their life at work. But overall well worth reading.

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Wednesday, 18 February 2015 at 9:32pm GMT

Seems to me a well balanced document but one which clearly shews that the Church of England is no longer the Tory Party at Prayer. Following the May General Election it looks quite likely that we are in for yet another Coalition Government, quite possibly between Labour and the SNP. I well remember the good old days of the Left/Right divide when there was a clear difference between the two main parties and they could be distinguished by more than the colour of the ties (red and blue) that they wore.

Posted by: Father David on Friday, 20 February 2015 at 8:44am GMT

Just a few comments from all of this:

Document seems very contradictory. On the one hand they say that none of the parties seem to give a moral vision but yet they are saying that people should vote. For what? if none of them provide a moral vision for what the Church expects then why.

The Document says that you shouldn't vote for self interest. Well that kind of defeats the reason of one person one vote? Of course I am more inclined to vote for what is best for me and my family. I am not voting for Mrs Miggins up the road as they have a vote too.

It is rather a left leaning document as one would expect but I would err on the side of Caution since if peoples voting intention was purely based on this document then Ed Milliband would win by a landslide. The problem is people have very short memories regarding the Labour Government in power for 10 years. Did they do much to change the moral compass and why would it be the same this time around given that it is the middle classes (not the so called poor or rich) that keep them in power.

Posted by: Mark Rose on Tuesday, 24 February 2015 at 9:58am GMT

The Anglican Bishops' Vote Labour document is far more substantial and meaty that the recently released Letter from the Roman Catholic Bishops of England and Wales which says the same thing in far fewer words.

Posted by: Father David on Wednesday, 25 February 2015 at 7:17am GMT
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