Friday, January 16, 2015

Archbishops challenge govt on income inequality

A new book edited by the Anglican Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, provides a substantial and robust challenge to the assumptions of the current UK government and to a society built on self-interest rather than social solidarity.

On Rock or Sand? Firm foundations for Britain's future has been published this week by SPCK, and it is already causing a media and political storm following Dr Sentamu's remarks to the conservative-leaning Telegraph newspaper.

The book contains contributions from established figures in economic, political, social and religious disciplines, including Lord Adonis, Sir Philip Mawer, Oliver O Donovan, Andrew Sentance and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

Dr John Sentamu said: “The book addresses crucial questions about the moral principles that undergird the way Britain is governed. It is about building firm foundations for Britain’s future and setting out the essential values we need to build a just, sustainable and compassionate society in which we can all participate and flourish.

"We need to rediscover the true meaning of the word economy – it means a household, a community whose members share responsibility for each other. [It is wrong that] some few have far too much and the many have too little.”

In the koine Greek of the New Testament the word for economy is oikonomia, derived from oikos meaning household.

Archbishop Sentamu has addressed the concerns of the new book in a short video made available on YouTube, in which he says that an unequal society has left many "hard-pressed working families on poverty wages".

“It would be quite a pity if the powerful, the richest, are the ones that are thriving in our household and some are left behind and therefore one of the greatest challenges that faces our nation has to do with income inequality … The giant that must be slayed is income inequality – where some few have far too much and the many have too little,” he says.
He stresses that he and his co-authors are making an intervention in politics as the question of power and governance in the whole of society, not in party politics. “Like the Old Testament prophets, I suggest, it is essential for religion to speak truth to power”, he writes.

For that reason, the Archbishop of York, together with his senior colleague at Canterbury, who has a business background, does not pull any punches.

Echoing elements of the 1985 Faith in the City report, which drew ire from Margaret Thatcher's administration, they argue that society today is too dominated by “rampant consumerism and individualism”.

As for the main parties, they "rush to outdo each other in enticing and beguiling the swing vote of Middle England not with a vision of justice but with appeals to individual preference, interest and consumer choice,” Dr Sentamu told the Telegraph newspaper.

Dr Sentamu continued: “If it is the survival of the fittest, that’s what I call living in the jungle and I don’t want to live in the jungle – this is supposed to be a civilised society. It is nothing to do with being socialist or whatever. What it has got to do with is, is this how God created us? Has [God] created us to be people who go to Black Friday to fight with each other because they want the biggest bargain? No, that’s the rule of the jungle, we left that behind.”

The book, whose contributors include a peer and a former member of the Bnak of England's Monetary Policy Committee, say that the welfare state, partly generated out of the thought of people like Archbishop William Temple, can be seen as an embodiment of the Christian command to “love your neighbour”.

“Britain achieved a National Health Service which became a model for Europe and the rest of the world,” writes the Archbishop of York. “Moreover, the United Kingdom in the welfare state has provided income and support to those who are sick, unemployed or incapacitated in many other ways.

“And we have developed an educational system to provide a free and full education for all primary and secondary school pupils. Have we lost this vision? For me, and I’m sure for many others, a major concern is the extent to which the social compact which the welfare state represented is now under threat.”