I guess you could say that I’m biased. What with being a Christian and a member of the Tory party, that and having previously worked in an organisation who’s sole purpose was to get Christians into politics.
So, my bias laid before you, I hope you read on.
I’ve been rather perplexed by the sudden rise of religion in politics. It’s always been lurking in the background in the UK, but every now and then it raises it’s head and suddenly becomes very very vocal.
To clarify, I’m not talking about the absurd existence of Bishops in the House of Lords. I’m talking about times when religion defines policy in the main political sphere.
We’ve seen religion pretty much permanently established in US politics. Despite an official separation of ‘Church’ and state, religion plays a prominent role in a lot of politician’s lives. Especially when it comes to debates around abortion, LGBT rights or education.
I don’t, obviously, object to religion in politics. I think it can be a good thing, but only when done right.
By ‘done right’ I mean when religion remains a personal conviction and not a policy. No matter what my belief, I don’t want to live in a theocracy.
So, when we have MPs like Jacob Rees-Mogg go on Good Morning Britain and defend his anti-abortion position, I don’t mind. Because I agree with him? No, because of how he handles it.
Rees-Mogg doesn’t wish to impose his belief on anyone. He will vote according to his conscience, part of the role of an MP, but is not seeking to overthrow democracy. In his interview with Piers Morgan he is quizzed on whether he’d throw out Same Sex Marriage if PM. He calmly points out that it’s an irrelevant question. The law exists, he isn’t going to try stop it and a PM can’t.
This, to me, is religion in politics done right.
Rees-Mogg makes his view clear, he defends it. But he also defends democracy and harbours no will to force the country to become a Catholic state.
For Rees-Mogg and many others in Parliament their religion, or faith, is a personal belief that guides his morality. I think we can all do with a bit of old-fashioned morality every now and then. Religious MPs have made some remarkable contributions to parliament, driven by their believes. Wilberforce tackled the slave trade and established the RSPCA. Christian Socialism played a huge role in the formation of the Labour Party. Some people even suggest that David Cameron’s faith driven love of family played a huge role in him wanting LGBT folk to be able to start a family of their own.
But religion in politics can also be a very bad thing, and I’m not going to be throwing any ‘Trump and the Evangelicals’ comments in here. That’s been done, it’s boring and often mis-represented.
What has upset me this week is the Archbishop of Canterbury and his comments on Tax.
At first glance the Archbishop, Justin Welby, is perhaps being more ‘progressive’ than most religious people when speaking into politics. He isn’t standing up calling for a ban on ‘immorality’ or sin. He isn’t demanding some special treatment for Christians that no-one else is allowed. Or is he?
Welby spoke at the TUC conference, the annual gathering of powerful unions. Just writing that, as a Tory, makes me shudder. But hear me out, it’s not the unions I’m mad at – for once.
At the conference Welby decided to talk on tax, fair tax. OK, sounds good. But what did he say?
Well, he used phrases such as ‘equality’. He talked about ‘fair shares’. He attacked mega-corporations like Amazon for not paying enough and… wait… he did what?
“But when vast companies like Amazon, and other online traders, the new industries, can get away with paying almost nothing in tax, there is something wrong with the tax system.” – he said. To applause.
That’s when I got angry.
This time it wasn’t because of some radical ‘leftists’ agenda and professional outrage, it was because my own side were letting me down.
I’m supposed to agree with Welby. We believe in the same God, read the same Holy book, have the same morals. Apparently. But I can’t agree with him on his intervention into politics.
It’s not that I don’t believe in people paying their fair share of tax, I’m all for fair taxes [a flat rate]. It isn’t that I don’t agree on Trade Unions, I’m all for workers rights.
My problem is the fact he intervened and demanded big corporations pay more tax.
The Church of England, formed hundreds of years ago (1500s) is one of the biggest and most established groups in the UK. It holds over £6bn of investments including £300m of bonds, nearly £50m of shares in world polluter Shell. £40m in big global bank HSBC, another £31m in fossil fuel harvester BP and over £250m in big-pharma GSK. It owns the Metrocentre in Tyneside and is one of the UK’s largest landowners.
In 2014 the Church’s income was greater than that of McDonalds, with a turnover of over £1.4bn. It earns more than ‘evil tax dodgers’ Starbucks. For comparison Google, in 2014, turned over £3.38bn.
And what of the church’s contribution to the Government’s coffers? £0.
OK, it does some charitable work, such as foodbanks. But Amazon, Starbucks and others do Corporate Social Responsibility projects.
The difference is that Amazon doesn’t stand up in front of unions, lecturing that the Church should pay more tax.
So, I don’t mind if us religious folk are going to get involved in politics. But I mind if we are going to be hypocritical and receive a round of applause for it.
Rees-Mogg set’s a strange kind of example. Firm to his beliefs, despite it making him vastly unpopular, not demanding that anyone live according to his rules.
Meanwhile Welby sacrifices his beliefs to receive a round of applause. He attacks billion £ companies for a lack of tax-payments whilst heading up one of the largest tax-dodging organisations in the world.
Being in politics, sitting in the House of Lords, he could demand a change in the law to ask Churches to pay tax. Or, being the head of the Church of England, he could make voluntary donations to the UK Government.
But instead he makes a poor example of religious folk in politics. He lectures, without following his values. Demands better of others than himself and does so from a position of privilege.
I want more religious folk in politics. But I want the established Church of England out of it.