We should not be surprised that the Church of England has chosen to plant its banner in the battlefield for the 2015 General Election, yet some do question how correct it is in today’s society.
The Church has written a pastoral letter to the “People and Parishes of the Church of England” in a call for a “fresh moral vision of the kind of country we want to be”. It is aimed it highlighting the importance of community within the United Kingdom, calling for a “community of communities”, and asking people to remember the values of “neighbourliness”, as well as key Christian values.
Yet many have criticised the letter for appearing like a “shopping list” of policies. The letter itself does read, and look, an awful lot like a party manifesto. In it, the Church wades-in on the meaty subjects of defence, education, wealth and income inequality, Credit Unions and Housing Associations.
Calls for a Living Wage, previously outlined quite strongly by the Labour Party, and a renegotiation of Trident and even the UK’s place within the EU, are included in it. The letter raises the Church’s concern on the apparent disinterest its members have in politics, and seeks to remind Christians that “the privileges of living in a democracy mean that we should use our votes thoughtfully, prayerfully, and with the good of others in mind, not just our own interests”.
The stance from the Church following the letter’s release has been that it is not seeking to influence voters, or advocate a party, come voting on May 7th. Yet it does call for a stronger political vision, saying: “The different parties have failed to offer attractive visions of the kind of society and culture they wish to see, or distinctive goals they might pursue.
“Instead, we are subjected to sterile arguments about who might manage the existing system best.”
Despite this, though, one can easily argue that the Church carries far more sway than most of the political parties. The 2011 census found that there are 33.2 million Christians living in England and Wales. Though they may not all be practicing Christians, but they still make up 59% of the population.
This is more than any political party- even all parties combined. Thus, the Church’s stance on political issues will carry a lot of weight, and may even have an influence on voters’ choice at the ballot box. Though it does not align itself with a party, the recommendations in the pastoral letter do correlate most with those of the SNP and the Greens, with Trident and the Living Wage particularly.
We should not be surprised, though, that the Church can have this influence. The very fact that our Head of State is the head of the Church of England is not merely symbolic, but places the United Kingdom under the banner of Christianity, regardless of how many of us believe in the faith.
The monarchy makes us, definitively, subjects, not citizens. Therefore, the Church can have this voice in the political sphere. Whether the Church’s stance will be taken with criticism, or received as a “wise words from above” kind of stance, we shall have to wait and see.