The Conservatives think the Church of England can fill all welfare gaps. We can’t

Jan 21, 2021 by

by Fergus Butler-Gallie, Guardian:

Some Tories are happy to let the church step in when the state fails, as it did in Victorian times. But times have changed.

The Church of England (C of E) was once referred to as “the Tory party at prayer”, which remains the case in the emptying pews of the rolling shires. But in the vicarages and bishops’ palaces, a quiet revolution has long taken since taken place. Openly Conservative clergy are an endangered breed, and openly Tory bishops have gone the way of the dodo.

Institutionally speaking, the C of E and the Conservative party have been engaged in open warfare since the days of Margaret Thatcher. It was then, memorably, that Alan Webster, dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, conducted a piece of high-end trolling by proposing that the Lord’s prayer be spoken in Spanish at the Falklands war victory celebration service.

However, in recent years this fraught relationship has taken an even more invidious turn. For the latest episode of Toryism’s religious psychodrama isn’t being played out among the marble colonnades of St Paul’s, but witnessed in small church halls around the country. The Conservative party might currently appear to be run by horny, malign Beano characters, yet Toryism’s mutation from shire-reaction to libertarian front is an episode with religion at its core.

It all goes back to the foundation of state care for those in greatest need. In 1915 William Temple, who later become archbishop of Canterbury, wrote: “The first task of the Church is to inspire the State, which after all very largely consists of the same persons as itself, with the desire to combat evil; and the second is to counteract the one great difficulty which the State experiences. When the State takes up such work as this, there is one thing which we all fear: ‘Officialism.’ What is ‘Officialism’? Simply lack of love; nothing else in the world. It consists in treating people as ‘cases,’ according to rules and red tape, instead of treating them as individuals.”

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