Sunday, 13 June 2010

Archbishop Addresses the MPs and Lords

Sermon for the New Parliament: Sunday 13 June 2010

The Archbishop of Anglicanism preached at a Service for the New Parliament at the State Privilege Church, Houses of Parliament. He didn't recognise many people there because, apparently, an election means that some people lose their seats and others win them, and there are different people selected in existing seats, especially after so many resigned after fiddling their expenses. Because the Chaplain to the Speaker did not know what to say to the new boys and girls, he asked the Archbishop if he'd like to say a few words instead, and the Archbishop is always keen to show the level of consistency between how he relates to the world and how he relates to the Anglican Communion, especially now that different parties make up the government.


Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God. So anyone reading this interprets that Caesar gets what doesn't matter so much compared with what goes to God -the punchline of the saying. However, in this photograph-sharing televisual world, I'd like to concentrate on the fact that the coin has a person's head on it: we know the coin carries the stamp of Caesar's authority on it because his image is there, and so what belongs to God also has his picture on it, though we struggle to find his image anywhere, and then I have my own image on my website as head of the Anglican Communion and this reflects the authority I am trying to build, although as yet I have not minted any Anglican coin in the slot machines for entry into Anglican institutions.

People are, like myself, made in the image of God, so it is said, and much has been written about how this can be interpreted as power going to one's head. Presidents and Prime Ministers all face this difficulty. It is as if we can get hold of an institution, with a license to exploit and wreck it. But actually the coin or note, with our images on it that look like God, so different from the bland images on the euro incidentally, which relate to little but an economic crisis for the new Roman Empire in the making, are not about the unlimited right of capitalistic ownership but the creative responsibility to make something of the world, this world, for the glory of God and his institutions and the liberty and dignity of every human being as they get creative as God is indeed the creator.

And what institutions are closer to God than those which reflect the narratives of faith? You may not share any of these narratives, being perhaps largely secular MPs curious to come to a service preached to you by someone as illustrious as someone in my position, with my image so to speak on the Anglican coin, but I do head the institution that reflects one particular narrative of faith, the Christian equivalent of the ulema.

And so we have a curious three way split here, the coin with Caesar on one face, God on the other face and me on the chiselled edge. And in the story of the tribute we all give, in the various ways that we do, Jesus refuses to criticise the government, as he wants to be arrested on a demo of his own choosing according to the biblical narrative rather than one according to the government's latest legislation that even in his context questions the liberty of every individual. In fact he will have a role for money later, as he later tells Judas to go and earn a bob or two at the right moment so that the right narratives kick in at that moment, in the fidelity-to-older-scripture accounts we have of the biography-like presentation that we in our tradition call our own.

There is then the big picture for every manager, football coach, politician, archbishop, who seeks to be more than a mere manager of the State's or Church's business - that under God we consider at least the dignity and participation no less of every kind of person, that we do not ask them to sacrifice themselves perhaps by some diktat to a letter via an official who does the job with the person whose image is somewhere on the coin.

What we don't want is the stand-off that sometimes arises when we try and talk about what 'strong' leadership means, whether it is in the government or the Anglican Communion. We don't want to be patronised or bullied or stripped of the fruits of our own work. But nor should we hand over all responsibility to non-State or non-Church agents, so that when we have the task of cutting or excluding we should be prepared to take the decisions ourselves, eventually at least. We are accountable; we should each of us be prepared to say that "I am accountable" when I take actions. One mistake is to have a culture of obsessional legislation, leading to a paralysis of initiative and pervasive anxiety, as one gets with prescriptive laws, documents and artificial Covenants.

Who are we then? Are we not the delinquent children of Friedrich Hayek, Sidney Webb, Pope Pius IX and J. M. Thompson, the latter of which wrote about 'Post-Modernism' in my own sphere in The Hibbert Journal back in July 1914, starting on page 733?

Perhaps we are, or maybe not, but we delude ourselves if we think another ideology or paradigm is on the way - because, rather, they are breaking down, which is one of the conditions for something new about to emerge. In the meantime, we have this condition where voters could not tell the arguments made by politicians at the election, and readers and listeners cannot tell the arguments made by me in my lectures and sermons. But the practices remain, thus of legislating and law making, and in my case borrowing such concepts to legislation and administrate at a Communion wide level which, at least, is innovative at the level of the Anglican Communion and is perhaps a new paradigm for Anglicanism introduced by myself for all others.

So the government and myself can or cannot fail to put human dignity at the front of our own policies. I have myself innovated on this matter regarding the renewing date of Pentecost, where I seek to exclude those in representational terms who make the mistake of confusing the full notion of human dignity with religious ministry.

We enhance dignity not by legislative or administrative means, but by deliberately building capacity for co-operation, encouraging mutual dependence and skill-sharing, and thus in the confusion of dignity and ministry it is necessary in my governance, for example, to limit co-operation, encouraging mutual dependence and skill-sharing by excluding in an administrative and legislative sense.

After all, the marketing of a 'social-quality market' of collaboration and skill sharing has been one of the tragedies of the last thirty years, and we need something better. So, in my own field, I do not consider Anglicanism to be the sharing of best practice nor the absence of sharing practice but rather holding back until the resistance in sharing best practice is mellowed over what may be many years ahead and to exclude the best practisers until we arrive at that outcome.

We should not promote human rights alone, that provide one vision of a way ahead, but mutual care, and sharing, such as skills and co-operation. Such practicality must include, however, the supposedly 'unproductive', the very old and the very young, the mentally ill and physically challenged and terminally ill. It is not about discrimination, for such groups that face discrimination, that are asked to sacrifice themselves, can of course look after themselves. I call it 'civic warmth', the trusting of the wider social fabric, rather than actual near and real people: in that from government activity in legislating and directing policy, trust can grow.

And it is trust that has lain at the heart of the problem. People have felt they have not been told the whole truth about some matters, for example in my own activity the number of same-sex blessings that we do in England but unofficially and without formal recognition. Some of that perception has been unfair. And government has dealt with the financial problem eating at the heart of the value of Church of England pensions, especially after our formal acceptance of same sex partnerships in the clergy for pension purposes, which, fortunately, legislative and administrative action at a Communion and Covenant level quietly ignores. But the ineradicable impression has been of systems that have rewarded or connived at duplicity, and that trust has been squandered.

The people of the United Kingdom do not want to see politics or religion reduced to entertainment, slogans and personalities, like we have increasingly in our own evangelicals. We end up demonising such personalities, which is hardly the intention of the evangelicals or politicians themselves, and I wonder about including both identities in the same breath. The danger is of the evangelicalistic and politicalistic campaigning backfiring and working against the dignity of our public life. But the harsh truth is that this kind of dignity has, more than ever, to be worked at in terms of including all people at the table.

Perhaps at this moment I can come to refer to the Bible reading, which the rules tell me I ought to do. Faithfulness to the law of Moses gathers a people drawn together out of exile, out of isolation. So we cannot have forgetfulness of the law, as it means fragmentation, people losing touch with each other, and so in my own practice I move ahead with new Anglican law that will create isolation and fragmentation in at least some cases, that is part of the cut and thrust of the administrative and governmental lifeworld. It is its own punishment, and renewal institutionally does not come without acknowledgement of this fragmentation. It is something for which the entire community of God's people has to take responsibility, not one leader, not one party, not one Archbishop or his Secretary General, though American politics has the phrase that the buck stops with me, and starts with me too in this case.

So the buzz words, the marketing speak, must be 'dignity' and 'civic warmth', however much we use these, fail to use these, or indulge in cynical deception as a strategy towards some greater and more noble goal. It is an unfashionable idea and yet needs dusting off as something we can all acquire in our own spheres: the ongoing significance of our decisions, of patience and losing patience with others and willingness to discover or exclude together what is good for a community, even down to parish church level ultimately, or in the towns, on the beaches, in the hills and we shall never surrender.

We seem to have forgotten how to celebrate, but fortunately some do remember how to celebrate. Religious believers are not some sort of weirdos who randomly and unreasonably come together unoccasionally to reaffirm the some say bonkers views that they hold. No, they hold to a narrative rather different from the major guiding narratives of understanding of the day and come together regularly or unregularly to affirm these minority stances, such that there might be a God who directs the traffic of history despite (or subject to) such a randomness of events and the human building of culture that in fact calls for the expansion of dignity. Celebration is a form of thanks for where we find ourselves in the midst of our history, our environment, on this time-limited 5 billion year old earth in one corner of the rapidly expanding 13 billion year old universe.

The Christian Church has historically been the main carrier of this celebratory vision, although this may change, especially if there are moves to introduce aspects of Sharia Law, which I have been privileged to discuss over the years. So the rhythms are there, to be added to by new drum beats and different melodies, not least, though not exclusively, in the life of the established Church and offbeats in the Communion.

I am not asking for privilege, in such matters, though I would like to be able to continue to speak in the House of Lords after Nick Clegg has had his way with the undoubtedly messy matters with democracy and liberty, being the overemphasis on human rights that marks our culture today. I wish to speak, not for a privilege of voice, but to add to the breadth and comprehensivity of the debate in the public space.

Still less do I call for religious censorship, even in areas of employment and discrimination, which the Church would like to keep to some extent. Equality legislation does undermine our belief in the apparent dignity of all people. But we are weaker in the Church, and taking these knocks is weakening us more, and so we need some special thought as to maintaining our place in the public square, such as my ability to speak in favour of employment discrimination when it comes to whom the Church wants to employ.

Giving to Caesar what is Caesar's then, actually, is not a good model for our common life. We need the other side of the coin, and we need the edge of the coin too. We need a strong ground for the affirmation of fixed and non-negotiable dignity in all human beings, as the Church and Communion continues its negotiations in these areas. Giving God what belongs to God involves what is in Caesar's own realm, and so we do not simply give to Caesar what is Caesar's. I wish to criticise Jesus here. So may this new Parliament mark a new level of enthusiasm and imagination for what is God's, and in what is human dignity, just as we struggle with these matters within the Anglican setting. Perhaps the answer here is that we have quite a bit of Caesar in what belongs to God, but then mixing things up a bit has always been the vision or way of organised religion, just as it should be in the way of the State, whether carried out by politicians or clergy. Amen.

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