The Church of England has caused controversy with a recent pastoral letter on the 2015 General Election.
I haven’t read the whole letter (it’s 56 pages long), but it’s worth looking at some quotes from the Church of England website:
- 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 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.
- 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 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 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.
- 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."
Certain sections of the press have come out against the letter, with The Times calling the letter "unsolicited, disingenuous and in at least half a dozen respects nakedly partisan", whilst the Daily Mail says that "the bishops should throw away their mitres and stand for election" if they "wish to enter the political fray" - or else "stick to their day job".
That last comment seemingly failing to understand the fact that, through their work as “Lords Spiritual” in the House of Lords, being part of the political fray is part of the Bishops’ “day job”.
It seems that the Bishops are advocating that we take part in the democratic process – in line with the “Show Up” campaign mentioned previously – and that we consider how we can look at electing a government with social justice at its heart. If any political party sees this as “opposing” them, then it is to themselves and their policies they should look, not to the authors of the pastoral letter.
I believe that a groundswell of opinion is forming among adherents of all faiths, that political parties of all colours listen to us and our opinions – whilst many may consider the letter “anti-Tory”, the Labour Party also has much to learn from it.
Keep praying in the run-up to the election, that God’s will be done.