Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Archbishop of York John Sentamu have issued a pastoral letter to the Church of England, considering the upcoming General Election.
In the midst of a frantic and sometimes fraught election campaign, our first obligation as Christians is to pray for those standing for office, and to continue to pray for those who are elected. We recognise the enormous responsibilities and the vast complexity of the issues that our political leaders face. We are constantly reminded of the personal costs and burdens carried by those in political life and by their families.
Our second obligation as Christians at these times is to set aside apathy and cynicism and to participate, and encourage others to do the same. At a practical level that could mean putting on a hustings event for candidates, volunteering for a candidate, or simply making sure to vote on Thursday 8th June. The Christian virtues of love, trust and hope should guide and judge our actions, as well as the actions and policies of all those who are seeking election to the House of Commons and to lead our country.
As well as the virtues of love, trust, and hope, the archbishops stressed the need for “cohesion, courage and stability,” and it is that last that has pundits speculating about whether the letter represents an implicit endorsement of the Conservative Party, which is running under the slogan, “strong and stable.”
Speaking from his tour of the Middle East, Welby denied accusations of partisanship. The Guardian newspaper reports,
Welby said the letter “spoke very clearly about refugees; about the issues around housing; health, particularly mental health but also public health … the catastrophic gap in life expectancy between rich and poor”.
The voting pattern of bishops in the House of Lords also showed political independence, he added.
Welby said: “Just because in a political campaign various words get bandied around, I don’t think Christians should give up and say we don’t have the copyright of the word any longer. We do, and stability is ours, thank you.
“Christian faith doesn’t fit on to a left/right spectrum. You can pick bits out and say ‘oh, that’s very rightwing’, you can go to the next bit and say ‘oh, they’re a bunch of trendy lefties’, and you keep going to and fro. We’re not on the same axis.”
The letter, which touches on trade and economics, health and education, housing and religion in public life, ends with a reference to the divisions over immigration and refugee relief that surfaced during last year’s Brexit referendum campaigning.
Cohesion, courage and stability are all needed in our response to the continuing national conversation about migration and refugees. Offering a generous and hospitable welcome to refugees and migrants is a vital expression of our common humanity, but it is not without cost and we should not be deaf to the legitimate concerns that have been expressed about the scale of population flows and the differential impact it has on different parts of society. The pressures of integration must be shared more equitably.
These deep virtues and practices – love, trust and hope, cohesion, courage and stability – are not the preserve of any one political party or worldview, but go to the heart of who we are as a country in all of its diversity.