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Preaching truth to power


This blog is an edited version of the Temple Sermon, preached by the Revd Dr Hayley Matthews, Trustee of the William Temple Foundation, at The Queen’s College, Oxford, on Sunday 4th November 2018. William Temple lectured in philosophy at The Queen’s College from 1904 to 1910. Here, Dr Matthews reflects on Temple’s life and its parallels with the biblical story of Daniel.

Twitter is very much of the zeitgeist but the Twitter flurry of ditties on the hashtag #WriteAPoemAboutBrexit endure:

Roses are red
Violets are blue
We don’t know it yet
But we’re totally screwed

If you’re having sour grapes,
I feel bad for you son,
we’ve got 99 problems
but the EU ain’t one!

Surely, there is nothing new under the sun? The prophetic civil servant Daniel, over two and a half thousand years ago, was brought into the presence of the leader of the country to interpret a troubling dream. How well must our leaders be sleeping as the endless Brexit negotiations with their ongoing socio-political and economic ramifications are laboured over in Whitehall and Brussels? When they pace their darkened rooms do they too wish they had a seer to call upon?

For just two and a half years, Archbishop William Temple engaged with the Government on exactly such a level in post-war Britain. Described as only being comparable with Winston Churchill, his obituary read, ‘Church and nation alike have lost a great leader and a prophet of authentic fire; the poor and inarticulate everywhere are deprived of a true and understanding friend.’

Born on 15th October 1881, Temple’s untimely death 63 years later on 26th October 1944 left the poor without an obvious advocate; the government without a critical friend; and the nation with a spiritual vacuum that proved difficult to fill. It has been some time since we described any of our Archbishops as having:

‘Kindled new fire within the Church, winning for it the attention and the growing respect of the secular world—a leader to whom people look with complete confidence to bring every spiritual strength to bear in impressing the character of Christian realism on the life and purpose of post-war England. It can rarely be said with truth that a loss is irreparable or that a man is indispensable. Both things can be said now with simple, unaffected truth.’

It is a tragedy that Temple died in office when post-war Britain most needed him; we cannot imagine what might have been. We can, however, pray that our current Archbishop of Canterbury may not suffer such a fate but instead become the Daniel that we so desperately need for post-Brexit Britain.

For Daniel and William shared the unique ability to be able to speak truth to power without grabbing the tiger by the tail. King Nebuchadnezzar was all for wiping out his own wise men who couldn’t explain his disconcerting dreams, but Daniel saved both them and himself by taking the time to listen to the King. Daniel requested time alone for reflection and prayer, when this demanding autocrat would have had his answer here and now, returning to the King with his wise interpretation in his own time. Daniel showed enough wisdom to resist responding reactively.

William Temple’s deep and unflagging concern for social justice developed from growing up around his own father’s indignation at the wretched conditions that agricultural labourers in Devonshire were being forced to live in. He was ordained in 1909, and that same year he became president of the Workers’ Educational Association, which he had joined at its inception five years previously. He went on to become the Bishop of Manchester whilst he was still in his thirties.

It is said that Temple was happiest in Manchester and he certainly had a sustained period of ministry there, where his interest in industrial relations and theology were researched, put into practice, and expounded. The application of Christian principles, citizenship, economics and politics, the Edinburgh Missionary Conference and the International Missionary Conference all benefitted from his articulate and wide-ranging mind. He conducted missions to undergraduates at Oxford; joined the annual Blackpool sands mission; took part in industrial relations exercises between coal-miners and coal-owners; supported social reforms and defended the working class. He was also pioneer in the ecumenical movement, creating a whole new landscape for interdenominational relations whilst also presiding over the Church of England’s Doctrinal Commission.

Despite his wide-ranging ministry, Temple continued to write during the odd snatches of time between interviews and engagements. His Gifford Lectures were published under the title Nature, God and Man, although he is most famous, of course, for his book Christianity and Social Order. Dr Temple’s combined passions and innovative energy inspired him to convene the Malvern Conference in 1941. Attended by over twenty bishops and over four hundred clergy and laity, Temple’s focus was the Church’s social duty to embodied human beings from the position of a faith founded on the Incarnation.

Dr Temple was eventually enthroned as Archbishop in Canterbury Cathedral on St. George’s Day 1942. His appointment alarmed some of the country’s more conservative and traditional constituents, what with The Industrial Christian Fellowship’s follow up meetings after the Malvern Conference. He was indeed prophetic, determined to speak the truth fearlessly rather than flatter the hearer with politically disingenuous statements. His new role enabled him to speak passionately in the House of Lords in 1943 against the slaughter of the Jews by the Nazis, arguing for their protection to be made a priority, comparing Allied leaders to the priest and the Levite who passed by on the other side of the road from the man who fell among thieves, and going on to co-found the Council of Christians and Jews.

In his book Christian Faith and Life Temple writes:

‘Remember that Christianity is not, first and foremost, a religion; it is first and foremost a revelation. It comes before us chiefly not with a declaration of feelings we are to cultivate, or thoughts we are to develop; it comes before us, first and foremost, with the announcement of what God is, as He is proved in what he has done.’

We have a role to play in announcing the coming kingdom: as harbingers, prophets, poets and priests; as bin, fire, police and military personnel; as medics, academics, caterers and Kings. For although the kingdom of God already has its leading light there are plenty of spots for the supporting cast:

Roses are red
Violets are blue
It only takes one
And it might be you

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Grace & Power: Sexuality and Gender in the Church of England

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Following last week’s Primates’ meeting of the Anglican Communion, we share an edited extract from Hayley Matthew’s Temple Tract ‘Grace & Power: Sexuality and Gender in the Church of England’.  

“I have to keep my head down and my mouth shut if I want to keep my job.”  (Interview H).

One of the key arguments cited from within the Church is the idea that ‘equality and diversity’ are ‘worldly’ or ‘secular’ terms picked up from management-speak and secular legislation, neither originating from nor alluding to Christian principles or doctrine. As such, they are not necessarily to be regarded as principles to which Christian disciples should aspire, and certainly not points of reference against which to align Canon Law, for example. Indeed, they may be entirely opposite to all our Lord taught, and something against which to make a stand.

“I have been ‘suggested’ into remaining single for most of my adult life despite having wanted to commit to a long-term, stable, non-scene relationship with another practicing Christian in lay-ministry, as I wait until this hoop is jumped through followed by another, and another, and another.” (Interview I).

Constructs of power, however, are rarely openly acknowledged within faith communities called to embody the grace and humility of an egalitarian faith. Additionally, theology and doctrine tend to appeal to ‘natural’ or ‘normal’ constructs informing the gendered identity and sexual development of human beings. Given the vast weight that two verses from the book of Genesis are given in promulgating binary gender positions and heterosexism within Abrahamic faiths, the need to acknowledge power differentials and their origin within theological and doctrinal developments is critical. In my Temple Tract ‘Grace & Power: Sexuality and Gender in the Church of England’ I offer both historical and progressive theological positions, analysing their power constructs to view a dialectical interplay of voices and research perspectives that has the potential to introduce more inclusive and mature views of humanity, sexuality and the Church. I also raise the voices of gay and lesbian Anglican priests (interviewed for my recent doctoral research) to articulate the struggles and pain they have faced at the rejection of their sexuality by their faith community and employer.

“whatever you do, do NOT fall in love while you’re in this parish,” (Interview J).

Despite adhering to a faith that claims to represent an all-loving God who loves each of us as we are, in a Church that aspires to form ministers in ‘a role in which God is helping you become yourself more deeply and fully’, homosexual clergy report feeling fundamentally constrained from being ‘fully themselves’. Although in so doing priests enable their parishioners to similarly grow into the same sense of wholeness, in order that God’s glory might more fully and freely flow through all that they are and all that they do, the homosexual priests interviewed all articulated feeling only ‘partially accepted’. Indeed, more than one priest felt used for their skills, talents and family-free work ethic, whilst simultaneously being rejected as an individual with needs and desires for human contact and intimacy. Such discrimination had a significant psychological impact, with self-reported changes in mental-health such as a ‘constant low-level depression’ (Interview K) or feeling ‘de-sexualised’ (Interview L) as a direct result of experiencing discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation.  Again and again, clergy recounted ‘not being allowed to love’ diminishing their ability to love God, humankind, and even life itself.

When analysing power structures within institutions, it is possible to suggest that anything which is seen as a ‘threat’ presupposes a challenge to somebody’s autonomy and leadership, thus alerting us to an institution fundamentally presupposing power differentials that not only proscribe but uphold inequalities. Yet William Temple’s work and legacy remind us that our faith has the ability to influence and inspire people not just in their own lifetime, but in generations to come, including politicians, Prime Ministers and, of course, Bishops and Archbishops. It is crucial that we acknowledge and own – or perhaps more importantly, learn how to use – the power that we have, for the common good.

Yet the term ‘common good’ tends to intimate a crude ‘one size fits all’ approach that has neither been deconstructed nor subjected to pastoral reflexive cycles in anything other than an ad hoc manner. Surely now is the time to revisit our understanding of our personhood, gender and/or sexuality, offering theologians and reflective practitioners a vehicle with which to incorporate, examine and re-examine core texts, alongside key advances in medical, psycho-social and genetic understanding of the diversity inherent within the reproduction of humankind. It is my belief that emotions run particularly high around gender and sexuality because they hit upon two profound and paradoxical truths that we are loathe to acknowledge. First, that power is used overtly and covertly through a faith which calls us to kenosis, or the outpouring of our ‘power’ for the sake of others. Second, gender and sexuality are at the very core of what it is to be human. All are agreed that ‘it is not good that [humankind] should be alone’. As we live out that Trinitarian truth, it is isolating and diminishing that we cannot exercise or develop our divinity (imageo dei) if we are refused the depth of relationship and love emulated within the Trinity, and expected – indeed, celebrated – by monogamous, heterosexual, married couples.

Temple, when talking about politics, boldly suggested that ultimately all power struggles were between the ‘the Haves and the Have-nots’. Nowhere is this more personally illustrated than between those who may fall in love, engaging in a consensual, monogamous, committed sexual relationship, and those who may not.

Hayley Matthews is a trustee of the William Temple Foundation and an Anglican priest.

Combing critical theory with theology, Hayley’s Temple Tract ‘Grace & Power: Sexuality and Gender in the Church of England’ is available as an e-book.

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With Open Arms? A Christian Response to the Immigration Crisis

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Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin? (Isaiah 58:6-7)

Christians are so much better at feasting than fasting.  It might be why we react with such outrage when atrocities such as those in Pairs, Beirut and Kenya impinge on our desire for peace and joy in a world we cannot seem to accept as genuinely ‘broken’.  It may even account for some of the disbelief or – dare I say it – apparent apathy as we watch bodies being washed ashore far from the safety of our centrally heated living rooms.  Can these things really be happening?  Can one human being actually treat another with such contempt, degradation and lack of respect?

Yet for many people of faith our heritage is one of a fasting people, pilgrims, longing for a homeland, longing for their God to bring them to a safe and abundant place, flowing with milk and honey, and vines heavy with grapes.  Fruitfulness, and the promise of good wine with which to celebrate bring us home to the arms of an ever-loving, lavishly generous God, whose opening words are always, ‘Welcome home!’ as we are enveloped in the merciful love that knows all, and forgives-all.  God’s hospitality knows no bounds. These images of profligate welcome jar as badly gears crunching into reverse as we drive on, unable to hold the virtual detention centres into which asylum seekers are shunted in tension with our desire to welcome with open arms the vulnerable and those who are without a place to call home.  And should the much sought after visa be granted for an individual that is traumatised, isolated and in a strange land, finding somewhere to live and paid work is no mean feat.

Yet how easy it is to watch a child’s body being lapped by the waves and blame the parents for putting them in so dangerous a predicament; to toss verbal grenades into headlines that declare our country sinking under the weight of benefit and job-seeking immigrants, here to steal our plenty from us.  Even as the figures are circulated via Twitter, the genuine figures, it is hard to resist the incessant waves that drag us into an undertow of doubt about what the consequences of our belief system, and/or our political system might really be.  For those of us who continue to campaign, live alongside and support asylum seekers, the spectres of compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma loom large.

Perhaps, more dangerously, we can look for those things that differentiate us from those drowning, in order to justify our closing doors: they are not our ethnicity; they live differently to us; they are adherents of another faith; their families are large and expansive; they will eat and drink of our milk and honey, and celebrate their safety with our good wine… and these differences are presented via the media and political sound bites as potentially threatening the very fabric of our society, ‘endangering a collective way of life’.

It is all too easy for politicians to attribute policy decisions to subjective group closure red-top headlines that feed on those fears.  For those of us happy to make a stand against inflammatory and divisive reportage, we turn to political campaigning, or perhaps join a Foodbank.  We might work with Boaz, teach people English, or befriend an asylum seeker.  We may even wade out from beaches, dragging tired, terrified travelers who have left all they have ever known to the politics of those even less able to grasp the greater good than our own government(s) can sometimes appear to do. But these activities can feel like a drop in the ocean as their need far outstrips our capacity as individuals to meet them, and we feel excluded from the table around which such policies are made.

Yet Wilson and Mavelli, in their briefing paper, Faith and the Asylum Crisis: The role of religion in responding to displacement make it clear that our political structures require a greater level of religious literacy if their policy-making is to be effective in the long-term:

‘Avoid an “add religion and stir” approach to religion and displacement that leaves secularist structures and assumptions largely in place.  Policymakers, politicians and practitioners must be encouraged to critically self-reflect on the partiality of their own values and assumptions, secular or religious.’

Contrary to the refrain that Bishops ought to keep their noses out of politics the briefing paper also recommends that,

‘Faith-based actors and civil society actors should be part of discussions with politicians and policymakers thinking creatively about how to strategically reframe migration debates. By championing universal values of solidarity and piety that do not stop at national borders, these organisations are critical in processes of desecuritization. They should (as many already do) also participate in and even spearhead civic education campaigns on these issues’.

My parish has historically, and is still is, very welcoming towards those seeking asylum.  At first hand we see the depression and isolation that follows the ‘yes’ that assures their safety.  We see the future roll out before them as an uncertain road, where every step is an enormous effort of transition and resources and transferable skills in an inhospitable land that has said ‘yes’ on the one hand, but so often shouts, ‘No, no, no!’ from every newspaper stand or volatile neighbour they are unfortunate enough to meet.  Fear drives us to exclude; fear of the other, fear of loss to ourselves, fear of being faced with the impact of our own survival instincts, and never more acutely, fear of terrorism overlaid onto ethnicity itself.

As for the asylum seekers, many mourn.  Yes, there is the relief of a certain safety, but they are not celebrating.  For they are still pilgrims, longing for a homeland; longing for their God to bring them the fruitfulness of an everyday life that is worth living, with the promise of good wine with which to celebrate. Their sense of place, identity and autonomy are fundamentally challenged as strangers decide upon their fate, and the future of their children, so much so, that many of them suffer with complex PTSD, particularly having already been exposed to trauma as the provoking incident(s) of migration.

Yet, far from their being little or no hope of positive integration, stories of what has and has not worked are vitally important with ideological language playing a crucial part in ensuring that the asylum seeker is seen as sharing the responsibility for successful integration 50:50 with the receiving community. Thus any failures are not ‘the asylum seekers fault’, adding to their sense of loss and failure.  Kirkwood, McKinlay and McVittie write that ‘attending to the rhetorical functions of integration discourse in order to understand how particular policies and practices are supported or criticized at the community level at which integration takes place’ are crucial to success on both sides and, I would argue, would make for far better headlines.  We might also learn from studies that have looked towards reforming and developing models of immigration and integration that are not merely copied, but are used as inspirational tools with which to reflect upon our own policies, our own context. We ought to own our  response to asylum seekers and refugees in order to bridge the gap between what we feel we should do, and what is actually happening in our communities.

Dr Rev’d Hayley Matthews is Rector of Holy Innocents’ Fallowfield, Manchester and a trustee of the William Temple Foundation.

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