The Church of England is getting political.
First there was a letter from the five archbishops* of Britain saying that the ‘Internal Market Bill will set a “disastrous precedent” by equipping ministers to break the law.’ They urged the British Government not to break international law. Former Brexit minister, David Jones, said their comments went “way beyond the remit of the church.”
The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell has also been getting flack. Together with David Walker, Bishop of Manchester and Nick Bains, Bishop of Leeds they have sent a hard-hitting letter to newspapers. “If we are going to bring real equality and levelling up across the country, then people living in poverty need to be paid a sufficient wage that can enable them to feel secure by staying home,” they say.
So what is the remit of the church?
The church is a political organisation
The very word church is a translation of the New Testament Greek word ekklesia meaning political assembly. A community with its own law and authority figures. When the Roman Proconsul Pliny wished to persecute the church he did it with laws forbidding political associations. Criticising the church for being political has a long history.
There are some that take the nation of Israel in the Bible as the blueprint for political notionalism:
The Bible thus puts a new political conception on the table: a state of a single nation that is united, self-governing, and uninterested in bringing its neighbours under its rule. This state is governed not by foreigners responsible to a ruler in a distant land but by kings and governors, priests and prophets drawn from the ranks of the nation itself – individuals who are, for just this reason, thought to be better able to stay in touch with the needs of their own people, their “brothers”, including the less fortunate among them.2Yoram Hazony, The Virtue of Nationalism, p.19
In modern politics nationalism takes three main forms
Ethno-nationalists think that the ethno-nation is the most natural unit of culture. They emphasise certain unique traits of their ethno-nation. Coming in moderate or extreme varieties, ethno-nationalists will tend to maintain a double standard for justice, privileging the members of the entitled ethnic group over those of other ethnic groups.
Civic nationalists give allegiance to the state of which all citizens are members. While ethnic nationalists give preference to their own tribe, civic nationalists promise equal treatment to all citizens, no matter their ethnic heritage, socioeconomic level, or religious beliefs.
In the midst of a global economic recession and large-scale immigration, an economic nationalism has arisen, usually in combination with either ethnic nationalism or civic nationalism. Economic nationalism takes a more isolationist position closing the borders, restricting free trade, and intervening in the domestic economy. This is the nationalism of the official Brexit campaign and the Johnson administration in the UK as well as the Trump administration in the USA.
But Old Testament nationalism is not the only one in the Bible. There is another model of the Church in which a multitude of nations coexist in a system which goes above and beyond that of the nations which participate, and is itself rooted in the New Testament.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.Galations 3:28 ESV
At he Council of Jerusalem in Acts, Peter said:
And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.Acts 15:8-9
As a Christian it is possible to be nationalist and/or internationalist as regards the Bible. The picture of the Kingdom of God in the New Testament is internationalist, of all people, but here on earth we have a problem, internationalist political regimes, communism for example, can be brutal to the people who do not toe the party line, Even the church has been guilty of this.
My position is that I am an internationalist in the Kingdom of God but a civic nationalist in the kingdom of Great Britain, but the kingdom of God has the greater allegiance.
*The five archbishops are:
John McDowell, Archbishop of Armagh
Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury,
Mark Strange, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church
John Davies, Archbishop of Wales,
Stephen Cottrell, Archbishop of York.