Should an Archbishop speak out about politics?

Justin Welby has been in the news recently for speaking out about politics. Notably, he called for higher taxes to tackle an ‘unjust economy’. He’s garnered quite a lot of criticism for speaking out in this way, and has written an article defending speaking out publicly.

Others have written about this more eloquently and wisely than I – I enjoyed what Ian Paul had to say – so I’ll just make a few brief comments.

Firstly: It’s not wrong for an Archbishop – or any Christian – to get involved with politics. I believe in getting involved in politics because I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord of everything and cares about the whole of creation. I outlined a little about this in my post about not understanding Tim Farron. God’s laws are given for the good of all, and thus I think it’s right for Christians to be involved in politics.

Secondly: Christian leaders should be very careful about being involved with politics. One of the problems with politics is that, whatever you say, people will disagree with. That’s how it works. This is why I think Christian leaders have a particular responsibility to say only what they are absolutely sure is right. I haven’t spoken in any of my sermons about the way I voted in in the Brexit referendum, for example – even though I think there were good reasons for voting the way I did. If you align yourself with a particular cause, people may well think that the Kingdom of God is aligned with that particular cause. In contrast, Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Jesus’ kingdom stretches across national boundaries, across political boundaries, across just about every boundary. Although I may be of one particular political persuasion, I believe that there are faithful Christians who have other political persuasions – and I want to welcome them to have a place at the table. Anyone who Christ welcomes, I want to welcome too. Making political pronouncements which align with one particular style of politics – unless you have a cast-iron Biblical reason for doing so – is wrong and unnecessarily divides the body of Christ on political lines.

Thirdly: Economics is not a straightforward matter. A lot of people seem to be glad that the Archbishop is doing something about the poor (and Christians should be concerned with the poor). The thing is, as I already talked about in my post about the poor, poverty is hugely complicated. I am far from persuaded that what the poor need is more money from the government – in many cases, at least. Among the people I work with one of the biggest problems is family breakdown – fewer people are getting married, more and more children are being born into families with what used to be described as ‘complicated’ arrangements. All this is having a huge effect. I think this is nothing short of a national scandal – I’m sure I’ve read the UK has the highest rate of family breakdown in the developed world.

Why isn’t the Archbishop speaking out about this, for example? Any why is he instead advocating for higher taxes, which many are convinced will not actually help?

Finally: The ultimate solution we have is Jesus. This is the biggest problem I have with Justin Welby getting involved in the way that he has. The solution God has given us to the problems of the world is not politics, but Jesus Christ – who alone has the power to forgive sin and give us the power to live in God’s ways. Welby seems to be putting the State in the place of the gospel. If he actually spent more time publicly calling people to repentance and faith in Christ it would have a far greater effect than asking the government to sort out economic injustice.

I’m not asking for the church to simply preach the gospel and do nothing about social issues. But rather, the church needs to tackle the social issues with the gospel. As people come to faith in Christ, they learn to love God and their neighbour as they are transformed by the Spirit. And it is this kind of language which I see absent from much of what Justin Welby says (and, to be fair, not just him but most of the Church of England).

Earlier on I watched the latest Anglican Unscripted episode, and I enjoyed the comments made in the second half of the video talking about this subject. If the church was committed to the task of evangelism, it would have a much bigger effect on the country than anything the state could do.

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