Bishops’ Pastoral Letter: 2015 General Election

This afternoon, the Church of England House of Bishops published a pastoral letter, primarily directed towards the people and parishes of the Church of England but with the hope that others, who may not profess any church allegiance, will join in the conversation and engage with the ideas raised. The purpose of the letter is to assist church members and others consider the question: “how can we negotiate these dangerous times to build the kind of society which many people say they want but which is not yet being expressed in the vision of any of the parties?”

In Christian Today, Ruth Gledhill notes that the letter was leaked to the Conservative-leaning secular press over the weekend, “where it was widely interpreted as an attack on the Conservative Party and a bid to end the legacy of the late Margaret Thatcher.” However, as Nick Baines observed in his blog, some Tory MPs had not even read the letter before launching into a criticism on the BBC’s Today programme. There was, however, a telling tweet from Jenny Jones (a.k.a. Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb) “Re R4 debate on Church meddling in politics, I dislike that on principle, but in Lords it’s bishops who mostly speak for poor & vulnerable.”

The Bishops’ letter poses the question “how can we ‘build the kind of society which many people say they want but which is not yet being expressed in the vision of any of the parties?’” and expressed the hope for political parties to discern “a fresh moral vision of the kind of country we want to be” ahead of the General Election in May of this year.

Church members are encouraged to engage in the political process ahead of the General Election and to put aside self-interest and vote for ‘the common good’: “The privileges of living in a democracy mean that we should use our votes thoughtfully, prayerfully and with the good of others in mind, not just our own interests.” The letter also defends the right of the Church to enter into the political arena:

“It is not possible to separate the way a person perceives his or her place in the created order from their beliefs, religious or otherwise, about how the world’s affairs ought to be arranged. The claim that religion and political life must be kept separate is, in any case, frequently disingenuous – most politicians and pundits are happy enough for the churches to speak on political issues so long as the church agrees with their particular line.”

However, the letter specifically avoids advocacy for one any political party but instead encourages those in the Church to seek from political candidates a commitment to building a society of common bonds over individual consumerism:

“We are seeking, not a string of policy offers, but a way of conceiving and ordering our political and economic life which can be pursued in a conservative idiom, a socialist idiom, a liberal idiom – and by others not aligned to party.”

The full Press Release is here and it also contains links to statements by the Bishop of Norwich, the Bishop of Leicester, and the Church of England & Church Urban Fund research “Church in Action”, here. It is possible that not everyone will read all 56 pages of the pastoral letter, and for those who have interests in specific issues, there is a guide to the pastoral letter and its contents:

  • The Audience
  • The right and duty of the Church to speak into political debate
  • The CofE’s  Political Neutrality
  • Questions Christians should ask of candidates for election
  • Our political culture, parties and democracy
  • The role of the state
  • The role of intermediary institutions
  • The role of the family
  • The economy
  • Poverty & inequality
  • Unemployment
  • Welfare reform
  • Health
  • Immigration
  • Housing
  • Education
  • Environment
  • Constitutional Reform
  • Britain’s global role
  • Europe
  • Defence and war
  • International development
  • Threat from extremism and religiously-inspired conflict

No one in the CofE can accuse the Bishops of providing insufficient material for Lenten reading and discussion.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Bishops’ Pastoral Letter: 2015 General Election" in Law & Religion UK, 17 February 2015, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2015/02/17/bishops-pastoral-statement-2015-general-election/

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