David Ormrod is Professor of Economic and Cultural History at University of Kent
My suggestion from the floor of the conference (sparked in part by several papers attempting to define the scope of Temple’s thinking for our current social order) was that we should recall the thinking of the Christian Left in the 1930s and 40s beside which Temple’s social thought can be seen in clearer perspective. This is especially important today for those who deplore the inequalities created by the dismantling of the welfare state from the 1980s. Although some in the conference and elsewhere see this as creating new opportunities for religious engagement, the former must view this state of affairs with alarm.
Christianity and Social Order opens with the clearest possible affirmation of the Church’s claim to be heard in relation to economic and political issues. Its historical reference points come directly from Tawney, and Temple’s description of the nineteenth-century pioneers of the Christian social movement affirms their significance in recovering the Church’s moral authority and commitment to social justice, in retreat since the post-Restoration decades. Since the late eighteenth century, urbanisation and industrialisation created conditions demanding social reform, but until the 1840s, the primary concern of reformers was still for individuals (pp. 1-10).
From the 1880s to 1945, we can identify a developing Christian and socialist convergence, and Temple’s contribution is best understood in this context. In 1937, Clement Attlee wrote, ‘…probably the majority of those who have built up the socialist movement in this country have been adherents of the Christian religion – and not merely adherents, but enthusiastic members of some religious body. There are probably more texts from the Bible enunciated from socialist platforms than from those of all other parties.’ The Malvern conference of 1941 marked the high point of these convergent forces, and as they have dissipated, something of an ethical void has opened up in our society.
During the interwar years, more than a dozen Christian socialist societies and movements flourished in Britain, with the express purpose of exercising a prophetic and vanguardist role within the churches and in society at large. We can identify two main tendencies within and amongst them. The first, that of the majority, was represented by Temple and Tawney focusing on the idea of an ‘ethical state’. The second and more radical approach, emerging during the late 1930s, was most cogently expressed by John Macmurray, deriving from his humanist-inclined philosophy and his encounter with the Marxist-inclined Christian Left and its publications. Victor Gollancz, John Lewis, Richard Acland, Stafford Cripps and John Collins played prominent roles.
The thought of the Christian Left developed at some distance from progressive Anglican social thought and its claims on a sense of British national identity. The incarnational principle, in Temple’s case, led to a conservative view of the church: the visible church was seen as the preferred instrument for inaugurating the kingdom of God. Furthermore, the relationship between the established church and the state had a special significance since the nation state was also seen as a divinely established means of bringing forward the kingdom. Hence the duties of Christian citizenship formed an important theme. As John Kent has pointed out, this rested on an Aristotelian view of politics in which state and society were identical – the ‘oneness of the world within the city’s walls’, the polis. For Temple, British national identity required a bonding religion, Anglicanism. Tawney, however, was much less optimistic about the potentialities of the Church of England which, he felt, ‘remains a class institution, making respectful salaams to property and gentility, and with too little faith in its own creed to call a spade a spade in the vulgar manner of the New Testament.’
Macmurray and his circle envisaged a moral community which transcended the boundaries of the nation state and the churches. Christian consciousness, he realised, was deeply embedded in society, extending well beyond the visible church. Above all, it was expressed in personal relations: the nature and quality of personal relations was the touchstone of the ethical society. By 1944, Temple saw the purpose of God as ‘the development of persons in community’, a formula very close to the former’s thinking. Macmurray, in turn, moved closer to the earlier concerns of mainstream Christian socialism as he came to realise the full extent to which German fascism had succeeded in asserting a rational control of society as a whole. Wartime debates within the Christian Left reflected a loss of faith in social systems which rested principally on rational planning and took a more humanistic turn. By 1945, the moment had arrived to translate the consensus achieved at Malvern into a new kind of ethical state.
This is the second of two reflections on the 80th Anniversary Conference of Christianity and the Social Order
Victoria Turner, PhD Candidate, World Christianity, University of Edinburgh
This conference was jointly organized by the William Temple Foundation and the new Centre for Anglican History and Theology at the University of Kent, hosted in the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral. The conference sought to both historically contextualize and reflect on Temple’s most famous publication, Christianity and The Social Order and also question its and Temple’s relevance for our world today.
The first paper was delivered by Professor Kenneth Fincham from the University of Kent. Professor Fincham compared William Temple to William Laud who was Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633 and executed in 1645 with the falling of Charles I. The biggest similarity of both Archbishops was their conviction that the church should absolutely be involved in political affairs. Whereas this legacy has been avidly remembered for Temple, it has fallen away from the memory of Laud, receiving only a brief mention in his entry to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
I appreciated this paper, but questioned its applicability in this conference, especially at the start of the day. Fincham took for granted that the audience were already Temple “experts” and the concentration was on Laud. I was hungry and eager to begin learning about Temple at our 10am start, so although this scheduling made sense chronologically, conceptually, it was strange to begin a conference that celebrated Temple by not focusing on Temple, especially for a non-conformist already feeling a little out of place in a very Anglican setting.
The second paper was more what I imagined would be presented at the conference. My interest in Temple comes from his social justice work, especially its roots which was formed when he was studying in Oxford and volunteered with the University settlements and also his ecumenical work. Being a student of mission at the University of Edinburgh, the impact of the Edinburgh World Missionary Conference of 1910 where Temple was a young steward is continuously reflected on. Part of my PhD is exploring George MacLeod who started the Iona Community in Scotland in 1938, and MacLeod was inspired by the Toc H movement, founded by Tubby Clayton during World War 1, which also finds its roots in the University Settlement movement. I enjoyed Simon Lee’s careful recounting of how the mission of Tonybee Hall changed as the ‘leaders’ understood their working-class context better and how this incarnational theology and emphasis on listening to the poor continued in Temple as archbishop.
Elaine Graham blessed us with a superb paper that questioned how Temple would react to today’s questions surrounding gender and sexuality. Firstly Graham outlined the huge social shifts that have occurred since 1942 and warned of the dangers of too easily applying Temple’s ideas to our context. Yet by highlighting his incarnational theology, middle axioms idea and insistence on listening to the marginalized (for the elites to make the decision on their behalf) she explained how she believed Temple would be affirming of creating spaces for discourse, encouraging the theology of common grace and perhaps even following Susanna Cornwall’s idea of going back to virtue ethics and asking generally, what is it about a marriage that as Christians we value. Jeremy Carrette stayed in our context of today in the next paper but applied Temple to our climate crisis. Temple was clear in his stance that land was not a mere resource and should be used for personal profit, only for the common good. Carrette successfully argued Temple in 1942 pushed us to regain our reverence for the earth.
The third panel of the day was entitled ‘Church, Society and Race’ and for me were the least academically stimulating. Robin Gill had an interesting concept in posing Temple and Desmond Tutu as both ‘speaking truth to power’ in their own time but I felt the omission of an acknowledgement of their incredibly different lived experiences clouded the paper and made me question the applicability of the comparison. Whereas Tutu had to ‘speak truth to power’ to fight for his humanity to be recognized, Temple chose to spend time with those less fortunate than himself and learn how to alleviate their position (not without paternalistic undertones) without ever having the threat of losing his privilege. The truth cost Tutu a lot more, across a much larger distance. Sanjee Perera’s paper was given as more of a sermon, where her passion for her job in racial justice for the Church of England came across but it felt like Temple quotes were slotted in here and there rather than structuring her talk on how Temple relates to her work. The question that interrogated Temple’s relationship with Beveridge, who was a member of the Eugenics Society I thought was important, especially as it pushed another conference member to talk about Temple’s work with the Jewish Community during the war and eventually setting up today’s Council for Christians and Jews.
Chris Baker explored how to build back society in our post-pandemic times and wondered how Temple’s elitist leanings and trust of institutions clash with our culture, especially among the young today. Finally, Stephen Spencer gave an excellent talk that explored the collaborative effort that made Temple’s ‘Christianity and the Social Order’, including it being peer-reviewed by Keynes, Tawney and other academics. He also argued that this book represents just one moment in an important wider context of consultative methodology that engaged theology, industrialization, economics and politics.
The conference speakers and topics were varied but the audience was not. It was overwhelmingly white and male despite the William Temple Foundation being overtly progressive and contextual and a number of the conference papers explicitly being contextualized for today. The audience were generally church historians or theologians interested in Temple, and although receptive to applying him for today, generally wanting to explore his theology and legacy. The attempt to merge a historical conference with a public theology conference, inviting both Temple experts and not, created in my opinion a confused atmosphere but still a hospitable and lovely one, especially felt in the visit to the archive. I quickly felt able to ask questions and by around lunch brave enough to talk to participants in break out spaces.