Sunday, 24 June 2012

A bearded bishop and a big society

I'm never sure what to make of religious leaders getting involved in politics. I can understand the case that if they want their faith to be relevant to the real world, and the instinct to tell them to butt out of stuff that's not their business.

It gets more difficult when one day they say something that annoys me, and soon after come up with a statement that gets me nodding approval. As with last week, when the CofE claimed that gay marriage would undermine its status for us hetrosexuals, and today when the Archbishop of Canterbury has reportedly said that David Cameron's big society is a load of old tosh, designed as an excuse for the state to stop supporting people who its support.

Overall I find Rowan Williams an agreeable character. He's had to fudge a few things to keep the CofE together as the gap between its liberal leanings in most of the world and its bigots in Africa gets wider, but I'm sure it's loyalty to the institution that drives him; and I suspect that if it comes to the crunch he would be ready to wave goodbye to the ones who want to stay in the 19th century.

I also go along with his view on the big society. It's another twist on the Conservative preoccupation with shrinking the state, cutting the tax bill for rich people, and leaving more vulnerable people dependent on charity.

But I'm wary of making myself a hypocrite by saying that it's alright for the CofE, or any church, to give Cameron some stick in public but that it ought to stay quiet about an issue like gay marriage where it's lining up with a lot of conservatives.

So I think the church should say its bit about big social issues, even if it's straying into politics. Us liberal types can always argue when we don't like what it says, and the fact is that in Britain the various churches, even the establishment CofE, don't have the weight to swing an issue one way or the other.

I just fear what would happen if some of the evangelist churches here might get well organised and start chucking their weight about in the political arena. You've only got to look at the States to see how intolerant and nasty it can get. As long as our wooly old CofE and people like its bearded archbishop are the main religious force in this country it's better for all of us. 

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