Reviewed by Chris Baker, Director of Research, William Temple Foundation
This latest text from Stephen Spencer is another biography of Archbishop William Temple, who died in 1944, and joins a small but enduring list of biographies published to date. This year is an auspicious year to bring out such a volume, focussing attention as it does on the 80th anniversary of the publication of the work that Temple is perhaps still best known for, namely Christianity and Social Order. This biography, focusing on what Temple’s life says about a model of public leadership and service within a framing of servant leadership is also incredibly timely, coming at a time when political leadership in this country has been proved to be eye-wateringly corrupt and tainted by self-service, sleaze, and purposefully orchestrated division. Will public confidence in political leadership ever recover at this time of multiple crises—which range from the cost of living, poverty, and collapse in public services to environmental disaster and a new European war in Ukraine? Also, as I write this review, controversy and disunity have surfaced at the 2022 Lambeth conference over the issues of same-sex marriage and LGTBQ+ rights. I wonder how Temple’s approach to leadership and reconciliation would have played out amidst the current political and ecclesial splits shaping our public discourse? Inevitably, these thoughts were playing in my mind as I read this latest addition to the Temple oeuvre.
Spencer’s biography starts with a brief overview of the theme of servant leadership. There is a clear root to Jesus’ radically kenotic view of leadership along the lines ‘whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wishes to be first among you must be the slave of all’ (Mark 10:43-44). But Spencer augments this allusion with two influential contemporary exponents of the concept (Robert Greenleaf and Kenneth Blanchard). These additional facets include providing vision and direction in ways that shape the present but define the future by having clear goals and acknowledging what others have done and offering clear and concise support when changes are needed—both of which are underpinned by a wider sense of hope and trust in what God is bringing to the world.
Spencer then cleverly moves to a description of Temple, arguably at the height of his leadership powers, caught on a news film report addressing a packed Albert Hall in September 1942 as the newly enthroned Archbishop of Canterbury on the theme of ‘The Church Looks Forward’. In the audience are leading politicians of the day, including those who will serve as ministers in the post-war Labour Government, as he lays out the principles for post-war reconstruction. Like a movie that starts at the end for dramatic effect, the rest of the book offers us the backstory as to how this pivotal point is reached.
Spencer moves with well-signposted chapters through the early stages of Temple’s life and career, suggesting a nagging desire to question and confound the easy and accepted trajectory for his life at the heart of the elite establishment, including a stellar academic career in philosophy at Oxford and becoming headmaster at an early age of a prestigious public school. Two events challenge that orthodoxy. First, is Temple’s experience of being initially rejected for the priesthood on the grounds of theological unorthodoxy, and second, his placement at Toynbee Hall and the Bermondsey Mission, sent there by Edward Caird, the master of Balliol College, Oxford. The book then becomes more gripping and intriguing. We move through to Temple’s middle and late phases of life, where a meteoric rise to being Bishop of Manchester at the time of the post-war General Strike, and his theological and political reflections on the nature of sin, evil, compassion, and social justice begin to meld into his formidable expression of public leadership.
Here, Stephen Spencer’s acuity as a theologian, as well as an historical biographer, comes to the fore as he expertly unpacks the trajectory of Temple’s thought from its Idealist roots to his Christian Realism, profoundly shaped by the influence of contemporaries such as Reinhold Niebuhr and by his calling to shape society in accordance with Christian principles. This approach required a deep pragmatism allied to a deep vision and the ability to hold together multiple perspectives in tension. Chapter 6, on the theme of ‘Changing Views of Human History’, is an expertly charted essay in philosophical thought, whilst Chapter 10, ‘From Logic to Imagination’ does the same from a theological perspective.
Spencer’s archival diligence skilfully brings Temple alive as a person, a thinker, and a leader. The structure of the book holds the interplay between life experience, its impacts on theological and political thinking, and pattens of leadership in firm view. Finding intimate, touching, and vulnerable anecdotes alongside sustained passages of deep thought as well as incisive and honest appraisals of Temple by his contemporaries is one of this book’s strengths. Spencer is not averse to presenting Temple as a work a progress, rather than the finished article. However, this merely serves to reinforce the phenomenal achievements of a person who, in the end, drove himself to an untimely death through the stress induced by the range of his work and mission. Spencer also highlights the cultural, and in some cases colonial, assumptions of Temple’s thought and idiom which may struggle to find purchase in the contemporary world
In summary, Temple’s leadership comes across as visionary and humble, confident but collaborative, and increasingly fearless in calling out God’s truth to institutional power, both within the church and the wider world. Above all, Temple allowed his personal experience of prayer and spirituality to be the touchstone for his decision making, a spiritual journey that he was also able to articulate and share as part of his leadership, and which continues to inspire others to this day. Yet at the end of this fine and engrossing book I was left with a nagging feeling. It is presented as a study in church leadership for a principally church audience, but should there not be a more ultimate purpose? I think this book has huge and important things to say to secular politicians and business leaders, because, as Spencer so skilfully draws out, Temple’s thinking and approach spilled out into the wider world and touched and shaped many from outside the church. When so much of our public leadership seems paralysed by compromise and corruption on the one hand, and timidity on the other, then here is a voice that needs to be listened to again. I hope churchy imagery and endorsements, fine as they are, do not prevent this book from reaching a properly wide audience.
John Reader reflects on the philosophical questions and theological challenges of robots, embodiment, and human identity in Joshua K. Smith’s ‘Robot Theology: Old Questions Through New Media’ (Eugene, Oregon: Resource Publications, 2022).
June 4th 2022 in the UK is the 4th day of the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations but the news this morning is all about the events from which she will be absent, not surprising given her age! She had appeared for much of the event on screens projected at a great distance from the assembled crowds. Had there been the possibility of a robot or avatar replacement would that have sufficed instead? What is so important about the presence of the “real person”?
It would seem that real people are in process of becoming an anachronism. Joshua K. Smith’s new book, Robot Theology: Old Questions through New Media (2022), addresses the question of how Artificial Intelligence and robots might become part of the theological vision.
Smith suggests that the lacuna in the field of human-robot interaction (HRI) is firstly because Christians and theologians have a pessimistic view of human nature (3). This subject might be more appropriately approached under the heading of a critique of dualism and the division between mind or spirit and body. A second explanation for this lacuna could be the widely held Christian belief in human exceptionalism and the doctrine of the humans made in the ‘image of God’ (imago dei). Smith suggests that humans are unique in terms of function, rather than ontologically distinct. I agree that these are crucial questions but would argue that they require deeper reflection, and could perhaps benefit from the concept of distributed agency, as well as ideas of human non-human assemblages (see my “Theology and New Materialism” 2017).
The main aim of this book is to examine how robots can serve as a new media for theological and metaphysical discourse in an age of scientism (4). Humans and robots can work together for human flourishing if there is a balance between humans’ involvement and the morality of the machine. By making moral machines, we must give careful attention to how robots are designed to interact with humans. With this consideration, the telos of machine should be to aid the efforts of an array of religions and ideologies. Smith rightly suggests that technology is no mere tool but is in fact a profoundly religious ideology. What, however, I feel is lacking is a more robustly philosophical perspective. For, in his analysis, there is a danger of subsuming “technology” beneath a theological banner, which could be regarded as a form of biblical imperialism.
In chapter one Smith argues that attempts to transcend human limitations through technology have been around a long time. What, he asks, is different about robots? How, following Jesus, can we respond to “the other” in the figure of robots (13). There is a danger of idolatry in human attempts to manipulate and control robots in search for identity and security. For there is a temptation to turn new technologies into objects of reverence and worship (15). AI and robots will not simply change the world around us, but will also change the way we relate to each other. Does this not then require a new conceptuality? Smith correctly points to the dangers of a view of reductive materialism that would suggest these issues will be resolved through the scientific study of the material world.
As AI must be embodied in mechanical computers, and draws upon human user interaction and natural resources, there remains a danger of treating it as a disembodied agent, in which ethical values and responsible decisions are built into the machines beyond philosophical questioning. In the second chapter, Smith describes how Christians and theists believe that there are objective moral standards that point to actions or desires that are either right or wrong. Despite grounding moral values in the Bible, he nevertheless demands a more nuanced investigation to ethical and regulatory guidelines (25). He writes: “We know there are God-given standards to what makes something good and just.” The problem of the Tower of Babel was, as Smith interprets, not that humans were collaborating through technology, but rather that they had desired to subvert their Creator through technological means.
Technology is, Smith insists, neither innately good or bad. Rather each instance must be assessed according to the following three criteria. First, technology must not conflict with God’s moral law. Second, technology must promote the Christian understanding of love. Third, technologies must foster the biblical concept of stewardship. And fourth and finally they must not oppress and limit liberty and conscience. (27)
Any advances will come at a cost and no matter how tempting the benefits “we cannot subvert the design and decrees of the LORD”. Smith further discusses familiar issues concerning responsibility, privacy, big data and the dangers of the control of technology (See Zuboff 2019, and Veliz 2021). Current approaches to AI and robot ethics typically assume a mechanical metaphysics, in which there is no room for the nonmaterial or the supernatural (37). We should, I suggest, seek to move beyond reductive materialism and form-matter dualisms by developing the insights of New Materialism(s), as perhaps a more promising source of critique in conversation with elements from less traditional religious sources.
In chapter three on Christian anthropology, patiency and personhood, Smith argues that there may be ethical reasons to grant certain qualified entities negative rights and protections because to do so may positively impact conditions of human and environmental flourishing (45). There are, he suggests, four recognized forms of personhood. First, moral: this person is a moral actor and therefore a moral patient. Second, psychological: this person is sentient, can suffer and displays intentionality. Third, legal: this person can be the subject of law or exercise rights. Fourth, relational: this person is determined by the nature of relationship or character they play in the moral actor’s story (48).
The next section is on robots and moral patiency. The key question is whether moral agency can be attributed to robots? To do so, Smith argues, risks devaluing and dehumanizing humans through human-robot interaction. Not granting moral standing to social robots though is dangerous as to neglect this scholarship is to risk skewing anthropology toward a non-biblical perspective of the human person (57). Social robots, he suggests, do not ever have to be moral agents or pass the Turing test. For when a robot behaves in ways that are similar to humans it is of no consequence whether they have an inner self, moral agency or consciousness. Regardless of these concerns, they deserve moral consideration simply because of the potential moral injury to the human counterpart. Is this not a watered-down version of human exceptionalism? Would not the conceptuality of human non-human assemblages be a more effective means of dealing with this? Is it not simply about interactions but about the ways in which both evolve and develop through relationship?
It seems clear, in Chapter Four, that many current debates are trying hard to catch up with these developing issues, and it is not immediately obvious that an explicitly Christian or biblical perspective should have anything distinctive to offer. Smith begins, in Chapter Five, with a section on the biblical idea of friendship or companionship supplemented with a study of modern philosophical and psychological views. Will human values and relationships be damaged or undermined by those with robots? There are issues of exploitation and manipulation for the benefit of the controlling party. He further discusses the dangers of surveillance and external control. Friendships with robots can, he concludes, supplement human friendships, yet cannot be considered as a substitute or replacement, as such a substitution would also undermine or devalue those relationships. Could there though not be examples where “friendships” with the non-human are more reliable and secure than those with humans?
Smith begins Chapter Six with the biblical-theological understanding of race. Further brief sections include important yet well-documented concerns about inbuilt bias in the technologies. How and to what extent can governance and regulation counter these biases and how can the processes of development be engaged early enough to make a real difference? (See Evans and Reader address this in “Ethics after New Materialism” Temple Tract 2019 proposing a modest ethics).
In Chapter seven Smith presents an important section on embodiment. He argues that the Christian tradition has, in its disdain for disembodiment, effectively made an unholy alliance with physicalism (121). There should, he argues, be room in the Christian metaphysics and ecclesiology for a qualified disembodied presence. Embracing strict theological physicalism seems to conflict with the biblical reality that presence is not merely about biological material or physical embodiment (123).
Experiences during the pandemic have raised the issues of presence in a significant way and require further reflection, but attempting to interpret this through an exclusively biblical lens holds the debate in a straitjacket, and could alternatively be remedied by bringing in other sources and ideas. There are further concerns for the pastoral context, and the role of the remote or virtual as well as the presence of robots. There are also environmental consequences of disembodiment that need to be taken into consideration.
In the brief conclusion, Smith reiterates the attempt to lay out some of the territory. While this is an important task my main concern is that the subject requires a more fully developed interpretive framework drawing on philosophical as well as theological sources.
The William Temple Foundation, in partnership with Leeds Church Institute, is delighted to launch the latest series in our ground-breaking podcast Staying with the Trouble. The series will run for the next six weeks, starting 7th June, 2022.
Entitled Perspectives on Poverty and Exclusion in Leeds and produced by Rosie Dawson, the series is anchored by Bishop James Jones, Bishop Emeritus of Liverpool. Via six interviews with key actors across the city, Bishop Jones traces the impact of the current cost of living crisis on the lives of ordinary citizens, and the relationships and practices of solidarity, care, compassion and justice that emerge to provide resilience and hope to so many facing hardship and despair.
As Bishop Jones summarises, these relationships and networks reflect ‘an organic regeneration’ that cuts deeply across religious, secular, ideological, cultural and ethnic divides.
Director of Research for the Foundation, Professor Chris Baker reflects, ‘In this Platinum Jubilee Year, with its emphasis on theme of service as exemplified by Queen Elizabeth, this series really resonates as it shows how daily acts of service and sacrificial leadership build resilience and hope across our communities in the darkest of times.’
Dr Helen Reid, Director, Leeds Church Institute says, ‘I commend the podcast series to all who love Leeds and are troubled by inequality here. The podcasts combine personal experience and local perspectives with insight, hope and action for building a fairer city.’
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.
80th Anniversary of the Enthronement of William Temple, Canterbury Cathedral Archive and the BBC Recordings from 23rd April 1942
Jeremy Carrette and Cressida Williams
Political statements by Archbishops of Canterbury have long resulted in debate about the relation of the church to politics and it seems appropriate, in the current context of the government response to Archbishop Justin Welby’s ethical concerns with government asylum plans, that we should recall the 80th anniversary of the enthronement of an archbishop that demonstrated a profound commitment to Christian ethical engagement in social and political issues. Archbishop William Temple was enthroned at Canterbury Cathedral on the festival of St. George on 23rd April 1942.
According to Dominic Bellinger and Stella Fletcher’s study of the history of archbishops, The Mitre and the Crown (Sutton Publishing, 2005, p.166), Archbishop William Temple was viewed as “probably the most actively political of the modern archbishops of Canterbury”. His active contribution to the creation of the welfare state, alongside William Beveridge, can be seen in his famous text Christianity and Social Order (1942), on which the Centre for Anglican History and Theology and the William Temple Foundation hosted a recent conference at Canterbury Cathedral, to reflect on its continuing importance 80 years on from its publication. Christianity and Social Order first appeared with William Temple named as Archbishop of York, but within months this successful text appeared with the new title of Archbishop of Canterbury. If Boris Johnson was concerned with his Archbishop’s political statements, Winston Churchill, as noted by various commentators, was not happy with the appointment of William Temple and his social agenda: see John Kent William Temple (Cambridge, 1992) and Stephen Spencer William Temple: A Calling to Prophecy (SPCK, 2001). However, as the letter recommendatory of George VI, written on the 1st April 1942, confirms, he was appointed as the ‘new primate of all England’. This official document, with its royal stamp, is held in the Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library (document CCA-DCc/SV1/1942/27) and reveals the importance of the Canterbury Cathedral archive for the key historical documents of William Temple’s enthonement and the events surrounding this historic moment.
While the official papers of William Temple as Archbishop of Canterbury are held at Lambeth Palace Library, alongside other papers deposited after his death by his widow Frances, the Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library holds material relating to the translation of Temple to the See of Canterbury, to his formal election by the Greater Chapter of the Cathedral, to his enthronement, and to his funeral. There is also a set of manuscripts of sermons delivered at the Cathedral, and broadcast on radio, between Palm Sunday and Easter Day 1942, just after his appointment and just before his enthronement. These were presented by Frances Temple to the Cathedral. She notes in a covering letter how glad her late husband was “that the first time he spoke to the country on the radio after his appointment to Canterbury he should be speaking on a purely spiritual subject”. However, his Easter address of the 5th April 1942, revealed a spiritual message that would bridge the ethical life with the political. He stated in this address that the call to Easter was not a call to “easy assurance of enjoyment in a heaven of selfish happiness” but rather a place “where love and self-giving are made perfect”. Temple’s spirituality was one grounded in a vision of ethical and social concern, through overcoming the self-centred approach and building a life of loving and compassionate relation to the world.
The Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library also holds the old BBC recordings of the Enthronement, 10 x 78rpm disks (CCA-U202/2), now digitalised by the BBC. Listening to these recordings and viewing the Pathé film – an enthronement “filmed for the first time in history” – you are taken back to the particular historical context of an Archbishop appointed during the war. The commentary informs us the windows are boarded up and precious glass removed and stored away; the austerity of the war time ceremony is evident. We hear evocative descriptions of the statue of Frederick Temple, the 95th Archbishop of Canterbury, echoing the significance of William Temple as the first son of an Archbishop of Canterbury to be enthroned into the same position and become the 98th Archbishop of Canterbury. The listener is also struck by the powerful liturgical singing. Though there were some day choristers living locally in Canterbury who continued to sing throughout the war, the boy choristers were returned from evacuation in Cornwall for the Enthronement. (They would also be sadly returned for William Temple’s funeral a few years later in 1944.)
The BBC recordings of the Enthronement of William Temple presents the “main part of the ceremony and his Grace’s address which we (the BBC) had the privilege of recording for listeners at home and overseas”. It is significant that there were representatives of world churches, including the Russian and Greek Orthodox churches; William Temple worked tirelessly for ecumenical unity and his address also affirmed not only unity and fellowship of the Anglican Communion, but also recognised and valued “traditions other than our own”.
Along with the “Instrument of Proceedings”, a document made by the Notary Public to formally record the event in writing (also held in the Canterbury Cathedral Archive and Library, see CCA-DCc/SV1/1942/29), the eloquent descriptions of the BBC recording capture the moment of when Temple “moves down the crimson steps from the high-altar towards the [marble] episcopal throne” of St. Augustine, the first Archbishop in 597. After Archbishop Temple kisses the book of the gospels we listen to the making of the corporal oath. With the recorded crackling sounds of rumbling chairs and echoing coughs, we then hear how the Archdeacon takes the Archbishop by the hand and places him on the episcopal throne and he is “inducted, installed and enthroned” into the archbishopric.
Disks 6-8 of the BBC recording, record the Archbishop’s address. This was published in a 1944 collection of Temple’s addresses and talks, The Church Looks Forward (Macmillan, 1944), but the recording brings it alive, particularly the “few personal words” expressing his “sense of complete inadequacy” in following those he has known. Here he opens personal reflections on the Archbishops of Canterbury he knew in his life: Edward White Benson (“wise stateman and true priest”), his father Frederick Temple (“the chief inspiration of my life”), Randall Thomas Davidson (“a second father to me”) and his predecessor Cosmo Gordon Lang (“most wise elder counsellor and ever more intimate friend”). As he openly affirmed: “To follow such men is daunting”. But the force of the enthronement service as a “dedication of the Church, the nation and ourselves to the purpose of God” overcomes these feelings of inadequacy. It is that conviction that shapes the moment of the enthronement. Addressing a nation facing the horrors of war, he felt that St. George’s day was appropriate for the enthronement, because it held the sense of service and martyrdom in the national identity at a time of world war. He also spoke of the Church World Conferences (in Stockholm, Lausanne, Jerusalem, Oxford, Edinburgh, Madras and Amsterdam) carrying the ecumenical and social concerns of Christianity. The themes of peace, faith and unity and, above all, that ethical devotion to following the “purpose of God” framed the address. The address revealed the central focus of his work in bringing Christian principles to shape the national agenda. The enthronement of William Temple was recognition of his lifelong leadership in the church and his unique ability to bring a spiritual and political voice into the world.
80 years after the BBC recorded the events of William Temple’s enthronement, it is striking that the Research Director of the William Temple Foundation, Professor Chris Baker, was asked to comment on BBC World News about the response to Justin Welby’s challenge to government and explain why Temple is relevant to this discussion. Professor Baker explained that for Temple it was “the duty of the church to shape society, and the way society thinks, in accordance with the principles of God”. Temple shows how the spiritual and political are joined together. The grand ritual of Temple’s enthronement and his Holy Week addresses, preserved in Canterbury Cathedral Archive and Library, signal how Temple’s vision roots his normative Christian ethical values in the theological purpose of God. It provides a moral dimension beyond history to ground the interventions and actions within in human life. The 80th anniversary of William Temple’s enthronement as Archbishop of Canterbury is an historical event that is not only wonderfully preserved in word, sound and image, but one that continues to demonstrate the importance of uniting the spiritual and political in the face of the challenges of war and social injustice.
In this special blog for Eastertide, Stephen Cottrell, Archbishop of York, explains the Church of England’s new vision for the 2020s.
Easter is a time of great hope. It is the season when Christians remember Jesus’ death on the cross, his victory in resurrection, his ascension into heaven and the disciples receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. That gift nearly 2000 years ago is the reason why Christianity continues to this day and why Easter is such an important celebration in the Christian calendar.
It is with this same Easter hope, rooted in the good news of Jesus Christ that the Church of England has embarked on its vision for the 2020s. It was William Temple, when appointed Archbishop of York, who wrote to a friend to say, ‘It is a dreadful responsibility, and that is exactly the reason why one should not refuse’ (letter to F. A. Iremonger, August 1928). Shortly before I was appointed to follow in his footsteps, albeit 91 years later, I had been asked to give some thought to what the Church of England’s vision for the 2020s might look like and, if I am honest, similar words to those of Temple went through my mind.
However, as I embarked on this task, I was clear on two things. This should never be about my vision, but about discerning God’s vision for God’s church in God’s world—and therefore I should not attempt to find it on my own. Over the next 9 months, various groups were gathered together, representing a huge, and usually younger, diversity of voices. After much prayer and discernment a vision emerged which we felt was God’s call on us for this time. Consequently, there is now a clear Vision and Strategy that the governing body of the Church of England and the Diocesan Bishops have agreed—and the whole Church is shifting and aligning to this new narrative.
Except, it isn’t that new. The Church of England’s vocation has always been to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ afresh in each generation to and with the people of England. In our vision for the 2020s, we speak about this as being a Christ-centred Church, which is about our spiritual and theological renewal, and then a Jesus-Christ-shaped Church, particularly seeing the five marks of mission as signs and markers of what a Jesus-Christ-shaped life might look like. It is therefore a vision of how we are shaped by Christ in order to bring God’s transformation to the world. Three words in particular have risen to the surface: we are called to be a simpler, humbler, and bolder church.
From this, three priorities have emerged, and parishes and dioceses are invited to examine and develop their existing strategies and processes in the light of these ideas.
To become a church of missionary disciples. In one sense, this is the easiest to understand, re-emphasising that basic call to live out our Christian faith in the whole of life, Sunday to Saturday. Or, as we speak about it in the Church of England, Everyday Faith.
To be a church where mixed ecology is the norm. This has sometimes been a bit misunderstood. Mixed ecology reflects the nature of Jesus’ humanity and mission. It is contextual, ensuring churches, parishes, and dioceses are forming new congregations with and for newer and ever more diverse communities of people. It is about taking care of the whole ecosystem of the Church and not imagining one size can ever fit all. In the early church, in the book of Acts, we see this mission shaped by the new humanity that is revealed in Christ, made available and empowered by the Spirit. Therefore, mixed ecology is not something new—it is actually a rather old, and well-proven concept. After all, every parish church in our land was formed once. So, mixed ecology doesn’t mean abandoning the parish system or dismantling one way of being the Church in favour of another. It is about how the Church of England will fulfil its historic vocation to be the Church for everyone, by encouraging a mixed ecology of Church through a revitalised parish system. We hope that every person in England will find a pathway into Christian community.
To be a church that is younger and more diverse. Professor Andrew Walls writes, ‘The Church must be diverse because humanity is diverse, it must be one because Christ is one […] Christ is human, and open to humanity in all its diversity, the fullness of his humanity takes in all its diverse cultural forms.’ (The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History, p. 77) We need to look like the communities we serve in all areas of age and diversity. For the Church of England that means believing in and supporting children and young people in ministry; facing up to our own failings to welcome and include many under-represented groups, particularly people with disabilities and those from a Global Majority Heritage; and committing ourselves to the current Living in Love and Faith process and our already agreed pastoral principles so that LGBTQI+ people are in no doubt that they, along with everyone, are equally welcome in the Church of England. It also means putting renewed resources into our poorest communities.
Whilst some have questioned why we only have three priorities, they are, I believe, vital for the Church of England in the 2020s as we continue to serve Jesus in the power of the Spirit through his Church.
In 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul writes, ‘if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.’ Our desire is to reach everyone with the good news of Christ, and especially those who in the past may have felt excluded. That is why the work with racial justice, a new bias to the poor, and an emphasis on becoming younger are so important.
Ultimately, this vision flows from the joy we find in the risen Christ. It is an Easter message. A message of transformation for the world, as a church that is renewed and re-centred in Christ and shaped by God’s agenda for the world will be good news for that world. It will bring God’s transformation to the hurt, confusion, weariness, and despair we see around us—that Church existing for the benefit of its non-members as Temple so memorably put it.
Review of Jarel Robinson-Brown, Black Gay British Christian Queer (London: SCM Press, 2021), by Yazid Said, Liverpool Hope University
Yazid Said, Lecturer at Liverpool Hope University and trustee of the William Temple Foundation, reviews Jarel Robinson-Brown’s recent book. Said applauds Robinson-Brown’s call for repentance but wonders whether human nature can really be viewed so optimistically.
Jarel Robinson-Brown’s book articulates critiques and reconstructions of the Christian understanding of grace from his experiences of living as a member of the Black LGBTQ+ Christian community in Britain. He is concerned with the ways in which being black and gay can encourage individuals and the whole Church to reimagine grace and to challenge some teachings and practices in the Church. The book is therefore mainly on how grace determines our understanding of divine action in the Incarnation (Chapter 2) and the crucifixion (Chapter 3) and its relationship to human action (Chapters 4 & 5). Drawing on several experiences of other gay, black, and queer individuals, he argues that genuine grace means walking alongside people in a position of powerlessness rather than in exercising power over them (pp. 72, 105-106).
The book’s importance lies in its emphasis on justice and its calling for a common repentance; it highlights the importance of the Church as a place of welcome for everyone and the significance of encountering the face of our victims for the release of grace (pp. 72 & 80).
Some issues raised in the book, however, require some unpacking. Grace itself remains a highly contentious concept in Christian history, reflecting a wide range of views on sex and sexuality. The implications, therefore, of how the author engages with Christian doctrine are mixed. He points to the Incarnation and crucifixion as an alternative to the emphasis on God’s transcendence, which he often links to human power structures (pp. 52, 56-58). Jesus’ story expresses divine immanence (pp. 50-58). Divine impassibility (Greek apatheia) would be rejected (pp. 69-70). In this way, the book draws on familiar themes and insights from other liberation theology traditions, emphasising the humanity of Jesus, as someone who stands alongside the outcast (p. 84). However, unlike other writers in this tradition (such as Carter Hayward’s The Redemption of God) Robinson-Brown subscribes to the orthodox definitions of Christ (pp. 104-106).
The author, evidently, has a view of grace that reflects a particular liberal philosophy. When it comes to the salvific effect of grace, he reads it as salvation from within, rather than an external challenge for change (106). This suggests that he maintains a highly optimistic view of human nature in line with liberal philosophy. He draws on other activists who have a shared sexuality and a common intellectual heritage with him. Robinson-Brown is not subscribing to liberal individualism, however. He believes that if communities and members of the Body of Christ cooperate, they can achieve true justice in response to the revelation of God in Christ (Chapter 5).
There is no discussion of the Christian understanding of original sin. Indeed, he talks of ‘silencing our sin-talk’ (p. 38). The book does not struggle with the implications of sin for all, when grace includes God’s judgment on sin for the benefit of the sinner (Matthew 9: 10-13). This is reflected in the manner of using scripture. We are rightly reminded that Jesus is more at home in the company of tax collectors and sinners (p. 84). However, whilst Jesus enjoyed the company of sinners, he did not see them as other than sinners. The woman found in adultery is still a sinner: ‘go and sin no more’ (John 8: 1-11). Zacchaeus was still a greedy person (Luke 19); they all need the grace of God in Jesus.
Whilst dependence on Christology and salvation remain striking in the book, the ambiguity of discussing ‘sin’ explains the ambiguity around his discussion of the crucifixion too. The cross becomes for the author a weapon (pp. 63, 67, 69). He identifies the suffering of Black LGBTQ+ Christians with Christ’s suffering. But this identification cannot reflect what is truly radical and new in the cross. It is the darkness of death on the cross that judges all our systems, not simply the suffering that makes us more ‘righteous’. It is difficult to assess whether Jesus suffered more than the millions who suffered in the twentieth century. This is neither here nor there. Rather, the cross silences us—all of us, white, black, gay, or straight—as it reminds us how we all tend to reject the truth when it comes among us.
Similarly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ‘cheap grace’ is susceptible to misuse in the book (p. 40). Though Bonhoeffer was influential in radical ‘secular’ theological writings such as that of John Robinson’s Honest to God (1963), Bonhoeffer was certainly not trying to push for the usual liberal argument that claims to make God ‘relevant’ to ‘the modern world’. Rather he was trying to confront the evils of the modern world with the radical worldliness of the gospel.
It would also be good to unpack a little more of what the author means by ‘White Supremacy’ in Britain today (pp. 112 & 157). Some might distinguish between supremacist ideology and a ‘hidden’ racism. The latter is more personal. An argument, for example, from Rowan Williams’ chapter ‘Nobody knows who I am till the judgment morning’ in On Christian Theology (pp. 276-289) discusses the question of racism as part of a larger task of defining a human crisis overall.
It is evident today that the earlier blanket condemnation of sexual minorities is no longer tenable or indeed desirable. There are enough signs across different church traditions to move away from the condemnatory language of the past. Robinson-Brown refers critically to the Church of England’s document Issues of Human Sexuality (1991) (p. 10); he could have clarified that further in pointing to an aspect of legal hypocrisy here. The document goes as far as to see committed homosexual relationships as a valid option for Christian living whilst attaching celibacy to the legal expression of committed homosexual relationships. It therefore denies a key dimension of gay identity.
Robinson-Brown’s book deserves support for its cause and its apt call for the church to live out its call for repentance; but one still needs to ask to what extent this kind of ‘identity-focus’ theology is able to prosper where the liberal philosophical tradition is less influential. The book seems to assume that people who share the LGBTQ+ identity all share the same experiences, either private or social. This may not necessarily be the case either. Many who may be sympathetic to the cause, may not embrace the optimism that seeks to erase the importance of human sin. A strong consciousness of our fallenness helps deliver us from the kind of binaries that identity theologies—and politics—seek to work with.
Saturday 25 April, Edinburgh. In the morning, I took my 3 year old twins to their first ballet class. By taxi. Next, we returned home to await the arrival of our new sideboard, in which to store all our ancestral china and tablecloths. Then Granny arrived, bringing the twins a massive Georgian dolls’ house, complete with fake food and fire irons. Could anyone have had a more frightfully middle-class first-world day?
“On Saturday 25 April a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal. It severely shook the lives of at least 5.3m people and left many homeless. Nepal’s major cities, including the capital Kathmandu, have been badly damaged and rural areas near the epicentre have been completely cut off by avalanches. Latest reports suggest over 5,000 people have been confirmed dead and the figure is likely to rise in the coming days. Even those whose homes are still standing are sleeping in the streets because they are terrified by regular aftershocks.”
And my girls have a fully functioning dolls’ house, with lights that work.
I remember being in the pub when the news of Typhoon Haiyan hit in 2013, and as the news tickered across the TV screens, this was what the regulars asked me: how could your God let this happen?
What can I say? What can anyone say, that helps?
My nephew was christened just days after yet another tragedy, the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004. His grandfather, the legendary Canon John Sweet, had travelled to Scotland to baptise him, and was left with the unenviable task of preaching about it.
Why, why, why?
I’ll never forget what he said. He refused to answer the question. He just thundered out God’s response to Job: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!”
I love God’s sarcasm when He finally rises to Job’s bait. Of course, it’s sinfully arrogant of us to feel we have a right to understand God, and to think we are best placed to explain God’s actions to others.
As Fred Rogers famously said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, look for the helpers – you will always find people who are helping.”
And isn’t that the only thing we can do in the face of something so impossible to understand? Rather than wasting valuable time finding the sort of answers that might satisfy us, shouldn’t we be the helpers, so at least people can say: ‘I don’t know what God is up to, but look how these Christians love one another!’
Of course I don’t want to duck the issue. Of course it bothers me too. Of course we should cry to God and shout aloud in all our confusion and pain.
But this isn’t an opportunity for mission, or an opportunity for armchair theodicists. This is an opportunity for us to unite behind the relief effort, so that at least the avoidable deaths that may result from this will not be our fault.
The most pressing question about Nepal isn’t what God may or may not be up to, it’s what we are doing in response. Have you donated yet?
The leaders of Britain, politicians, intellectuals and churches, invariably focus on what’s gone wrong with life, whether it’s the economy, the NHS, education, inequality or foodbanks. Yet that’s to start with the carts of life. There are some useful lessons we might draw from economics, offering a message on Lent and sin. Without the horse, the cart is pretty useless, so let’s rather begin with the horse. And, by that, I mean I’m grateful that I’m neither dead nor am I dirt poor. And that’s astonishing progress, because only 100 years ago my uncle John Robert Atherton (after whom I was probably named), was born and died in 1900, one of the 20% who tragically died in childhood of incurable infectious diseases. The remainder often suffered from great undernourishment, and from lack of education. In contrast, I’m 76, highly educated, have a modest pension, and therefore the freedom to be and to do. And these great and historic achievements have beneficially affected more and more people increasingly across the whole world in terms of incomes, life expectancy and education.
Of course, these are not as yet a universal achievement. A very significant but diminishing minority do not share in the benefits obtained by the Industrial and then the Mortality Revolutions. A billion still live in absolute poverty, and, in rich economies like Britain and the USA, a significant minority still suffer from relative deprivation. These deeply disturbing situations reflect what is called the paradox of development; the great achievements in wellbeing in the last 200 years have also been accompanied by deeply negative forces, including grave inequalities (throughout history, and including today, these paradoxes of development, or ‘horsemen of the apocalypse’, traditionally included famines, epidemic, climate changes, migrations and state failures).
So this analysis is therefore about putting the horse back where it belongs: before the cart. Don’t begin, as our leaders in academia, politics and churches do, with the downsides of life, with the paradoxes of development. No. Begin with the ongoing historic achievements in income, health and education in only the last 200 years. Then, and only then, also address the paradoxes of development.
What on earth has Lent and sin got to do with this? Well, for most of its history Christianity has regularly put the cart before the horse, and especially in the season of Lent, and especially with its focus on sin. And that’s again putting things the wrong way round. Let’s think a bit more about this.
So much of the church’s historic views on sin are pathological, and are now also profoundly inaccurate and unhelpful. Let me give you a few examples:
In medieval churches, the walls were often covered with paintings regularly featuring vivid pictures of hell as the punishment for sin if the parishioners didn’t confess to a priest. The fear this inevitably injected was also a powerful way of controlling the population.
If a newborn baby died before it was baptised, it was, until relatively recently, buried in unconsecrated ground outside the consecrated church yard – because its original sin, addressed only through baptism, therefore ostracised it beyond the pale.
When I was a young Rector of Hulme Church in inner city Manchester in the late 1960s, I was frequently asked to ‘church’ a young mother who had just given birth to a child. Now, this old ‘churching’ service wasn’t a ‘thanksgiving for childbirth’ as it later became. It was a (grandmothers won’t let the daughter out till she’d been churched), going back to the Christian doctrine that original sin was transmitted to new generations through the sexual act, through the woman’s birth of a child.
Why on earth did Christianity and the churches have such views often well into the twentieth century? My ongoing research in economics and religious studies indicates that for all human history, until the 19th century, the vast majority of people lived lives, as the great 17th century political philosopher Thomas Hobbes put it, which were ‘poor, nasty, brutish and short’. They died at best by middle age, they lived in poverty and squalor, and they often suffered violent deaths. Reflecting and deepening such experiences, no wonder such views of sin, of the self-inflicted darkness of life, so pervaded Christian thinking and preaching. But now life is quite different. For most people life is long, peaceful and relatively prosperous, with increasing healthcare and educational opportunities for a growing majority.
So I now begin with the lovely and accurate Anglican collect or prayer for Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent: ‘Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing that you have made…’ That’s where I begin, with the fundamental goodness of the created order. Then, and only then, do I address what’s also gone wrong in terms of sin and finitude (don’t confuse them, and do recognise both as severe, distinct and different constraints on our social development – including as the paradoxes of development). And that’s certainly not to therefore acknowledge my ‘wretchedness’, as the collect for Ash Wednesday goes on to declare! Whatever I now feel and understand as my sin and finitude, I would thankfully, not normally refer to it as wretchedness.
How then, to define sin today, post-1800? Well, I go to the New Testament’s interpretation of it as ‘missing the mark’. In other words, we aim for, in Paul’s words, ‘what is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable’ (Philippians 4.8). And then, and only then, do we recognise and face up to where we get it wrong personally and collectively (the latter including what we call structural sin in terms of defective or bad institutions, markets or nations). Now this is called ‘putting the horse before the cart in Christianity, church life and history’. It’s about Christian beliefs, urgently updated in the life of the most historic changes in human life, continuing to give greater depth and greater meaning to our ordinary human experiences.