Williams' sermon backs economic sharing and human rights action

By staff writers
25 Dec 2010

In his Christmas Sermon, the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams stresses the significance of mutual dependence, loyalty and solidarity during a time of economic constraint and abuses of human dignity.

He roots his plea in a traditional Christian account of God's solidarity with humanity in the vulnerable flesh of Jesus Christ.

Dr Williams has already questioned the burden being placed on some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society as a result of the UK coalition government's decision to slash public spending, jobs and welfare.

In his Canterbury Cathedral sermon, extracts of which were released in advance by Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop also highlights the plight of Christians and other minorities suffering persecution in Iraq, Zimbabwe and elsehere, calling for solidarity.

On those living under oppression throughout the world, Dr Williams says: "We may feel powerless to help; yet we should also know that people in such circumstances are strengthened simply by knowing they have not been forgotten. And if we find we have time to spare for joining in letter-writing campaigns for all prisoners of conscience, Amnesty International and Christian Solidarity worldwide will have plenty of opportunities for us to make use of."

Regarding the economic situation, he declares: "Faced with the hardship that quite clearly lies ahead for so many in the wake of financial crisis and public spending cuts, how far are we able to sustain a living sense of loyalty to each other, a real willingness to bear the load together? How eager are we to find some spot where we feel safe from the pressures that are crippling and terrifying others?"

The Archbishop continues: "As has more than once been said, we can and will as a society bear hardship if we are confident that it is being fairly shared; and we shall have that confidence only if there are signs that everyone is committed to their neighbour, that no-one is just forgotten, that no interest group or pressure group is able to opt out."

Dr Williams also urges people to work positively together to rebuild trust within the civic arena. He says: "That confidence isn't in huge supply at the moment, given the massive crises of trust that have shaken us all in the last couple of years and the lasting sense that the most prosperous have yet to shoulder their load.

"If we are ready, if we are all ready, to meet the challenge represented by the language of the 'Big Society', we may yet restore some mutual trust. It's no use being cynical about this; whatever we call the enterprise, the challenge is the same - creating confidence by sharing the burden of constructive work together," he adds.

However, other Christians engaged in public life are concerned that church leaders are being too easily seduced by 'Big Society' rhetoric.

The Common Wealth network of Christian academics, ministers, community activists and lay workers has issued a strong statement (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/CommonWealthStatement) critiquing the attempt to reduce statutory support for the poor and shift the burden to underfunded voluntary bodies.

Spokesperson Dr Steven Shakespeare said: "We are certainly committed to building different forms of community, service and exchange. But David Cameron's Big Society does not offer this. His slogan when defining the idea was 'Your country needs you' - the precise words used to recruit conscripts to the British army in the first World War. In other words, citizens are still cannon fodder, enlisted to sacrifice themselves for the state (the 'national interest' as the government likes to present it)."

[Ekk/3]

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