Friday, September 23, 2005


My initial response to the Church of England post-9/11 report (Of bishops, bombs and ballast) is now up on Ekklesia. The House of Bishops document on which I'm commenting (Countering terrorism: power, violence and democracy, *.PDF file) has much to commend it, but is still rather attenuated in its theology. This is partly because the four people who wrote it -- two of whom I have more than a passing acquaintance with -- are coming from rather different angles and are aiming at a workable consensus. But it is also because of the weight of a tradition based on Christendom assumptions about the relation between church and state and reliance on what looks like an insufficiently reconstructed middle axiom methodology. In the midst of all this, and some decent geopolitical analysis, you sense that there is something more radical struggling to get out. But as is often the case in the C of E, it is smothered by Anglicanism's burdensome reasonableness, and also by inhibitions about an alternative account of what constitutes 'realism' in Christian engagement with the political. (At least the outcome is significantly better than the ecumenical report Prosperity With A Purpose, on which see the riposte Is God bankrupt?).

What I think the good bishops might have said to the post-9/11 political process is (for what it's worth) something like this: Look, we fully recognise that politics in a brutal world is often about harm reduction strategies, damage limitation and flawed options, and we want to engage with your rightful desire for 'realistic interventions'. (This is because the pain-bearing God we meet in Jesus Christ won't allow us to wash our hands of this mess by putting a self-interested desire for 'religious purity' above the actual contradictions of a hurting world. ) But at the same time the essential logic of our calling to be a Christ-shaped community is the need to speak up for practices which question and subvert the centrifugal force of 'politics-as-usual' and 'the-powers-that-be'. In doing so we wish to share in human solidarity. We claim no moral superiority or magic solution. But what we say and do as Christians is also rooted in an alternative understanding of security and hope from that circumscribed by 'the political' - one that lies in the promise of a God who refuses the reign of death, and who invites us to experience life as an unretractable gift (rather than simply as the outcome of a series of unavoidable manipulations). We realise there's a big gap here, so we want to offer what practical resources we can from our own tradition: ideas which might help move the larger political agenda in a more positive direction. Plus we know we have our own house to get in order – not a small job. But we're not going to be shy about acknowledging a much bigger vision of what is 'realistic', based on a costly Gospel which says that lowest-common-denominator politics can't be the only show in town - because conversion to a different way of life is always possible for human beings.

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