WHO IS MY NEIGHBOUR? – Bishops’ Letter concerning the upcoming Election on 7th May.
SUMMARY by Rev Bob Short
This letter is not a recommendation to vote for any specific party. It is simply an attempt to ground in Christian principles what we should as Christians be looking for in our present society and be asking our politicians at this time of the General Election.
‘We do not see the way forward as a choice between “right” and “left”. Nor are we trying to split the difference, imagining that the truth lies equidistant between extremes. We are emphasising an approach to politics which can trace its roots on both left and right and which could be embraced by any of the mainstream parties without being untrue to their own histories.’
A Christian world-view. We should seek the common good, not just what is good for me personally. We are called to love our neighbour as ourselves and to support politicians and the government with our prayers. So Christians share responsibility with all citizens to participate in the democratic structures of our nation.
There is an apathy and cynicism about politics today for various reasons but we must resist the temptation to withdraw from our responsibility of taking part in the democratic process.
As bishops they support policies which respect the natural environment, enhance human dignity and honour the image of God in our neighbour:
‘Unless a political vision emerges which reaffirms the bonds which tie us together as a nation, as localities, as communities and as neighbours, we shall be left with the spectacle of politicians claiming more and more powers and yet achieving less and less that is worthwhile.”
The Bishops feel that individual competitiveness and consumption have adversely affected our society. Consumption, rather than production, has come to define us, and individualism has tended to estrange people from one another. The Bishops feel that this has led to short-term profit and material inequality which continues to widen.
Our grandchildren’s future, not just the wants of the moment, must be factored into economic and political priorities. People will commit to the long term if they have a stake in it.
The Bishops back the concept of a Living Wage and acknowledge that employment is at a very good level.
As regards the Austerity policy of the government, General Synod set down three criteria by which any austerity measure ought to be judged. Is it fair? Is it generous? Is it sustainable? They are useful questions to put to candidates who will stand before the electorate in the coming months.
They see the importance of finding a balance between state-sponsored welfare assistance and private initiatives for helping people.
There are also issues of loneliness and isolation which need to be addressed.
Being concerned about immigration issues is not automatically racist but we must be careful to recognise both sides of the immigration argument.
The same can be said about our concerns about the environment that we try to see all sides of the argument.
Concerning Europe, there is an enduring argument for continuing to build structures of trust and cooperation between the nations of Europe and to seek the common good of all European nations.
We need more “Intermediate Institutions” to be developed, like the Church, Housing Associations and Credit Unions, Educational Institutions, etc. ‘They are important not simply because they are effective but because they embody the principle of mutuality – the common bond between people being the heart of the operation and not just a bolt-on accessory.’
As regards Defence and War, ‘Military intervention by states such as Britain is not always wrong. …the nation should value and pray for military personnel who know that their lives depend on the wisdom and judgement of politicians. But our support should not be offered blindly.’
Concerning Trident, “shifts in the global strategic realities mean that the traditional arguments for nuclear deterrence need re-examining.”
‘The government is to be commended for committing 0.7% of GDP to overseas aid when budgets have been so hard pressed. For any party to abandon or reduce this commitment would be globally irresponsible.’
‘Our country is hungry for a new approach to political life that will “change the political weather” as decisively as did the administrations of 1945 and 1979. We need a new political story that will enable the people of Britain to articulate who they are, what they want to become and how they will work together to live virtuously as well as prosperously. No such thing is yet on offer for 2015.’
As regards the concept of the Big Society, ‘The Church of England strongly supported The Big Society. We saw that the philosophy it represented commanded support from well beyond the Conservative party.’
‘One recurring theme of this letter is the need to combat the accumulations of power which leave too many people powerless. We need a more subtle way of understanding power in society – and its disparities.’
‘At this election, we can sow the seeds of a new politics. We encourage voters to support candidates and policies which demonstrate the following key values:
• Halting and reversing the accumulation of power and wealth in fewer and fewer hands, whether those of the state, corporations or individuals.
• Involving people at a deeper level in the decisions that affect them most.
• Recognising the distinctive communities, whether defined by geography, religion or culture, which make up the nation and enabling all to thrive and participate together.
• Treating the electorate as people with roots, commitments and traditions and addressing us all in terms of the common good and not just as self-interested consumers.
• Demonstrating that the weak, the dependent, the sick, the aged and the vulnerable are persons of equal value to everybody else.
• Offering the electorate a grown up debate about Britain’s place in the world order and the possibilities and obligations that entails.’
Finally, ‘The advice of St Paul in his letter to the Philippians may help to defend us against the temptations of apathy, cynicism and blame, and instead seek – because we are disciples of Jesus Christ who long for a more humane society – a better politics for a better nation.
Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.’