The C of E and the 'Big society'

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Commenting on Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams' critical comments about the government's 'Big Society' in the New Statesman magazine, Jonathan Bartley, co-director of the religion and society thinktank Ekklesia, said:

"Protecting and working with the poor and vulnerable is a key part of the Church's role. Indeed, the current Church of England leadership has faced criticism from some quarters for not speaking out against coalition policies sooner.

"It's refreshing to have Rowan Williams speaking out and voicing the concerns of people in the country. On the other hand, it shouldn't be so surprising that a church leader speaks out.

"Dr Williams is not one to be rushed into rash comments and will have spent time to reflect before committing his thoughts to print. He doesn't shoot from the hip. He would have taken a considered view."

Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow commented:

"On the ground, Anglicans and other Christian communities are deeply involved in working alongside vulnerable people, and have been for many years. Dr Williams is voicing their concerns about the government's stance, policies and cuts.

"But nationally the Church of England is part of the Establishment, has massive resources tied up in the economic system it criticises, and maintains unelected representatives in an unelected second chamber while challenging elected politicians.

"The integrity of what Dr Williams is saying about the impact of government policies on ordinary people and the poorest would be strengthened enormously by root-and-branch reform of the Church's relationship to the state and its investment policies, moving from privilege to participation through a much clearer identification with those at the bottom of society."

* Ekklesia is a co-signatory to the 'Common Wealth' statement of Christian ministers, theologians and community activists concerned about the government's cuts agenda and its use of 'Big Society' rhetoric. See: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/CommonWealthStatement