and not content

 

Why do Christian leaders pronounce about politics, but are seldom clear or explicit on matters of doctrine and morals? Rowan Williams, for

example, was all over the media denouncing the Alliance’s proposals for the revision of the benefits system, even before the details had emerged. Now he has been backed up by a joint statement of the major Protestant denominations of the United Kingdom

The rule appears to be that Christian leaders can only allow themselves to be unequivocal in areas where they bear no responsibility and can therefore be awarded no blame. The case is most acute for English Anglicans. What price a National Church, with seats in the House of Lords, if it cannot speak on matters of national interest? And since eternal salvation is no longer of any interest to the majority of Englishmen, it is clearly not a fit topic for episcopal discourse.

But mercifully, people will always assess opinions on the presumed competence of those who advance them. So why trust an assorted bunch of ecclesiastical bureaucrats - who cannot even agree amongst themselves - more than Ian Duncan-Smith, who at least has a coalition Government behind him?

Some, of course, will always prefer a bearded lefty to a smooth talking Tory toff – even when the bearded lefty can talk for England, in the Olympic sense. But it does not follow that a government appointed former academic is better informed about social policy than an elected politician. Nor is it self-evident that the Archbishop’s opinions on the matter are any more ‘Christian’ than the Minister’s.

The time has come to explode the twin shibboleths of the Christian liberal consensus: that the Churches should and can speak for the conscience of the nation and that there is a direct and self-evident connection between the doctrines of the New Testament and contemporary social policy. Neither proposition bears a moment’s scrutiny. ND

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