Economic justice is the very bedrock of Christian faith | Letters

Readers respond to Simon Jenkins’ article on the archbishop of Canterbury’s criticism of the gig economy

Might it have occurred to Simon Jenkins (God aside, for whom does Welby speak?, 14 September) and others that a possible reason for decline in Church of England attendance might have something to do with the church not being radical enough? By such it would expose itself to the risk of relevance in the world in which we actually live rather than the world we might eventually wish to be.

Justin Welby is right to examine economic issues (about which he is competent to speak) and taxation and benefit policies that adversely affect often the poor and most vulnerable. It is unfortunate that he failed to check the current church commissioners’ investment portfolio, which now presents the church with the opportunity to disinvest from the likes of Amazon. It ought to be noted, too, that the church follows the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, who violently turned over the tables of the moneychangers in the temple (Matthew 21: 12-13 et al), who quite simply were defrauding the ordinary worshippers, rather like tax evaders and avoiders today.

Finally, Jenkins is guilty of sloppy thinking when he arbitrarily compares Welby to Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. The issue is not whether what the archbishop says is similar to Labour party policies, but whether what he says is right, true and necessary. We all share views with other people who we might not agree with, but that doesn’t mean one is “championing the partisan policies” (if that is what they are!) of Corbyn and McDonnell. Simon, just because you obviously dislike and disagree with the Labour leadership doesn’t give you the right to compare the sayings and thinking of the archbishop of Canterbury with Labour policies. Judge the archbishop’s comments on their merit and validity without recourse to cheap comparisons.
David Jennings
Canon theologian, Leicester Cathedral

• Simon Jenkins has a point when he says “for generations, the C of E was rightwing”. Those were the days when it was wholly in the hands of the upper classes, and why for example Methodism emerged, originally the church of working people. However, he dismisses the archbishop’s opinions on justice as coming with a “dusting of faith”. Surely Mr Jenkins has some familiarity with Leviticus, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Micah and the rest, not to mention Jesus and his teaching on money and justice. Justice is the bedrock of the Christian and Jewish faiths, and who can deny that currently we have a deeply unjust nation and world.

What Mr Jenkins fails to demonstrate is whether he is concerned about this, and if so what solutions he envisages. Is he not in favour of the “more egalitarian tax structure” he appears to dismiss as a “bromide”? Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are indeed pointing up present injustices. Most of their solutions are actually built on the teachings of the Old and New Testaments. Jesus came first, and thank God for an archbishop bold enough to point that out.
Rev David Haslam
Church Action for Tax Justice

• Simon Jenkins casually comments that the “rightwing” stance of the C of E ended when Archbishop William Temple supported “the proposed welfare state in the 1940s”. As a historian, Mr Jenkins will of course know that Temple had from 1906 been an active participant in the Workers’ Education Association (WEA), whose first president he became, working closely with, among others, Bishop of Oxford Charles Gore, William Beveridge, and his old school friend, the Christian socialist RH Tawney. Temple went on to become a member of the Labour party, a keen supporter of trade unions, and certainly believed in the “mission statement” of Toynbee Hall, founded by Canon Samuel Barnett and Barnett’s wife, Henrietta, in 1884: “For a future without poverty.” Temple died in office in 1944, after only two years as archbishop of Canterbury. At the beginning of his short term he published Christianity and Social Order, which sets out principles for the formulation of social policy, which might fit in with what Jenkins calls John McDonnell’s “retro-socialism”. May this soon become prospective!

As for Jenkins’ judgement that all archbishops of Canterbury since William Temple have been “soggy liberals”, it certainly didn’t seem that way when Archbishop Robert Runcie saw through publication of Faith in the City in 1985, which as one of its conclusions stated that increasing levels of urban poverty and deprivation were a direct product of the Thatcher government’s social and economic policies, a claim which led to accusations that the Church of England had gone “redder than red”. What’s new? Certainly not poverty and deprivation, and not just “in the city”.
Bruce Ross-Smith

• I found Simon Jenkins’ piece offensive, snide and patronising. God may or may not think £8.75 a living wage, He may or may not exist, but I bet if He did, He would look at our society and wish that someone would speak out. Charged words like “pontificating” and “soggy” seem to display a spiteful bias and, as a lapsed Methodist, I really don’t see the need for bishops, arch or plain, but as we have them let them earn their keep by speaking truth to power.
Gillian Browne
Newport, Shropshire

• From a recent survey which found that half of all Britons reported “no religious affiliation”, Simon Jenkins cannot assume that this means we now live in a secular society. Lack of affiliation does not imply lack of belief but a loss of faith in institutionalised religion. Perhaps the courage shown by Welby to speak unambiguously about the implications of pursuing justice and fairness in society will make people feel there is a point to these institutions after all.
Christine Crossley
Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

• Is not the phrase “soggy liberals” yet another cliched phrase unworthy of a good journalist? There are many brave and strong-minded liberals in places such as Putin’s Russia opposing autocratic regimes. What Simon Jenkins’ article reflects is the degraded Anglo-Saxon political culture, which uses the word liberal as a term of abuse, one that implies that all liberals are naive, weak-minded do-gooders.
Derrick Joad

• Politicians and journalists love to tell church leaders that they should stick to religion. But Welby’s authority to speak out about economic justice derives from the work the church has done on the ground, in food banks across the country. As an (agnostic) food-bank volunteer, I thank God that church leaders are drawing attention to the disastrous political decisions that have left millions dependent on charitable food aid. Food poverty is a national emergency and the church is fighting it on the frontline. To paraphrase another archbishop, Desmond Tutu, it is only right that it has stopped just pulling people out of the river and has gone upstream to find out why they are falling in.
Jane Middleton

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• A letter above was amended on 17 September. An earlier version misspelled RH Tawney’s name and misnamed Samuel Barnett as Charles.


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