“You’re right. I am an atheist, but the Church does healing: and we need healing in this country.”
A ‘very senior politician’ responding to the Archbishop of Canterbury
The above quotation is drawn directly from Archbishop Justin’s address in York Minster on Sunday 7th July. That ‘very senior politician’ had come to see him 2-3 weeks previously, asking for the Church of England’s involvement in issues needing mediation and reconciliation. ++ Justin’s question was: ‘But why come to the Church? So far as I know, you don’t believe what we believe, what I believe”.
But of course you don’t have to believe in order to see the need for healing and reconciliation. You only have to see the tensions at all levels of society, for example over Brexit, evident each week in BBC’s Question Time. Meanwhile youth violence is endemic, and young people themselves are deeply challenged by mental health issues.
Internationally, the position is hardly any better: Donald Trump’s combative style has created strains right across the world: from the Mexican border to the Far East, and from the Straits of Hormuz to the UK embassy in Washington.
What has happened to the middle ground, where so few now feel at home? We look at how generations of the future must learn from ++ Justin’s art of ‘disagreeing well’.
There is an increasing groundswell of those who compare today’s intolerance with the years between the two world wars. There are indeed parallels: in anti-Semitism, most visibly a continuing sore in the Labour Party, and in the populist nationalism so evident across the US and Europe.
However, in Europe it has resulted from the middle ground losing touch with the people, as the elite governing class has followed Jacques Delors’ lead in trying to force premature unity with the formation of the Eurozone. That’s why this commentary has called for an EU-wide referendum (ex-UK), in order to provide a new legitimacy for the single currency, if indeed that can be achieved.
But the subjects of intolerance differ between generations. It is the older folk who are so stirred up over populism, whereas younger folk’s prime concern is climate change. In the UK, the former may well settle once the leadership is changed and Brexit is achieved, but the latter will remain and build as a real cause for concern.
It is indeed ironic that the current hotspot of the Straits of Hormuz will lose some of its sensitivity as the world moves to alternative energy, although the prospect of both Israel and Iran having nuclear weapons will continue to challenge the world.
However there are some major international examples of reconciliation: thirty years ago in South Africa, in drawing a line under apartheid, and just recently in South Sudan, about which we wrote three weeks ago and about which Canon Joseph Bila spoke so movingly at the General Synod last Tuesday.
So it’s a multi-faceted healing that’s needed, across a wide range of issues and across the generations; and the process of disagreeing well is accordingly adaptable, and needs to be thus.
Both Archbishops spoke of the need for healing at the General Synod in York. ++ Sentamu spoke particularly of strains within the Church over different views about sexuality, opening his address: ‘How can people, who read the same Bible and share the same baptism, come to strongly diverse conclusions about human sexuality?” (quoted from former Archbishop Dr Rowan Williams in 2010).
He advocated patient empathy and patient listening, and that we should always consider how we can help others, and exercise in humility and grace: for none of us is the centre of the universe.
And what of the next generation? We need to give special attention to the needs of young people as they grow into adulthood, and help them answer the commonplace yearning for a sense of belonging. The General Synod’s debate on youth violence placed particular emphasis on the impact of school exclusions, and that’s an area which particularly affects young people in care.
So it was good to see the All Party Parliamentary Group on financial education for young people publish its report on financial education for children in care last week, an area where The Share Foundation is closely involved, with the provision of its Stepladder programme.
Another area in which The Share Foundation is particularly interested is the wholesale recovery of the Child Trust Fund, where one third of the six million accounts in issue are lost to the young people concerned, with the worst rate of loss affecting the poorest families. A hard-hitting information leaflet is being sent to all MPs over the next 10 days, so that the scheme can deliver hope and opportunity at all levels of UK society for the 8 to 16 year-olds for whom these accounts are held.
Of course, the basis for Christian healing can be found in the Beatitudes at the start of chapter 5 in St Matthew’s Gospel: blessing the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. But to these could be added the educators, for theirs is the potential to break the bonds of poverty: and the polarisation of wealth which sets us most apart from one another.
Gavin Oldham OBE