It is indeed good to note that Mr Blair must have been attending to our comments on social mores! He is surely right to note that ‘respect’ for people is on the slide, and that ‘anti-social behaviour’ grows apace. Whether a government can in fact inculcate moral renewal is a difficult question, but surely government policy can help erode what is still there. Failing to support marriage as the building block of society, the agency of handing on values of respect to the next generation, is a great example of this. Education policy likewise has eaten away at Christianity as the driver of social ethics, resulting in a commitment to relativism. This goes back to the 1944 Education Act, when the Church of England had to cede formative influence to the state, and 20 years later RA Butler, the architect of the changes, lamented: “The perfunctory and uninspired nature of the religious instruction provided in all too many local authority and controlled schools had begun to imperil the Christian basis of our society.” Middle England was accordingly rapidly secularised in the 1960s, and now we have ASBOs and CCTV cameras instead of basic morality. Christianity now is dead in the water for any social policy making whatsoever, and it was the Christian inheritance of love for neighbour that underpinned mutual courtesy and respect for others.
The Church itself has not exactly covered itself in glory in such matters. Educationally the Anglicans have too often gone with the cultural currents and failed to sound any note of prophetic challenge to consumerism, hedonism and sinful selfishness. The Roman Catholics have used their state-funded schools to foster their own community, rather than as mission agencies for the good of wider society, hence privatised their faith. And all the churches have remained too complacent in their divided state, while the power of secularisation and the mammon has grown enormously. The memorial service in Liverpool Cathedral for David Sheppard marked the life of a Christian leader and an ecumenist, one with real respect for his Roman counterpart, Derek Worlock. ‘Better Together’ was a great title for their book. But the vigour of ecumenism wanes now, at a time when Christians need to pool their energies in mission. The latest ARCIC document on Mary may help to increase respect between the two Churches, although its devotional teaching can only be a matter respectful variation. Anglicans are fully in agreement with the initial sections of the text, notably on Mary as the bearer of the Son of God made flesh. But notions of Mary as a sort of global mother figure, one who understands us sympathetically and hears our intercessions on behalf of her Son, stretches what we can properly say into a speculative heavenly history. Mainline Anglicans are used to coexisting respectfully with Anglo-Catholics on such issues in respectful disagreement. Happily the age of polemic has gone. The Church of Jesus Christ will respect and honour Mary, but the gospel of her son Jesus alone can begin to heal social disrespect.
-Uncited Editorial from the Church of England newspaper,
20-26 Brunswick Place, London, N1 6DZ
Telephone: 020 7417 5800 Fax: 020 7216 6410