Sentamu and the moral leadership of Anglicanism

If the Church of England cannot provide a common moral vision for the world-wide Anglican Community, why should we suppose it would be any better at providing one for 21st Century Britain?

The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu gave a speech to the Smith Institute last week, ‘Regaining a Big Vision for Britain’, as part of their ‘Reinvigourating Communities’ lecture series. Its available to view via Policy Review TV:

He outlines the Big Vision of the Beveridge Report, and the influence of William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury of the time, in the development of the Welfare State. The Big Vision, Sentamu argues, was built on a distinctly Christian ethic and conception of humanity. Now we need a new vision, which leaders must articulate, so that we can all once again pull together to realise the social and economic changes required to mend our fractured society.

Archbishop Sentamu clearly believes that the Church of England has a role to play in articulating, and providing moral leadership, on this new Big Vision for Britain. But I see some pitfalls along the way. First, he acknowledges that communities and families are the blocks around which a society should be built. But the Church’s conception of these building blocks is very traditional: Communities built around a parish, a place of worship, or at least a shared location; and families in the hetrosexual, nuclear sense. It comes into friction with the non-traditional versions of these same building blocks: communities built online, say, or homosexual couples. Its not clear to me how Anglicanism can claim particular expertise in building these new groups into a grand coalition that will move us forward.

The Archbishop also repeats his analysis of how the policy of multiculturalism went too far in favour of minority cultures, at the expense of any respect for the idea of Britishness (this is something I have taken issue with him before). He asserts that if we want integration, there must be a strong, broad, primary culture available to integrate with! This is fine, but I do wish that the Church of England would apply this insight when managing its own multicultural issues, as found within the world-wide Anglican Communion. The British approach is supposed to be a core principle of the Communion, yet many of its constituent Churches have, in recent years, seemed to reject that approach. If the Church of England cannot provide a common moral vision for the world-wide Anglican Community, why should we suppose it would be any better at providing one for 21st Century Britain, diverse, modern and glorious?

Meanwhile…

… over at the Secular Right blog, Heather MacDonald writes on the phenomenon of “Drive-Thru Religion”, and how the rise of secularism does not seem to have resulted in a country-wide a descent into Sodom and Gomorrah:

Only a quarter of Americans attend church weekly. Yet moral chaos has not broken out; society has grown more prosperous as secularism expands. Empathy with others, an awareness of the necessity of the Golden Rule, survive the radical transformation of religious belief, it turns out. Perhaps because a moral sense is the foundation, not the result, of religious ethics.

(Via teh Dish). Applied to the British case, perhaps the values of the Anglican Church have arisen due to the values of British culture, and not vice-versa. Given that the Church of England grew out of the reformation, and the freedom of non-conformism was a hard fought for political fight, that analysis seems more accurate to me. Its not a binary argument of course, but it seems to me that Archbishop Sentamu is on uneven ground if he is claiming the great social achievements of the past century to be a product of the Anglican approach, even if William Temple did have an hand in the Beveridge Report.

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