The Church of England finds itself, Tuesday, January 24, at the center of the British political debate. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, his Primate, and the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, publish a report on ‘Care and Support Reimagined’. It is intended to “propose a new vision of social assistance”, while the sector is going through an unprecedented crisis, lacking staff and the means to cope with the aging population.
This project “is not an attack on the current government or the Conservative Party, it is a question of recognizing that this country has never managed the question of care well”, assures Malcolm Brown, the director of missions and affairs. public services of the Church of England. There is no doubt, however, that this publication will be interpreted as interference by the “established Church” in national politics and a criticism of the action of the party in power for almost thirteen years.
Criticisms of social policy
Since taking office in 2013, Justin Welby has indeed never hesitated to criticize the action of the authorities on human and social issues and, even recently, during his wishes for the new year, he urged them to take measures to repair the health care system that he considers “broken”.
In the past, he had also openly condemned the harmful effects of the social policy and the budgetary and wage austerity carried out by the government of David Cameron. During his last Easter sermon, he raised “the ethical questions” posed by the government’s decision to deport foreigners to Rwanda who arrived without valid visas on British soil, and disapproved of its decision to “contract out” its responsibilities.
26 archbishops and bishops members of the House of Lords
The involvement of the Archbishop of Canterbury and his colleagues in national politics is not a new phenomenon. “The Church of England has been part of the government of the English nation since the very first English Parliament, to which its bishops were integrated as members of the House of Lords, recalls Malcolm Brown. Along with the higher clergy, they have therefore always been active in the public arena. »
In a book published in 1942, Christianity and social order, the Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple had formally established the line of conduct followed today by Justin Welby. “He had presented the right and the duty of the Church to get involved in social and political issues”, continues Malcolm Brown. A year earlier, the theoretician had coined the term “welfare state”, taken up by his friend and senior civil servant William Beveridge, whose proposals served as the basis for the establishment, in 1948, of the British social system.
The Conservative Party has lost the “trust” of the Church
It was not until 1985 that the Church of England produced a major and controversial new political text. “The ‘Faith in the City’ report was a response to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s divisive policy, which impoverished entire regions of the country,” explains Malcolm Brown. Since then, the Conservative Party has never again trusted the Church of England, seeing us as agents of the left, even though Labor and the Liberal Democrats are dominated by secularism. »
Despite this mistrust, the Anglican Church has preserved political influence, thanks to the presence of 26 archbishops and bishops in the House of Lords, which has 780 members. “Although they are a tiny group, they tend to be listened to with respect and some are very knowledgeable about particular policy areas, enabling them to help amend legislation,” says John Anderson. , Professor at the School of International Relations at the University of St Andrews. They no longer have access to the Prime Minister as was the case until the early 1950s, but some Archbishops of Canterbury have maintained good relations with the tenant of 10 Downing Street. »
The influence of the Anglican Church “affected”
The interventions of prominent church figures in national political affairs are also widely covered in the media. Do they influence the English? For Malcolm Brown, “Anglican clergy, like representatives of other religions, are part of daily British life, just like MPs”.
Sociologist Abby Day, a professor at London’s Goldsmiths University, believes that for “most Britons, the Church is no longer relevant since it lost its moral authority. It failed to be egalitarian and diverse. The examples of sexual violence against minors covered by the Church as well as its point of view on sexuality have greatly affected its reputation, and therefore its influence”.
Anglicanism on the decline
The decline attendance at religious services is evident within the Church of England. In 2013, its parishes attracted 993,000 churchgoers each week, compared to 854,000 in 2019 – a 14% drop in six years.
end of november, the 2021 national census established for the first time that less than half (46.2%) of the population in England and Wales called themselves “Christian”.
Faced with this secularization, In 2020, the institution launched a “Vision and Strategy” plan aimed at opening, by 2030, 3,000 new “prayer spaces” to attract people far from the faith.
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