Know where you stand

A brief contribution to the Debate on the State of the Nation, General Synod, February 2019.

I offer Synod the words of Fr Dan Berrigan S.J., a courageous and articulate US campaigner for peace, recently deceased. He said: “Know where you stand – and stand there”.

I support the motion and I thank the presidents for tabling it and I thank the Archbishop of Canterbury for his initial speech and for its strong emphasis on the preferential option for the poor, which echoes so much of what he consistently says in the public square, not least in his speech to the TUC last September.

We must know that if we affirm this motion we will attract the opprobrium that he attracted there, and frankly from the same quarters. We will be accused of political naïveté, and of abandoning the tower of intelligent nuance for the simplicity of a preferential option. We will not then be seen as the voice of convening calm whose proud boast is that no one knows the political choices we make. We will be seen instead as those who take a stand. I hope that we will do so wholeheartedly today.

I strongly agree with the Bishop of Chelmsford that our Gospel is indivisible, and with Andy Salmon that the divisions in the nation are sharpening; as in Salford, so in Liverpool.

In the Diocese of Liverpool we say that we’re asking God for a bigger church to make a bigger difference, and we say “more people knowing Jesus, more justice in the world.” In saying this we echo the scriptures as we understand them, and we echo the emphases of all the dioceses and of this Synod in this session.

Our Lord made it clear that those who set out to build a tower must count the cost of it. Will we therefore count the cost of building this tower, the tower of decision, and of making a political choice. In a context of rapidly shifting tectonic plates politically, the old Anglican nostrum “I’m not making a party political point” has lost its meaning and it’s power to intimidate. As Bishop Peter Selby noted years ago in his book “Liberating God”, pastoral care wll inevitably imply political solidarity, with all the negativity and risk of misunderstanding that attracts.

Our corporate stance is always political. It implies and demands advocacy, advocacy for the preferential option for those on the edge of things. I am delighted to see that this motion avoids the call for people just to get along which so often renders us anodyne.

It’s right to seek the common good and within that to establish good disagreement. And of course it is good for people to get along. But this motion tells us that our own contribution to the common good is to offer a direction with which some may disagree, and then for us to disagree well about that.

The question to others is therefore, “Since we have a preferential option for the poor, since we will not accept political solutions that make the poor poorer or that accept the abolition of the rights of the poor or erase the place of the poor, since this is where we stand, let’s see how we can get along.”

If that is indeed where we stand, then we should approve this motion and thereby choose repeatedly and consistently and unswervingly to defend those on the edge of things. If that is indeed where we stand, then please, in every conversation in private and in the public square, let us stand there.