Anglican thought on social theology 

A presentation by Archbishop David Moxon at the Pontifical council on Migration in Rome, on December the 1st 2016


Anglican approaches to the moral challenges in the intellectual world on international students, towards a healthier society raise the following questions, put by The Revd Dr Peter Sedgewick:
 
(1) The first question is theological and moral: How is the knowledge of God in Christ, and with that the love of God and love of neighbour, effected in human lives? Tied to an understanding of sin as the pervading human problem.
 
(2) A second question is: What does life in Christ look like? In other words, what are the virtues and practices that describe Christian faith as a way of life? This question and the response in terms of the development of a virtue ethic are central to the Anglican exemplary tradition.
 
(3) The third question is political and prophetic: What is the nature of God’s justice, of God’s order for human life? What should be done in the annunciation of justice and the denunciation of injustice in the midst of the principalities and powers that shape our lives together?
 
(4) The fourth question is: How are moral choices supported and enabled in concrete situations? This is the question of moral discernment and casuistry, considering specific moral quandaries, such as what medical treatment should be provided at the end of life or when should lethal action be taken to protect innocent life against those who threaten that life.
 
(5)  In conclusion, What is the nature, mission, and ministry of the church as bearer of Christian faith and life? In more Ethics and Moral and sacramental terms, how is the church the sacrament of Christ for the sake of the world?
 
We can begin by outlining some responses to these questions in very concrete terms, inspired by Archbishop William Temple’s book, Christianity and the Social order in the 1940s, now updated by John Atherton, Christopher Baker and john Reader, in their book Christianity and the new social order.
 
Anglicans seek:  

  • The flourishing of every child
  • The commitment to education as lifelong learning for all
  • The development of health as personal and communal wholeness for all
  • The fostering of rigorous care for and delight in the whole created order
  • Recognising the continuing importance of income and work for personal and national wellbeing
  • Developing financial systems to deliver and support greater wellbeing for all
  • Pursuing greater equality as essential to the pursuit of greater wellbeing


In practise this has meant that, according to the Revd Canon Dr Nicholas Sagovsky,

Of the four founding fathers of the welfare state in Britain, three were practising Anglicans and the fourth was deeply influenced by Anglican social teaching.  The post-War welfare state in the UK was quite simply the product of more than a century of Anglican social teaching.  Its prophet was R.H. Tawney, a practising Anglican, who brought his expertise as an economic historian to bear on the materialism and inequality of society between the Wars.  In his three most influential books, he spoke out against what he called 'The Acquisitive Society' (1921), he explored the disastrous influence of the Reformation on the moral critique of runaway capitalism (1926), and he criticised the appalling levels of inequality that were tolerated in the society of his time (1931).  For nearly twenty years, Tawney was a colleague at the London School of Economics of William Beveridge, its Director, who was also his brother in law and a devout Anglican layman.  

Through the inter-war period, Beveridge was developing the thinking that led in 1942 to his great report Social Insurance and Allied Services, which identified five "Giant Evils" in society:

+squalor,
+ignorance,
+want,
+idleness,
+disease.

 
Beveridge went on to propose widespread reforms to the system of social welfare to address these evils.  It was Beveridge who was the architect of the welfare state that came into being after the Second World War - the architect of the National Health Service in the UK today. 
 
Both Tawney and Beveridge were friends of Archbishop William Temple, who invented the term 'Welfare State' and provided a theological rationale for it in Christianity and Social Order, which appeared in 1942, the same year as the Beveridge Report.  Temple's little book, published when he was Archbishop of Canterbury, is the classic statement of Anglican social theology in the twentieth century.  Before publishing it, Temple sent it to John Maynard Keynes for his comments, using him as a kind of the economic consultant. 
 
Recent work by the Skidelskys has shown the extent to which Keynes, though no Christian, was influenced by Anglican social thought.  What all four thinkers have in common is their belief in the duty of a benign state to provide for the welfare of its citizens – to care for the common good.  The huge swing towards market thinking in the 1980s and the progressive transformation of the welfare state into what has been called a market state has led to a forgetting of the crucial role played by Anglican social thinking in combating the evils of :
 
+bad housing,
+poor education,
+poverty,
+unemployment,
+lack of access to health care. 

 
If we can reconnect with the social tradition that brought about such a remarkable achievement, we will not be seduced into thinking the moral obligation of the state to care for all its citizens can be reduced to a form of market ideology.
 
The Anglican contribution to the creation of a welfare state in the UK was made possible by the distinctive position of the Church of England as the established church in England.  The relation of the churches of the Anglican Communion around the world to their respective governments differs greatly to that in England - especially in the United States where constitutionally there can be no established church.  The close historic relation of Anglicanism to the spread of the British Empire meant that in many parts of the world - such as Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, there has been a real need for repentance and reconciliation in the relation between Anglicans and indigenous peoples. .
 
For many indigenous peoples, the power of the state, with which Anglicans have often had far too cosy a relationship, has been anything but benign.  Perhaps the most striking example of a state that was institutionally malign towards indigenous peoples was the apartheid state in South Africa.  Amongst the leading opponents of apartheid were Anglicans like Bishops Trevor Huddleston and Desmond Tutu, and Catholics like Archbishop Denis Hurley.  As Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Tutu led a project based on Christian values which helped to avert the bloodshed that many expected after the ending of apartheid. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission itself became a model for other similar commissions round the world and an inspiration for the reconciliation work which has been a major strand in the ministry of Archbishop Justin Welby.  
 
Underneath all of this intellectual and moral basis for a healthier society there is now the common quest for a theology and practise of hope,. Anglicans throughout the word have been greatly moved and helped by the encyclical of Pope Francis, in his papal encyclical “Evangelii Gaudium”, and often study it today as a basis for understanding the joy of the gospel and its liberating power.  Also the work of Pope Benedict in his encyclical “Spe Salve”, a philosophical basis for hope in an apparently value less and hopeless society is of enormous importance.

 
As has been said, giving up on hope is always wrong, it privileges the mind over the soul and the body, even in the face of what we believe to be certain destruction, giving up on hope is always wrong. This is the strongest and most reliable intellectual basis for international students to base their views of a healthy society.
 
The only enduring and sustainable Hope and the ethics that derive from it ultimately come from God and are sacred. Put what is sacred first and everything else will finds its way. 
 

David Moxon, 27/02/2017