Dear Brothers and Sisters,
‘Should politics be kept out of the pulpit?’ was a question, many years ago, on an examination paper I sat. I can’t now recall the events which prompted the question – it may have been to do with ‘ban the bomb’ – but I was reminded of it by the current controversy surrounding the Bishop of St David’s in the Church of Wales who apparently posted an entry on her Twitter account which read ‘never, never, never trust a Tory’. She has always made her own political views clear on her private Twitter account, but that is a very different matter from such an attack on people who vote differently from her. Nor was this her only tweet in a similar vein. Yet a large number of people in her own diocese for whom she shares the cure of souls must surely be Tory supporters.
There will inevitably be differences between the way clergy vote and many in their congregations and though most clergy I know do not hide their affiliations, neither do they shout them from the church rooftop. And the way they vote doesn’t prevent them from ministering to those of a different political persuasion, any more than a priest’s sex prevents him from ministering to both men and women. But the question is how far a priest or bishop should express political views to his congregation, especially in a sermon when there is not the opportunity for people to engage in discourse. Or is it right to raise the issue and express a view for parishioners to discuss over coffee after Mass? You will remember how Alastair Campbell famously said of Tony Blair ‘we don’t do God’; should clergy do politics?
One must distinguish between party politics and ethical issues in the political arena. Churches are places where it is fair to raise difficult issues – to ask questions, but not necessarily to give the answers. There are many ethical issues which can be considered in the light of biblical teaching – poverty, oppression, persecution, prisoners, refugees, climate change, assisted dying, abortion, among them. In our novena of prayer for the coming of the kingdom between the Ascension and Pentecost we prayed for the kingdom to come into our lives and into society and it must be right for the church to be able to debate how best to help this without being accused of meddling in politics. However, this should be done in a spirit of listening to each other, not by offensive tweets on social media.
As it happens there is one particular issue that the church authorities have asked parishes to engage with and listen to opposing views. This is a project called Living in love and faith and the bishops of the diocese are strongly encouraging churches to take part. The hope is that people across the country will study and pray about issues relating to identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage to help the Church of England discern a way forward. There is a wide range of resources provided, including an online book, five-part video course, podcasts and films. The issues involved have political, ethical and biblical aspects. I discussed with the PCC recently whether we should form a group of people to take part but there was little support. I am now giving everyone the opportunity to consider whether they would like to contribute to discussions in this way, and to join, or even to lead, a small group. If you are interested, please have a word with me.
This is our last magazine until September. Many of you will I hope be able to take a holiday during the next two months, even if it may not be the holiday you would have liked. Travel safely and have a relaxing and refreshing break, and even if you are not able to go away try to take time to recharge your batteries.