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What is the role of the Church in all of this?

ResPublica’s Caroline Julian presses the Church of England for a more transformative agenda

Simply by proximity to Occupy London protests has the Church of England's role in public political life emerged centre stage. After decades, and arguably centuries, of squeezing the Church out of the public square, many - citizens, politicians, commentators, those of other faiths and from the Church itself - are now instead asking, 'what is the church's role in all of this?', 'what is the Church going to do in response?', and perhaps in a more exasperated manner, 'why hasn't the Church yet done anything about it?'

It is not uncommon that the social, civic and political action of the Church goes unnoticed, as is the case for many other small, local groups who wish to make a difference in their communities. The phenomenal response to the summer riots, recorded most successfully by The Contextual Theology Centre, represents just one instance where churches and other faith groups stepped forward to both uphold a sense of civic responsibility and react to the troubles which had come to saturate their neighbourhoods.

On a national and international scale too, the Church has sought to call 'immoral markets' and 'vacuous values' to account. In yesterday’s FT, we absorbed the Archbishop of Canterbury’s assertion that the Church of England has a ‘proper interest in the ethics of the financial world’, advocating a tax on financial transactions as a way in which markets could begin to be re-modelled. And only last week did we see the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace’s response to the crises of market functionality, pressing for further regulatory action of economies that have got out of hand.

But perhaps where the Church can make the most difference is not found so much in suggesting ways in which we can regulate markets, but ways in which we can transform them. Whilst calling unethical practice to account is indeed central to the Church’s role in wider political life, it has evidently not quite quenched the thirst of those calling for immediate action. Abstract responses to what has already become a rather ‘abstract market’ will not strike at the cause. Markets are based on and emerge from social, human interaction – a fundamental basis which must necessarily first be assumed.

Such transformative action is also not only something that the Church can simply talk about, but crucially something that the Church can do. Becoming partners with community ventures, such as micro-finance initiatives, social enterprises and asset transfers are just a few examples of how this might be achieved. Delivering public services, being a hub for social innovation and a platform for local participation touch upon a few others. Social Enterprise UK have even called the CofE to lead in and take up new opportunities for social investment, following the Charity Commission’s new guidance on ethical investment and social return.

In many ways and across Britain, of course, the Church is already realising this role. But with the Localism Bill to shortly receive Royal Assent, the rapid progression of the Public Services (Social Value) Bill through Parliament and the Cabinet Office’s Open Public Services White Paper, the Church will have a much greater opportunity to extend and even lead on transformative solutions for what have become removed and dysfunctional markets.

Recent events do not therefore present a crisis for the CofE – indeed, we should be greatly concerned if the Church ever ceased to internally and externally debate such issues. They rather offer a greater opportunity for the Church and others to step up and tell the protesters, both locally and worldwide, what they are doing, what they plan to do – not in abstract, but in very concrete terms – and arguably, what they have been doing for centuries.

Comments on: What is the role of the Church in all of this?

Gravatar Social Attitudes Survey 2011 20 December 2011
Two-thirds of young people and half of the population as a whole do not belong to any particular religion, and the steady decline in religiosity in the UK is set to continue, the 28th report of the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey has found. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed the findings, commenting that the government is ‘fast becoming out of touch with the population’ when it introduces policies and new laws with a religious bias.r/>r/>Unlike the highly flawed Census question, which at best measures a weak cultural affiliation to religion, the BSA attempts to examine levels of religious affiliation, whether someone was brought up in a religion, and whether they regularly attend religious services.r/>r/>The survey found half (50%) of people do not regard themselves as belonging to a particular religion while only 20% belong to the Church of England. 64% of those aged 18-24 do not belong to a religion. More than half of those brought up in a religion never attend religious services or meetings. The survey also found that levels of religiosity have declined over the past three decades and are likely to decline further, as older, more religious generations die out and are replaced by younger, less religious generations.r/>r/>Andrew Copson, BHA Chief Executive, commented, ‘It is quite clear that the population is becoming less religious, particularly as the proportion of younger people who have no religion grows, so the government is fast becoming out of touch with the population when it introduces policies and new laws which actually increase the role of religion in the state. Since the general election the government has set in place policies which will increase greatly the number of discriminatory ‘faith’ schools, those which open up vital public services to any number of evangelical religious groups without proper equalities protection, and has proposed not only to keep reserved seats for Church of England Bishops sitting ex-officio in the House of Lords but to give them even more privilege.
Gravatar What is the Role of the Church in all this? 05 November 2011
"What is the role of the Church in all this?" r/>r/>FT 5 Nov 2011r/>r/>"Greg Mankiw had noticed for some years that the students taking his economics class at Harvard University seemed overly concerned about preparing for their careers. This week, things appeared to change.r/>r/>On Wednesday, about 70 students walked out of Economics 10, the introductory class Professor Mankiw teaches, to protest at what they called a bias towards a destructive brand of free-market economics.r/>r/>“We found a course that espouses a specific – and limited – view of economics that we believe perpetuates problematic and inefficient systems of economic inequality in our society today,” they said in an open letter to him. “There is no justification for presenting Adam Smith’s economic theories as more fundamental or basic than, for example, Keynesian theory.”r/>r/>Prof Mankiw, who served as chairman of George W. Bush’s council of economic advisers and is an adviser to Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential contender, acknowledged that his résumé probably contributed to the decision to target his class, which at 700 students has the highest enrolment of any undergraduate course.r/>r/>The course, commonly knows as Ec 10, is a requirement for several undergraduate majors and carries a pedigree that is influential even by Harvard standards. Mr Mankiw’s predecessor was Martin Feldstein, who served as chief economic adviser to Ronald Reagan. Larry Summers, the former Treasury secretary and economics adviser to President Barack Obama, acted as a teaching fellow for the course in the 1970s.r/>r/>The student protesters emphasised the course’s influence, writing: “Harvard graduates play major roles in the financial institutions and in shaping public policy around the world”.r/>r/>Prof Mankiw told the Financial Times that while he disagreed with the protesters, he had “significant respect” for their activism. He said: “Over recent years, I’ve seen Harvard students becoming increasingly pre-professional. That they are sitting back and thinking broadly about social issues ... those are good questions for students to be asking, and to the extent that Occupy Wall Street sparks debate, that’s good.”r/>r/>He joins a list of establishment figures target or caught in the crossfire around the Occupy Wall Street movement. Two clerics at St Paul’s Cathedral in London have resigned amid debate on evicting protesters from church land, while Jean Quan, the mayor of Oakland, California, is facing demands for a recall election over her handling of a local protest in which police have repeatedly used tear gas and rubber bullets against activists.r/>r/>Prof Mankiw has written two widely used economics textbooks. In one, he called the idea that tax cuts pay for themselves “fad economics”, a position that raised eyebrows when he joined the Bush administration.r/>r/>He said he taught “a mainstream economics course” without any political agenda. “I think most students appreciate that.”r/>r/>By coincidence, the topic of Wednesday’s lecture was income inequality – one of the main complaints of the wide-ranging Occupy protest movement".
Gravatar Malcolm Rasala 05 November 2011
"Transformative action"; you just have to wonder where such thinking comes from. Go outside and ask the first 100 people you meet if they think the C of E practices or indeed could ever practice "Transformative action". It is the thinking of a deluded few.r/>r/>"Transformative action" in the 21st century is technology (iPads, iPhones, smartphones et al). Transformative action for the vast majority are emails, and social networks, and apps and other software human advances. Transformative action is modern science and modern medicine. The notion of a bunch of old men who dress up in funny clothes parroting bronze age stories, that lost their relevance 260 years ago in the Enlightenment has any relevance to the vast majority today is truly delusional. It is as if Caroline Julian above, has never read Kant say or any of the other "transformative" thinking that has made the Christian world view absolutely redundant. r/>r/>A Church that avoids paying tax itself calling for others in the financial sector that they should pay extra tax is perceived by most thinking people as the total hypocrisy at the very heart of the C of E and its adherents. r/>r/>Playing catch-up (women bishops, gay marriage, occupy the City) is viewed by most as why and how the church is utterly irrelevant today. Doubt this. Just watch the hugely popular entertainment say like Coronation Street or Eastenders. Do not put your nose up at these. They indicate how most people think. Night in night out these modern dramas portray for example gay marriage. And the CofE"s position on gay marriage? It cannot even get its head around holding gay marriages in its churches that even a Conservative Party largely desires. The Tories in Scotland have just voted as their Leader a 31 year old Lesbian; the Tory Party!! Where is a Lesbian Bishop in the C of E? Can one imagine a lesbian Archbishop of Centerbury? It would be interesting to know where the above "transformative" Caroline Julian stands on having a lesbian heading the C of E. r/>r/>Thinking as does the CofE that it is the guardian of the Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth leads more often to conformity and stasis than the transformative Question. Transformation is usually the nightmare of churchmen. It underines all there certainties. So "transformation action" from the C of E? In your dreams! r/>
Gravatar Malcolm Rasala 07 November 2011
@steve james: Marx and his communist proponents BELIEVED in something. Hitler and his Nazis BELIEVED in something and were "willing to lay down their lives for it". Those who ran the Inquisition BELIEVED in something. Believing in something is not enough Steve especially when that belief is evil in its intent and practice. As for " we are going to see an army of iPhones and iPads take to the streets demanding change are we! Dream on". What planet have you been living on in the last few months? What was/is Tunisia, and Egypt, and Libya and Syria and Yemen and Bahrain and the whole Arab Spring but an an army of iPhones demanding change. Come back to planet Earth Steve we have missed you!r/>
Gravatar steve james 06 November 2011
@Malcolm Rasala: r/>So we are going to see an army of iPhones and iPads take to the streets demanding change are we! Dream on. r/>If anything, people owning such devices are likely to be the last to do anything as they are the ones with most to lose in any shakeup of the cosy financial arrangements that technology and media companies enjoy. Change comes from those who BELIEVE in something and are willing to lay down their lives for it- Not likely to be those living in comfortable Corrieland me thinks.
Gravatar malcolm.rasala 05 November 2011
@Malcolm Rasala: .....ooopps sorry "all their certainties". Unforgiveable!!!!
Gravatar Mark Macho 05 November 2011
The Church was delighted to become a department of State underr/>Constantine and many other times as under Henry VIII as it r/>largely remains in England.r/>r/>Church people would do well to remember, however, that their mostr/>transformative moments in history have been when, as underr/>Martin Luther King they presented a vision superior to that r/>for which the State was perfectly prepared to settle. But cooperationr/>with authorities usually descends into total compliance laced r/>with ceremony, convoluted oratory and ritual obeisance.r/>r/>People no longer really expect any leadership from the Churchr/>who are seen with justitfication as just a part of those on topr/>with their houses of redundant extravagance, historical fancy dress and staffs of fund managers. Nothing more seems forthcoming.r/>The static vision of the perfection of God has created a groupr/>emotionally troubled but almost always incapable of r/>envisioning new ways of doing anything except weakly climbingr/>on to the bandwagons of others.r/>r/>
Gravatar Joe 03 November 2011
It"s a measure of the ascendancy of secularism, that so many individuals and organisations actively striving to improve the lives, communities or world in which they live, are so often afraid to refer back to the moral or ethical principles that they adhere to. r/>r/>One reason why in my own sphere, I would encourage all schools to begin the school day like so many of the best do, with a communal, religious assembly of some kind. I don"t much care what the faith: I do care that teachers believe schools are essentially moral institutions. r/>r/>
Gravatar Alan Darley 15 December 2011
@Voltaire: You have already assumed a secular faith, a "21st century" faith which commits the chronological fallacy that "new is true."
Gravatar Joe 08 November 2011
@Alienation (and Mark)r/>r/>What I actually wrote was this. "If there is one thing the great Shakespearean scholars all agree on, it is that his own views are almost uniquely absent from his work." If you had studied Shakespeare, you would know this is a commonplace idea in the world of Shakespearean criticism. r/>r/>I wasn"t granted the privilege of adding to the vast mass of literature on Shakespeare...without knowing a little about his work. (Or Donne, or Milton for that matter. ) One reason why you won"t find me asserting merely personal opinions about Kant or Marx for example.r/>r/>r/>
Gravatar Alienation 07 November 2011
@Joe: How can Shakespeares "own views" be uniquely absent from his work? And how do you know? Did he say so? Are we to assume your views are absent from your writings? Maybe as you, indicate, too many decades marking English A Level papers has addled your brain!!! And all that pre-Enlightenment thinking; not good forfor moving on with original ideas......
Gravatar Mark Macho 07 November 2011
@Joe: It is, I would suggest, rather impossible to write thousands of words without one"s ideas being present. Even a person"s reportingr/>of another"s ideas bears the personal stamp of the reporter.r/>r/>I do not think many would agree with you that Donne and Shakespeare were not preoccupied in exploring and finding out what was good and not so good in human behaviour.r/>r/> Anyone who adheres to one system of belief and leaves it for another questions his own judgment. This is proven by the very fact that he has changed his judgment . All who change in any way have questioned their judgment.r/>r/>Forgive my syntax, but you left out the "at risk" bit of moralr/>compromise in the quest for moral perfection. Someone with any r/>brains who changes knows if he has judged himself wrong andr/>changed, he may be wrong again at some juncture. If he thinksr/>himself always right , he does not change at all.r/>r/>
Gravatar Voltaire 07 November 2011
@Joe: "Doubt is unpleasant. But certainty is Absurd" There is no moral certainty Joe. Has not life taught you this?
Gravatar Joe 07 November 2011
@Markr/>r/>Sadly decades of marking A level English essays has rendered me acutely over sensitive to language use and I honestly have not the least idea what you mean when you assert Donne, Shakespeare and Milton were all on a "quest for the delineation of moral perfection of fatal moral compromise. " If it does mean something...I"m afraid I"ve missed it. I"ve also no idea where the idea that Shakespeare was on a search for moral perfection comes from. If there is one thing the great Shakespearean scholars all agree on, it is that his own views are almost uniquely absent from his work. r/>r/>The phrase I used about faith assemblies, "don"t much care" was deliberately intended to preference the need for moral certainty, above the specific faith, because far from being interested in "force," I"m interested in education. Which unfortunately in the case of children, means the last thing they need is a chronic fence-sitter.r/>r/>r/>
Gravatar Mark Macho 05 November 2011
@Joe: I see you have written on Donne and Shakespeare and Milton.r/>These were all men who in the best of English tradition consideredr/>themselves at risk in their quest for the delineation of moral perfection of fatal moral compromise. Donne and Shakespeare with their Roman Catholic upbringing making a go of it in Protestant England. Milton as a moralist who had become the member of a government and a rare contemporary exponent of a free press.r/>r/>Morals are always a question of values, but what values? And if faith based what about when faiths collide? The Reformation which for them was a cataclysmic event is for us a constant reality as values collide for us constantly with no hope of even temporary resolution. Questions,discussion and new ways must be imagined if we are to bypass the bloody conflict thay endured. We are the heirs to an attempt at Faith that was abandoned because everyone found the quest for it too immoral to pursue. Not to mention the institutions that betray their values daily whatever they are. Moralism is not goodness. None of us can be sure our morals leadr/>to goodness. And this uncertainty is the product of experience and r/>history.r/>r/>
Gravatar Mark Macho 05 November 2011
@Joe: r/>Moral teaching is the same expression etymologically as moralr/>indoctrination. Saying the faith does not matter shows you tor/>be for a bit of force rather than attachment to any set of values. r/>Would the Third Reich"s educational programme in value teachingr/>meet your specifications? And if not, perhaps your recipe needs some revising. r/>r/>If we want to treat others morally and want children to do so we are all now questioning whether religions ,who all think their way is the best way to the highest moral achievement, is an essentially problematical way to start.r/>r/>
Gravatar Voltaire 05 November 2011
@Joe: Would you be arguing the same line Joe in say the faith based schools of the Southern States of America that taught blacks should be slaves? What about a communist faith that advocated the violent overthrow of monarchy, church and greedy bankers and aristocrats? Two millenia of faith based morality has led to untold misery, death, destruction and the imprisonment of the human spirit. Fortunately, most kids today will not accept "faith" based morality any more. They can see its history on their laptops and smartphones. You are arguing for an irrelevance. Come join the 21st century.

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Detailed Summary

Date Published
03 November 2011

New Economies, Innovative Markets

About The Authors

Caroline Julian

  Caroline is Head of Research at ResPublica, and ma...