Thanks for the pictures of Easter Sunday: our beautiful world.
Also, the Bishop of Chichester's analysis of the painting in his Easter video message. Wonderful.
Nick Spencer offers an interesting analysis in the Telegraph, that raises questions about the way a benign secularism has been allowed to hold sway in British public life for so long, despite the faith convictions of those who lead us. Now that we are facing Brexit and a General Election, will the C of E continue to collude with this? Welby has, allegedly, said that he doesn't want to 'upset Theresa May' as justification for maintaining his astonishing silence about the ethical and theological implications of Brexit. Will we see a similar conspiracy between politics and religion in this forthcoming election campaign? For an average Anglican 'punter' like me, this is hugely embarrassing and lays bare the lack of intellectually creative clout at the top of the C of E. David Jenkins must be turning in his grave.
Nick Spencer remarks in the Daily Telegraph that ‘in the 35 years after the Second World War, the country only really had one personally devout Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan’ [sic.]. Even if this were true, it is curious, given how Macmillan was probably the most cynical and opportunistic of all premiers in that period.
However, it is also a somewhat dubious proposition. I have a letter in my possession from Alec Home (son-in-law of Cyril Alington) lamenting the decline of ‘Christian morals, attendance and conduct’ as the single most important fact of his lifetime. Edward Heath would also have been rather surprised by the suggestion that he was not committed to the faith.
Even if Mr Spencer’s claim holds little water, a more apt comparison might have been with the premiers in the period from (say) 1900 to 1945. Absent Salisbury (a genuine dévot, perhaps in atonement for his family’s expropriation of much ecclesiastical property in the sixteenth century) and Baldwin (a complex man of uncomplicated faith), the record is largely one of indifference: Balfour – the defender of ‘philosophic doubt’ – swapped denomination depending on which side of the Tweed he happened to be; CB was devoted only to his ease; Asquith would occasionally stroll into Sutton Courtenay from a round of golf to read the lesson; LG, the darling and tribune of the radical nonconformists was called the ‘Goat’ for the usual reasons; Bonar Law’s ostensible protestantism concealed a more earnest commitment to bridge and cigars; MacDonald was, at best, nominally presbyterian, whilst Chamberlain (from a unitarian family) was, like his half-brother, a pretty vehement unbeliever (despite being buried in the Abbey and commemorated on the north-west wall of the nave at Heckfield).
We have had few overtly irreligious heads of government: Bolingbroke (who wrote atheistic tracts whilst in exile), Shelburne (possibly), Chamberlain and Attlee (Grafton also had unitarian tendencies). Bolingbroke preferred the fire-eating high churchman, Atterbury, to Rochester, whilst Attlee (to whom Churchill delegated most Church business during the wartime coalition) was arguably a prime mover in assigning the rather prim and formal Fisher to Lambeth; Attlee may have deprecated ‘mumbo-jumbo’, but neither he nor Bolingbroke were enemies of the Church. It is harder to position Wilson and Callaghan, who were respectively suffused with Congregationalist and Baptist sentiments, despite fading into what was probably an undemonstrative agnosticism; Major’s faith is still more of a mystery.
Froghole: re Balfour swapping denomination depending on which side of the Tweed he happened to be. Nothing wrong with that. The Queen does it. So does my husband - originally an Irish Presbyterian.
Flora Alexander: I agree there's nothing wrong with it (at least because I do it too). On the whole I think that Balfour was a fairly loyal churchman/kirkman, as befitted a Cecil-by-marriage, but he was quite close to Sedgwick & co. at Cambridge (who were not Christians). It is hard to think of him as pious or devout. However, he did not tend to theosophism and psychical research beloved of his brother Gerald (who sat in his cabinet).
Sorry, 'by marriage', I mean that his mother was a Cecil; half-Cecil, in other words.
Thank you, David Hunter, for highlighting the real issue here. Having just read, in the Church Times, that the ABC's office says 'The Archbishop won't be commenting on the election' I am astounded. Is he leading the Church of England, or some private membership organisation that has nothing to say about the way the Christian faith impacts on the ordering of society? I never thought I would be praising a Tory Prime Minister, but Theresa May's interventions about England's Christian roots over Easter have highlighted the political naivete that is now a feature of much of the C of E's leadership. The wounds over Brexit are still wide open. The needs of the poor, the elderly, the migrant and the mentally ill have not suddenly evaporated. The deep divisions in our communities remain. These are fundamental theological matters on which scripture and tradition have much to say.
As was the case in the lead-up to the Brexit referendum, we will have to leave it to Cardinal Nichols and others to step into the vacuum. When the person at the top has no confidence in his role beyond micro-managing the internal agenda, no wonder the C of E is in decline. At this rate, it deserves to be.
Welby should take a leaf out of his predecessor's book, who spoke out in favour of keeping the 0.7% commitment to foreign aid in the Tory manifesto, one of the most anticipated documents since the Magna Carta. It makes little difference whether Theresa May's majority is 40, 80 or 120, her bluster about 'strong' leadership masks an extremely weak negotiating hand, with most options taken off the table in advance of Brexit discussions. For Macron and Merkel, the consequences of 'Brexit means Brexit' mean less favourable terms of trade outside the single market. And Trump has been persuaded by Merkel that the UK comes after the EU in future trade deals, as warned by Obama (Note that Ivanka is currently in Berlin).
May's ideologically-driven approach doesn't alter the economic impact of our departure on trade, jobs, welfare spending and public services. Last month's retail sales figures were the lowest since 2014 with inflation increasing at the highest rate since 2012, due to the affect on the pound since the Referendum (Project Reality rather then Project Fear). The prospect of tax hikes loom with the undoing of the triple tax and pensions locks, so the question is where the burden lies. The PMs refusal to participate in televised leaders' debates which would connect with the Millennials - those most likely to be affected by the outcome of this election - is also troubling.
May offers jam tomorrow for the JAMs and a 'no pain, no gain' trajectory towards Brexit. If the Lords Spiritual sit on their hands and ignore the potential effects on the most vulnerable and lack of democratic accountability then what are they there for?
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