Updated. The press and the bloggers in the UK are still reacting over the Archbishop of Canterbury’s turn as guest-editor at the New Statesman.
The Times of London is aghast. Their lead article makes three points:
First, everyone knew that the current coalition government would balance the budget by cutting back social programs. That was what the election was all about, they say, so how can +Rowan say they are doing what no one voted for?
Second, it was foolish of the Archbishop of Canterbury to voice his opinion in such a partisan venue as the New Statesman, turning the Church of England into the “Labour Party at prayer.”
Finally, the Archbishop has done a rotten job leading the Church of England towards women bishops and welcoming gay clergy–something the majority of the population want. “Far from being a voice for liberal ideas,” they write, “he has been an obstruction.”
Ekklesia, on the other hand, quotes Mark Field, a conservative MP representing the cities of London and Westminster, who says that +Rowan was right…the Big Society was not thoroughly discussed with the voters before the last election.
While Prime Minister David Cameron attempts to rebut criticisms of his policies by the Archbishop of Canterbury, a Tory colleague has said the Church of England’s most senior cleric is is right on one of his major claims in an article in this week’s New Statesman magazine.
Mark Field MP told Channel Four TV news this evening (9 June 2011) that Dr Williams was correct to say that not very much from the key policies currently being implemented by the government was put before the voters as such in the 6 May 2010 General Election.
Mr Field and his Conservative colleagues have distanced themselves from the Archbishop on specific issues, but the member of parliament for the Cities of London and Westminster suggested that Dr Williams’ critique of public fear and bafflement over ‘reforms’ to welfare, the health service and education could continue to be directed at the embattled coalition by the opposition.
Church Mouse lists the top five silly things said in the firestorm of reaction to the article.
1. How dare the Archbishop talk about democracy – he’s not elected
Only a moron would suggest that discussions about democracy can only be had by people who have been elected – that would limit political discourse in this country only to members of the House of Commons. Do we really need to elect people before we can discuss democracy? No.
Silly rating: **** (4 stars)
2. The Archbishop should get his own house in order before criticising others
Despite an almost Biblical appeal to remove the plank from one’s own eye, the problem with this argument is that it doesn’t deal with any of the issues Rowan Williams raised. It is merely an insult to the Archbishop which ignores the content of the discussion.
Silly rating: *** (3 stars)
3. Rowan Williams should stick to being an Archbishop and get out of politics
This can only be said by someone who has absolutely no idea what the Church and its bishops are there for. If we all took this view, then the only people who could comment on politics would be professional politicians and those paid to comment on politics. A rather unpleasant
Silly rating: **** (4 stars)
4. Rowan Williams is only saying this to distract attention from problems in his own church
Of all the things Rowan Williams could do, why on earth would he do this? And how would it distract anyone from anything. This comment is simply lashing out at Rowan Williams with no basis in evidence, logic, reason or fact.
Silly rating: ***** (5 stars)
5. The Archbishop’s comments will take us back to the rows between Church and Government last seen in the 1980s
This can only be said or written by someone who did not read the article. Rowan’s criticisms were actually very gentle, despite the hysterical media coverage. He reinforced his support for the Big Society concept, even though he did describe the phrase as “stale”, and he supported Iain Duncan Smith’s vision of benefits reform. Through the entire article the Archbishop of Canterbury did not go as far as to say that he disagrees with a single policy – he merely said that the government should respond to the fear that is out there and make its case more clearly.
Rowan may be left leaning, but he is a million miles away from an all out attack on the government.
Silly rating: ***** (5 stars)
Lesley welcomes the liberal voice of the ABC, is happy that is not simply taking the stand of a neutral figurehead, and wishes he would follow through on things he believed and wrote about about before he was ABC.
The second thing is I welcome his liberal voice, and love to hear it. But I imagined that he had decided that his role was more of a figurehead, like the Queen – above politics and opinion… sitting on the fence and being a ‘focus for unity’. The Times leader says:
Over a generation and more, the culture of this country, with respect to the equal rights of women and gay people, for example, has become more liberal, with general popular assent. This welcome development has not yet found its expression in the Anglican Church, which still cannot resolve its problems with gay clergy and the desire for women priests to play a full role in the Church. On these pressing questions, Dr William’s leadership has been lamentable. Far from being a voice for liberal ideas, he has been an obstruction.
Harsh words, but some truth in them. I long for Rowan to speak out from the heart, with his liberal voice. I hope he will do it more and more. Especially in the Church of England.
Giles Fraser says that of course the Church should speak out on the moral impact of social policy…that is, get involved in the “murky world of politics.”
Oh no, not this old chestnut again. Should the church get stuck into the mucky world of politics? How ridiculous – of course it should. Dom Hélder Câmara, former Roman Catholic archbishop in Brazil, put it perfectly: “When I give to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.”
The same sentimental doublethink about the church is equally true of how the Tories have responded to the archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’s suggestion that the coalition government is letting down the most vulnerable in our society. The Tories want religious organisations to play a leading role in the formation of the “big society” (actually, it was our idea in the first place), but then get all uppity when those on the ground start reflecting back to government the effects of their policies – policies that very few of us thought we were voting for.
The “quiet resurgence of the seductive language of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor” needs a proper kicking. Perhaps our atheist intellectuals are too busy setting up their private universities to get stuck into the fight.