Thinktank says church is two-faced about politics
A UK thinktank has responded to a critical TV programme about faith and politics by saying that Britain's churches should stop being two-faced about their own stance.
In ëGod and the politicians', shown on BBC2 last night, writer and broadcaster David Aaronovitch asked whether religion is starting to take too big a role in British politics, citing the impact of religious lobbyists and the growth of faith-based education.
Now the theological think tank Ekklesia, which promotes radical new approaches to religion in public life, says the problem isn't faith groups acting on issues like peace and poverty - it's traditional churches arguing for a ëlevel playing field' in civil society while defending the privileges of establishment.
'While we still have an Established church, bishops in the House of Lords, tax breaks for religion and special treatment in education and law, it's difficult for Christians to be seen as doing much more than defending their vested interests,' commented Ekklesia director Jonathan Bartley.
Following another recent call for disestablishment (from the Fabian Society), Ekklesia says that now the Christendom era is over a 'genuine separation of church and state' would be good for both, enabling the equal participation of faith communities alongside others in public life 'without fear or favour.'
In a 2,000 word response the TV programme ëGod and the Politicians', published today, Ekklesia says: 'Christians, of all people, have a particular reason for rejecting a religious system engineered in alliance with a governing power so that it can gain its own status and security over and against others.'
Explains the think-tank: '[I]t was precisely this kind of malign politico-religious concordat which ended up crucifying Jesus, whose rejection of imperial rule in favour of the domination-free life he called ëthe kingdom of God' proved such a threat to those who wanted to lord-it over others.'
Ekklesia says it is by rejecting a top-down approach and rediscovering the Gospel's subversive message that 'Christians [can] develop a new kind of politics based on of mutuality, hospitality, non-violence, social solidarity, economic sharing, ecological consciousness and restorative justice.'
But it argues that this requires 'the active disavowal of dominance, privilege, manipulation and coercion - those malignant features of much historic religion which has understandably made so many people suspicious of its aims and motives.'
Ekklesia cites recent involvement in Jubilee 2000, Make Poverty History, penal reform, anti-apartheid and anti-racism campaigns - alongside those of other faiths and no faith - as positive examples of broad Christian political action.
Christian Peacemaker Teams and the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine-Israel are further examples of specific Christian insights and skills helping to create a different political climate and agenda, the think-tank says.
Ekklesia suggests that, in the light of challenges laid down by Aaronovitch's TV programme, its first question is to Britain's churches. 'Are our Christian communities willing and able, on the basis of the distinctive vocation of the Gospel, to disavow the use of money, power and privilege for their own sectional advantage?
The think tank suggests an open conversation with other religions about the changing role and status of faith in a plural society.
It says that 'repairing the conversation and trust between forward-thinking religionists and those of humanist and secularist opinion' is also vital.
Ekklesia co-directors Jonathan Bartley and Simon Barrow have recently edited the book ëConsuming Passion', which examines critically the links between violence and the Christian understanding of the cross.
They have also looked at how to handle the dark side of the church's scriptural inheritance, and published a contribution to the general election debate called ëSubverting the Manifestos'.