Shaping debate on religion in public life.

Preaching truth to power

9 Nov 2018

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


More blogs on religion and public life…

Defining the Borders of our Island at the time of Brexit
Tim Howles

Religious Hate Crime: Language and Law
Brian Mountford

Modestly does it
Yasmin Khatun Dewan

With malice toward none; with charity for all
Rosie Dawson

Share this page:

2 Comments

Adrian Wait

09/11/2018 15:50

We have long since passed the time when Silence is Betrayal.
“Who Do You Say that I AM…?”
The Church must speak a prophetic voice, addressing the social evils, the ethical issues, the unavoidable injustices and oppression poisoning communities up and down the land. It is the Duty of the Church to exercise the mandate of speaking truth to power. When it fails, and it has, it becomes the conformed puppet of the oppressors.
It’s conformity to silence witnesses it cowardly compliance with evil and distorted power and rather than defying the banality of evil, it conforms. It would be shameful if the silence was purchased for £20million or tax breaks? – the price of its silence betrays people for the restoration of its assets and property restoration. It fails the poor, the powerless, the people, after nearly four decades of navel gazing it has FAILED to “Feed Christs Sheep”.
It has failed the working class down the corridors of time. Mimicking the established feral elite in their self-chosen status chosen roles throughout society. It will NEVER, regain the working classes, because it never had them at any stage in its history – it has always been the disengaged seeking to preach at the trapped. The working class are guileless and will remain forever alienated from such pompous self-indulgence. For they represent the Tory regime, and its superficial attitude towards “Charity” – an attitude that will only engage in charity if it reinforces the chasm between the ‘helpers’ and the helped’. A power relationship that is only suitable for those who ‘give charity’ and thereby reinforce their ‘churchianity’ the ‘goodness’ and their distinct position of status and power over the ‘helped’, whom the disengaged get to judge as the ‘deserved poor’ or ‘undeserving poor’. The silence of Church in the past seven years has witnessed its growing irrelevance to communities up and down the land. Reinforcing 500yrs of alienation from the people. They seek to ‘brick-up’ Christ within their building, their Churches… and again and again He smashes down the illusions and makes for the streets. The past 40yrs of ‘navel-gazing’ has witness the development of ‘Churchianity’ that as abandoned its prophetic duty, a closer and closer conformity to the world, to the culture of the elites, the Banksters, the Career politicians, the culture of indifference and power. Its silence of the past seven years condemns its conformity to injustice, and the banality of evil. Jesus weeps, when He witnesses their cowardly silence, their controlled ‘charity’ which reinforces the distance between Churchianity disengaged, and the People trapped in sustained injustice, and callous indifference, as the Churchianity huddles in fear in the ‘upper room’ safe and secure from the hostile injustice of the Tory regime.
Shamefully, Churchianity remains silent in the face of cruel indifference and vicious attacks upon disabled people, people who are ill… driven to suicide… Abandoned by the silent conformity of Archbishops, Bishops, Clergy alike… There are a few, a precious few who seek to follow Christ… Ignored by the leaders, and silenced by their relationships with the status quo, the media and a growing wilful blindness of Churchianity. Christ will break down their walls of indifference, their conformity to culture, to the powerful elite He will expose their hypocrisy, and He will break down cowardly silence, and abandon them to their chosen path… He will choose other, who will speak prophetically, others who will not abandon the ‘sheep’ when the wolves attack them. And, again, we shall hear Christ say, once again: “Who do You say that I am…?”

Where is the prophetic voice, the silence is deafening and serves only the powerful – indeed it conforms, and thereby it betrays all those now suffering under UC…. Who de we Serve? ‘Dethroning mammon’ – and no-one laughed,

Adrian Wait

09/11/2018 15:50

The Ungodly rise of Churchianity, Neoliberalism, Tory Regime managed by Banksters, bean-counters and hedge-fund refugees, and the cowardice of Silent Conformity…

This Tory regime have turned an Entitlement into a ‘Criminal offence’, Social Security into a ‘Workhouse payment’, a Safety net…into a Noose… in their destruction of Social Security…. we catch glimpse of their Victorian traits… which forms a basis of Churchianity the anathema of our age,
People made in the image of God, Must never be treated as Things. – Profit comes before people; Cuts aimed at the poorest are introduced and repeated, Zero hour contracts, insecure jobs people treated has things!
Turning Profit must never take precedence over human Welfare. – Welfare ’Reform’ – Increased poverty, 13,5m now live in poverty, 55% are the working poor, deaths and suicides, increased use of foodbanks up to 1million…
Fidelity to a pledge word must not be broken – Contracts no longer worth the paper they are written on, promises of £350million for our NHS casual lies now accepted…NHS ‘safe in our hands’ political duplicity mocks justice as NHS dismantled before our eyes, Secretary of Health a pathological Liar, lies. “NHS ‘Reform’ increases Privatisation a death of a thousand cuts… Welfare being dismantled…. Destroying a safety net. Nothing moves God’s to punish more than wanton cruelty to the helpless. – ‘Welfare Reforms’ is no such thing it is a neoliberal all out attack upon the poorest, by the elite: Freud, Duncan Smith, Grayling, Gaulk, McVey… and media lead the systematic attack upon the poorest, the most vulnerable, the disabled, the unemployed people, and the elderly, social care, Sanctions… Labelling, and a rise in hate crimes… all unleashed by a corrupt regime, and degenerates in callous, spiteful, psychopathically cruelty…
Cruel vengeance has no justifiable place in human behaviour – Sanctions, Denying access to Food, Cuts, Cuts, and more cuts, Bedroom tax, frozen benefits, WCA, Atos, Maximus, Capita. On all counts the neoliberal agenda influences ‘government and opposition alike, instrument like Progress, ensure and secure the status quo. Progress, that is Blair, Mandelson, and numerous others who fostered this neoliberalism within the Labour Party and the whole of the Tory party are exposed by a theological reflection upon the Book of Amos. For; there is nothing new under the sun. Their policies reflect the arrogant indifference of a feral elite so damn wise in its own eyes, and heading for destruction.
Their warped version of ‘Faith’ – the golden calf of their Churchianity stinks to high-heaven and is an offence to God, to Justice and to all peoples’ of goodwill. Their arrogant, proud and wilful indifference to suffering will be the key to their destruction. Their crimes cannot be disguised by daring to suggest that what they pretend to be an: ‘objective and rational philosophy’ is indeed nothing less than wilful ignorance and selfishness. The whole rotten edifice with its cancerous tentacles has seeped into every aspect of institutional life through common purpose they have secured the media, the BBC News department, and other key outlets of communication, entertainment and information.
They have long since been rooted in the church institution; the main channel of control and discipline is a tackled web of ‘secret societies’ and ancient, secure, and elitist groups within our nation have a grip on the levers of power, and fill strategic positions through society. Unthinking minions conform willingly to assist in the construction of networks of power, and deception all playing the part in the circus of distraction. Silent conformity is the glue that makes the growing oppression possible and one official covers for another official above them. Corruption is official policy, no longer abhorrent, it is the currency in a ‘post-truth’ society. When everything is relative anything and nothing is unacceptable. Those with any moral code or awareness of conscience are labelled, categorised and dismissed as being antisocial, authoritarian or bigoted. God is a concept made from our own opinion for there is no absolute truth; accept that there is no absolute truth.
Faith is seen has a metal weakness, or illness, a form of escapism or ego/power trip. It is to be expected for when a society, community or person stops believing in God it is not as though they do not believe in nothing, it is more likely that they will believe in any and every passing fad. Anything goes for there is no truth in a post-truth world. Truth is replaced by opinion
Amos was written approximately 800yrs before Christ, but it undoubtedly is extremely relevant to the 21st century. The crimes, cruelty and indifference of an elite echo the present context. The crimes are laid bear by key moral/Biblical values which expose the reference to British values for what it is – Hypocritical Lip-service, deceit and duplicitous Lies. The parochial concerns they express are mere spin and froth to conserve their little empire the way they perceive it. They seek to peddle, then impose their vision of a society created through and with selfishness, the survival of the fittest, rampant individualism a Self-serving, self-deceiving and delusional a City of Destruction. It is a threadbare, worn out flea-bitten, degenerate version of a Tory Vanity Fair.

This Tory regime have turned an Entitlement into a ‘Criminal offence’, Social Security into a ‘Workhouse payment’, a Safety net…into a Noose… in their destruction of Social Security…. we catch glimpse of their Victorian traits… which forms a basis of Churchianity the anathema of our age…

‘Truth for ever on the scaffold, Wrong for ever on the Throne…’

Discuss this

Discuss this

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.