Do the sermons of the world’s churchleaders resemble Guardian editorials? That was the conclusion of Giles Fraser writing in the Thursday edition of Britain’s leading left-liberal newspaper (and featured on the Today programme at 8.50am this morning). Rev Fraser, Vicar of Putney, reflected on the Christmas messages of key churchleaders. There was Rowan Williams’ anxiety about global warming. Cormac Murphy O’Connor’s focus on asylum seekers. The Pope’s concern about war.
A few thoughts:
- Concern for the environment, for the asylum seeker and a disposition against war are not signs of being left-wing. That they are popularly perceived as such is a failure of Britain’s centre-right. For too long Conservatives have allowed Labour to claim a monopoly of the moral high ground. It is one of the most promising aspects of Project Cameron that Conservatives are now beginning to compete with the left on issues such as conservation and social justice.
- What is true, however, is that there are weaknesses in the messages parroted by most churchleaders. Three stand out:
- There is a tendency to over-emphasise certain issues and neglect others. Britain’s churchleaders can, for example, be accused of talking too little about the family, about the unborn and about the dangers of large, centralised government.
- Churchleaders can quite properly discuss the environment and poverty but they are wrong to recommend big state solutions to those problems. Free market solutions to pollution and the role of civil society in leading the fight against poverty are routinely neglected.
- Most importantly there is a politicisation of Christianity. The churches that are emptying across Britain are the churches where the ministers have given up on evangelism and are talking constantly about "issues". Britain’s healthiest churches are the Bible-believing churches and the churches that are running their own social action projects – not waiting for government to act.
PS John Redwood is brave enough to identify a capitalist message within the Christmas story:
"It is traditional at this time of year for commentators to misrepseresent the Christmas story, urging more social housing to deal with the problem of homelessness. If they read the bible story more carefully, they would see it was not a housing shortage but a hotel bedroom shortage that caused the trouble. This shortage had been brought on by a nasty government, forcing people to travel away from their homes to the large towns and cities to register and to pay a tax. It was some kind of combination of an an early forerunner of ID cards with a poll tax."
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