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Column 39the retail trade having no protection for their family life. That is seen by many Christians as an assault on basic Christian values and on a basic aspect of our society.
In saying that such matters pose a challenge to a Conservative Government, I am not saying or suggesting that Christianity poses no challenge to people who hold other political views. I would have been more impressed if Conservative Members had shown more awareness of that. I see a challenge to my own political beliefs. There is also in the Christian gospel a challenge to Socialist beliefs. If either of our parties were in government, we would expect the Churches to be critical of some of the things we were doing-- perhaps because we were not doing enough of something or underestimating important values. There is criticism also of Parliament as a whole. For an issue of such moral importance as abortion, affecting whether or not life can proceed, to be one that Parliament is unable to decide because its own procedures fail to allow a widely supported private Member's Bill to be decided upon is an indictment of this House. Many Christians find that intolerable and impossible to comprehend. If the House does not take action to ensure that it can legislate--it was only able to do in 1967 because the Government provided time--that will be an affront to many Christians.
The Churches promote moral values and spirituality, and will continue doing so. However, in doing so they are bound to come into conflict with the Government of the day. They are bound to come into conflict with the present Government and with future Governments. When I hear suggestions that the Churches are wrong to come into conflict with the Government, and are wrong to speak out when they do, I am very fearful. That is not the way we should speak to the Churches of this country.
Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West) : One of my ancestors killed Thomas a Becket. Others left France in 1698, on the repeal of the edict of Nantes, to save themselves from the vengance of the French king against the huguenots. Therefore, in my blood I have always been conscious of 700 years or more of conflict between Church and state. Perhaps that is why I am wholly unable to support the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller)--although I welcome his courage and determination in presenting for debate a subject that can never be explored too often.
As a communicant member of the Church of England, I cannot see any good reason for continuing the long-established tie between Church and state. I rest my case on the Magna Carta which, right hon. and hon. Members will recall, states that the English Church shall be free. Is the Church honestly free, when No. 10 Downing street appoints its bishops? If No. 10 does not appoint the bishops, can somebody tell me who does? No. 10 is meant to do so.
Recently, as a member of the House of Commons prayer group, I was fortunate, with other hon. Members, to be part of the national prayer breakfast group in Washington. There were 134 Christian churches represented there, among the Christian-based prayer groups of 134 Parliaments. I dare swear that not one of them, other than the British Church, is subservient to its state.
Column 40Last summer, the matter was brought home strongly to me when the Copyright Bill, on which we all laboured so mightily, went to the House of Lords. It had come from there in a terribly tattered state, and was returned there by this House in a much better one. My interest is computer software, and I went to the House of Lords to check that nothing dreadful happened to any of our precious amendments to the Bill. I looked over from my stance as a Member of the House of Commons to see a pair of muslin sleeves and a billowing cloud of red silk leaning back on the Benches, gently snoring as if "Barchester Towers" were still in the writing.
I believe most strongly that the time is long past when the Church of England should have been disestablished from the state. I also disagree with the motion because we live in a multi-faith society. The year 1871 was a splendid year, when one of my great-grandfathers crossed the Floor of the House from the dying Liberal party to the reviving, thriving Conservative party, to join another two of my great-grandfathers, who had so rightly tempted him over.
My fourth great-grandfather took the cloth and became a curate in London. I bought my house in London because it was at the end of the street where he had been curate. When I went to church and told the vicar, he looked down his nose and firmly said, "Which curate? In 1871 we had six." My goodness, how the Church of England has tumbled since then. I want a stronger Church of England, not a weaker one. Today, we live in a multi-faith society. Many faiths with many glorious writings, preachings and teachings form that society. For that reason, the motion is too narrow. It talks about the Church's leading role in the promotion of moral values. What morals? Morals are only customs. Today, the young most certainly will not listen to talk from Parliament--a Parliament that includes the Church--on their sexual behaviour, and nor should they. That is a matter for the individual.
What matters are the laws that we pass, which should ensure, in my view as a practising Christian, that the state gives the best possible credence to the values that we place on each other. As many people say--and I believe it to be true--our society's values are derived from many wider sources than mere Christianity. I am tempted to ask, "Why on earth involve the Church in the promotion of moral values?"--if that is the aim.
The Church is riddled with faults. The Christian Church has long been known as the combative Church which created violence, war and assaults. We need only look at St. Paul's Gospel to see that, according to him, all men and women are not equal before God, as they are in Christianity. The Church has been notably untruthful. It has been involved in creative accounting of the most amusing sort. In the 15th century--not that I was there then, I hasten to say, but I have read my history books--the Christian Church in France sought and obtained deliverance from fish on Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent, on the ground that anything shot within 15 miles of the sea shore counted as fish.
We have to agree that the Church is made up of very ordinary people, and people are often wrong. They are sometimes wrong in simple ways--even in their translation
Column 41of the Bible. For example, Joseph's "coat of many colours" did not contain many colours but it had long sleeves, which at last makes sense of that chapter of the Bible. Joseph had been promoted over his brother : workmen had short sleeves, the overseers had long ones. It was a case of "jobs for the boys".
The Church should, and must, be involved for a much deeper and more valid reason, which is that it is the embodiment of Christianity. Therefore, to me as a Christian--I shall not go into why, because it would take too long- -the twin leading roles of the Church are not those in the motion, but to teach us the worship and love of God, who is all around us in every possible way, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Those must be the reasons for involving the Church in our lives in any way, shape or form, be it in politics or any other aspect of our public or private lives. From those two New Testament commandments from Christ spring the practice and principles of public and private morality.
The concept of the public good surely comes from the notion of "Love thy neighbour". It makes us sensitive to our neighbours' needs and it gives us the determination of will to do everything that we can for the good of our neighbours.
It is sometimes difficult to believe that we in Parliament have any Christian principles at all. At my Sunday school I was taught certain concepts of behaviour that fell within the Christian pattern : for example, the lack of hatred of other people and the lack of screaming, noisiness and horribleness to each other. I have to say that I have been in Parliament for 20 months and such behaviour, almost more than anything else, has been the order of the day. Yet we pretend that we are following Christian principles. Is it really too late to reform Parliament and to make us be just a little more Christian towards each other? I do not think so--I think we could well achieve that. I am glad that we do not have the Ecclesiastical Committee with us today. We can speak as perfectly ordinary Christians, with our weaknesses. We might have felt hampered if we were before an Ecclesiastical Committee with its firm role of putting forward goodness. I am delighted that it is away on synodical business. The only weakness of my proposal to disestablish the Church is that it will fall into the clutches of that dull body, the Synod. I would that more Back- Bench Members from both sides of the House belonged to the Synod, because that would make it a more interesting, cheerful and spicy place.
Christianity also gives people the strength to be bold. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) mentioned the Church in Poland. I was fortunate enough to meet the elected President of Poland in Washington. It is marvellous that such a post exists. The man is a strong Christian. He told me, for about half an hour, how his Christian principles gave him the strength to return to Poland to debate with Solidarity and the non-elected Government.
Christianity gave the head of the Methodist Church in Japan, whom I also met in Washington, the strength to write the most bold and challenging letters to Japan's Prime Minister complaining desperately that Shintoism appeared to be part of the Emperor Hirohito's funeral rites. Shintoism is the worship of the Emperor that was outlawed after the second world war. That brave man had
Column 42also written to the White House. The first visitor to the new order of President Bush at the White House was Japan's Prime Minister 10 days ago.
Christianity has given the nuns in southern Africa whom I know so well the strength to continue their missionary activities. Church of England missionary activities are long outdated, and as a Christian, I deeply regret that. If we believe in Christianity, we should certainly want to convert people to our faith. If we do not, why bother to pretend that we are Christians? It gives those nuns the strength to try to convert people from their sometimes miserable behaviour, in terms of what they believe and whom they worship. It also gives the nuns the strength to combat that worst of all evils, apartheid, and to do it with courtesy, dignity and Christian morality. Christianity gives us great strength to help other people. Let me return to my theme of the disestablishment. Once before, the Church of England can, with far greater power and much louder voice, help to set the political agenda. In my view, the eradication of poverty has to be at the top of that agenda. I believe strongly that we have at last, through the exercise of, dare I say it, Conservative principles, been able to make this country much wealthier. Now, we can and must turn to the eradication of poverty, not just in the United Kingdom but in the developing countries as well.
The difference between the two sides of the House is not in the eradication of poverty but in how we achieve it. I still detect in the Opposition a delightful but outdated and irrelevant paternalistic concept of giving to others to try to help them in their poverty. But we cannot buy off poverty. If that were possible, it would have been bought off years ago. We have to be far cleverer than that. With our determination to help others and our Christian principles at the fundament of what we do, we must devise ways of helping people to conquer their own poverty, giving them the dignity of looking after their own affairs and helping them to reach that most splendid and proper position--the true dignity of being a human being.
Therefore, I have to oppose the motion, although I applaud the sentiments and concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove. I particularly applaud his goodness and integrity as a human being, which are based on his fundamental Christian ideals. But for me, the primary task of Christianity must be the love of God, and the living out of Psalm 104 :
"Bless thou the Lord, O my soul. Praise ye the Lord."
To do that I believe that the Church of England should be cast adrift from the state so that it can once more help people in the United Kingdom come to God, worship God and help us all love our neighbours and ourselves, and in this place through the proper discharge of our political responsibilities.
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) : This is the first debate in 40 years that covers the relationship between Church and state. We have had various discussions about Church Measures and about individual questions, but the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) has done us a service by opening up the possibility for a very wide-ranging debate, which in most countries would be taken for granted.
The idea that we should discuss religion only every 40 years--I have been a Member of Parliament for 39 years--is strange when we consider the enormous political
Column 43power of religion in other parts of the world. The Vatican has always been powerful. It sent an army here to deal with Pelagius, the first heretic, and to put down Pelagianism. The born- again Christians in America are supposed to have been behind President Reagan and the born-again Moslems in Iran now support the Ayatollah Khomeini. The fundamentalists are burning Salman Rushdie's book because they believe that the blasphemy laws should protect the reputation of Mohammed. The argument between the Sunnis and the Shi'ites is mostly unknown here and not understood in Britain although they each represent a very powerful political force. Although the conflict in Northern Ireland is not primarily about religion there is certainly a theological dimension.
Socialism is a faith too. The hon. Member for Bromsgrove said that he started as Christian Socialist. My definition of a faith is something for which people will die, while a doctrine is what they will kill for ; there is all the difference in the world between a doctrine and a faith. People will kill other people because they will not accept their doctrines, but they will die for their faith. I have never heard that anyone has been prepared to die because they held a particular view about the size of the public sector borrowing requirement or what should be the basis on which economic policy was formed.
This debate involves high political argument at a rather more fundamental level. I was brought up to believe that the whole story of the Old Testament was that the kings exercised power and the prophets preached righteousness. That conflict has annoyed some speakers. We are discussing the relations between Church and state, between politics and faith and of each with each other. Although I make no complaint about it, the hon. Member for Bromsgrove made a very strong attack on the Church because Church leaders ventured to have a view on atomic weapons which could obliterate mankind if wrongly used ; and on inner cities, where terrible suffering is experienced in this so-called rich society. The archbishop was criticised for preaching reconciliation in the service at the end of the Falklands war. Although the matter has hardly been touched upon, there has been savage anger that a woman should have been ordained as a bishop in the United States of America, and there has been criticism of the social message of Christianity.
The debate takes us back to the reason why the Church of England was established. I have introduced a Bill to disestablish the Church, and I hope that the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) will be a signatory to it when I reintroduce it this Session. I know that it has widespread support. Henry VIII nationalised the Church of England because he was not prepared to have a power outside his own control with command over the hearts and minds of his subjects. There had to be a priest in every pulpit telling the faithful that God wanted them to do what the king wanted them to do. The Church of England was established for exactly the same reason as the Conservative Government nationalised the BBC--it was not a Labour Government that did that. The Conservative Government wanted a pundit on every channel telling people that there was no alternative to what the Chancellor of the Exchequer wanted them to do.
I listen to the economic commentaries every night. At first I was puzzled. Dominic Harrod tells us every night
Column 44what has happened to the pound sterling to three decimal points against a basket of European currencies. I have never seen a basket of European currencies, but I shall take one next time I go on holiday. Dominic Harrod tells us that every night, and in the morning we see pensioners hurrying to the post office to sell their deutschmarks and buy their yen. It is witchcraft from those who believe that capitalism, Christianity and democracy are indivisible. I say that not as a criticism solely of the Government Front Bench because I see that political infection coming into the policy reviews of the Labour party, so I hope that no one will think that I am making a party political point.
The Dow Jones industrial average exercises greater influence than the Ten Commandments. It is a choice for Mammon against God. Christian Socialists might wish to make that point. We are told about the Bible. My favourite picture in St. Stephen's Hall, of which I have many copies at home, is of Wycliffe's Bible. The House would not allow the Bible to be made available to the public until the middle of the 16th century. When the New Testament was first translated, Tyndall's Bible was smuggled in in bales of hay. Only one copy remains in the Baptists' college in Bristol. One of my proudest possessions is a reproduction of it. It was a Marxist, Allende in Chile, who first made the Bible available to the people there ; the bishops did not want the faithful to have a chance to go back to the text. That is why I have never been able to take episcopacy into my system, and I believe in the priesthood of all believers. Ultimately, politics, debates and legislation always reflect the guiding principles upon which society wishes to rest. Policies may change with circumstances, and no one is more disposable than a politician. Democratic institutions are more fundamental, but ultimately everything will reflect the principles on which society bases itself. A society is either a community or a jungle. We are now in the process of telling people that they have no responsibility for one another. Society has been encouraged for a variety of reasons to abandon that sense of responsibility.
There was a little discussion about the Prime Minister complimenting the Good Samaritan on his wealth : if he had not been rich he would not have been able to help. I am awaiting her comment on the widow's mite for she had no wealth to give but gave all that she had. It cannot be morally right for any Member of Parliament, Churchman or citizen to see a world and society which puts the accumulation of wealth above the most pressing human need. I was in New York before Christmas. It was the coldest 12 December on record. It is the richest city in the richest country in the world. Homeless people were living on the streets in cardboard boxes.
Mr. Benn : Indeed it does. I am giving the New York example first because the police were arresting homeless people and putting them in warehouses. Some drug addicts attacked each other, so the poor resisted arrest. In the New York Times that day were identical pictures, but they were of homeless people in Armenia--a much poorer country--after an earthquake.
I do not know how society can accept homelessness or the plight of the poor and dispossessed. How can we justify expenditure of enormous sums of money on nuclear
Column 45weapons when 15 million babies die every year for lack of a vaccine to prevent diarrhoea? What do we say to bishops who speak out against it? That must be the connection between moral values and political decisions.
There are many views of the Church. One is that its task is only to invite people to seek personal salvation. I can understand those who think that that is all it is about, but there is an element of escape in saying, "Whatever happens to anybody else, I will be saved." There is another view- -it is probably even more popular--which is that, if only the rich are kind and the poor are patient, it will be all right when we are dead. I suppose that Socialists say to that type of Christian, "We want it before we are dead. We want it now." That must mean that some of the qualities attributed to the kingdom of heaven should be brought forward to life on earth. It is out of that view that liberation theology, which is immensely powerful in the world, has drawn its strength.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) is a scholarly man, and I thought his speech excellent. He took us back to the peasant's revolt and the reverend John Ball who asked : "When Adam delved and Eve span,
Who was then the gentleman?"
Where in the book of Genesis is there any justification for the class system? We can carry the thread through to Don Camaro in Latin America who said :
"If I give food to the poor, I am called a saint ; if I ask why the poor have no food, I am called a Communist."
There is today the most powerful alliance between Marxists and Catholic priests. There are many people who believe that Karl Marx was the last Old Testament prophet. [Laughter.] The House may laugh, but there are many Christians who believe that. We cannot blame Marx for what happened in Stalin's Russia, any more than we can blame Jesus for what the Inquisition did.
People with profound ideas and faith may create institutions which abuse their power. My hon. Friend the Member for Walton drew attention to that fact. Churches are human organisations. They are bureaucracies. They are like the Labour party : Churches have bishops ; we have regional organisers. They both look all the time for heresies. I am not sure that the Church militant would survive with the present national executive committee of the Labour party. I have a feeling that it would be out on its ear. Some of the speeches that I hear made in my party about dissenting Socialists are not so different from what the hon. Member for Bromsgrove said about dissenting bishops. It is always a struggle to allow people to speak their minds, based upon their faith.
One of the most painful and difficult things for the House to remember is that all our liberties were won by breaking the law--by breaking laws passed by Parliament. I refer to the laws which allowed Catholics to persecute independents, or those which allowed independents to persecute Catholics. Jews were kept out of the House. All our rights were won in the name of religious freedom, so the preservation of religious freedom is of great importance. We now have many religions. We have Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Moslems, Hindus and humanists. If we are to live in peace in a very small world, I believe that we have to teach all religions in all schools so that people have an opportunity to understand what moves the families from which their fellow students come. It is terrifying to me to think of the possibility--I do not know
Column 46whether the hon. Member for Bromsgrove intended it--of Christianity being taught and other religions in some way lying below the line. In the world in which we live, whites and Christians are a minority. We have to learn about the religions of the world. The hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West made that point.
Disestablishment is long overdue. Were I to come forward as a member of the hard Left and say, "Establishment has been so successful that we intend to nationalise the Catholic Church and Jews," people would say that I must be mad, and they would be right. What is wrong with establishment is that a Church which should be performing a prophetic function has its leaders appointed by the Prime Minister of the day. I know that it is dressed up in synodical conventions and committees and, as with proportional representation, she can say, "No. 1 or No. 2" on the ballot paper when it arrives at 10 Downing street through the ecclesiastical secretary. I attended the enthronement of the Bishop of Bristol--Bishop Tinsley--when I represented a Bristol constituency, and I heard them order the cathedral to elect him. The appointment is under the power of the state.
It is ludicrous that the House should decide on the liturgy, but we still have ultimate responsibility for it. It is ludicrous that we should pass Measures about the retirement of bishops. We shall have to pass a Measure to allow women to be ordained--they will be ordained--when the House is not necessarily made up of Christians or people of any religious conviction. Since I gave a lecture on disestablishment and introduced my Bill, I have had more correspondence on that subject than almost anything else that I have done because it touches on the central question of what the relationship should be between the kings and the prophets--those who make the laws and those who try to preach righteousness.
I do not suppose that there will be a Division on the motion--the hon. Member may not wish to press it to a vote--but I am grateful to him for allowing us to have this brief debate on an issue which is central to the future of society. I venture this last thought. When the history of the 20th and 21st centuries comes to be written, it will be of Christians and Marxists against capitalists and militarists, and the former will turn out to have upheld the long-term survival of humanity and the preservation of those values which are associated with the teachings in the New Testament. 5.27 pm
Mr. Alistair Burt (Bury, North) : I apologise to the House for my absence from the beginning of the debate--I notified Mr. Speaker. I was giving a Lent lecture at the chaplaincy of higher education in Manchester, so perhaps I have as good an excuse as I can have. I support the motion and the established Church. One might expect a Conservative Member to begin a speech in a debate such as today's by indignantly protesting from the very beginning :
"Church of England bishops are in danger of over-estimating their importance as spokesmen and decision-makers."
I do not intend to do that--the quotation was from John Habgood's book. "Church and Nation in a Secular World" which he wrote as a previous tenant of the mighty bishopric of Durham.
I use the quotation to illustrate that it is not just the doctrinaire Right who recognise the danger in churchmen
Column 47overstepping the mark and to introduce my few remarks in the spirit of moderation which that gentle barb, when seen in the context of the rest of John Habgood's book, implied.
It is no surprise that the Anglican Church has from time to time been at odds with the state to which it is so uniquely attached. Like two headstrong would-be bridegrooms anxiously wooing the bride, in the shape of the English people, Church and state clash and counter-clash over the centuries with ideas and opinions. That tension should be of no surprise to the Church for it reflects a tension within itself about how it might express the work of Christ in everday life. The Church and Christians are not an exclusive body shut away from the world--we are citizens of two kingdoms, with responsibility in each.
Within Anglicanism the strands of quietism and activism can claim the classic authority of scripture, tradition and reason, as well as example. John Whale, in a section of his work "The Future of Anglicanism", contrasts the life of Charles Kingsley, the radical east-end activist at work in the appalling conditions of his time, with that of Augustus Hare, who ministered in a different way amidst rural poverty,
"his dominant concern being to urge the Christian life and the Christian hope"--
one the activist, the other the quietist, exemplifying the sort of crisis that individual Christians and the Church continually face. To what extent should we focus on the individual gospel of redemption, Christ's great commandment to
"love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, all thy soul and all thy mind",
and to what extent do we pursue socially, communally and politically the second great commandment to
"love thy neighbour as thyself"?
I do not think there is any conflict between these two. Indeed, they were given together to us by Christ and must be taken so. There are many Christians throughout this country and throughout the world who bind the two together in their everyday lives.
But clashes there have been between Church and state, and I believe that these are healthy and inevitable if conducted properly and handled in the right spirit--that is, in His spirit. Where they are not, warning bells will sound on each side.
So far as the Church is concerned, it must be cautious not to lose its authority. In the secular world of politics the Church has a voice, but it is an amateur voice, however authoritative it believes itself to be. In recent years certain parts of the Church and certain of its spokesmen have been ensnared by the never-quite-forgotten trap of strongly favouring one form of secular solution to express certain biblical principles over another. The risk of the social gospel is that it can tend to over-estimate the importance of the collectivist approach to man's problems, relate social problems and difficulties to the economic organisation of society, and thus conclude that a different economic order is as necessary for effective action as the gospel. The worth of the individual and the transforming effect of the power of Jesus Christ in his or her life--with the consequential capacity to change the human environment around him or her--are neglected.
There is another danger, which is closely allied to the first, and it is to believe that politicians are so responsible
Column 48for everything that only they should be looked to for solutions, whatever the problem may be--whether international or domestic, whether it concerns freedom from hunger or freedom from lawless, drunken behaviour. This is a dangerous view, for over-optimism about the power of politics to solve social problems leads, as a result of the experience of repeated failure, to cynicism and apathy and the consequent loss of a mature public involvement in political debate. If these are warnings for the Church, there are also warnings for the Government of the day about being too heavy-handed in dealing with criticism from the Church. Governments have no monopoly of wisdom. They cannot do everything, nor can they see every problem. The social conscience of the Anglican Church, developed in parallel with other Christian influences of the 18th and 19th centuries, finding its finest parliamentary flowers in Wilberforce and the Clapham sect of social reformers, can still rightly tug at the cloak of defensiveness or complacency with which any establishment may clothe itself. We cannot, therefore, look back and praise the work of Wesley, Kingsley, Wilberforce, Shaftesbury, Elizabeth Fry and others for seeking to put right the social wrongs of their time through public campaigns of political activism, and claim now that all such work is done and that those who take up such crosses in the present day are either politically motivated or misguided.
Instead of concentrating on the differences between us and the arguments inevitable in any healthy family relationship, we should be looking to what we can do together. We cannot be in any doubt about the size of the task that we face. There is much materially in society that we on these Tory Benches, and possibly people in the country at large, recognise has never been at a higher ebb, much for which this Government can rightly claim credit. But there is also a tide of human spiritual degradation that has never been so low--with homeless, hopeless, drug-ridden youngsters in too many cities, and women in fear from rape and assault, not daring to catch the eye of their fellow passengers, in too many trains. This is a situation that shames nation, Church and state alike.
Starting from this point, we might do three things. First, we might recognise that we shall differ in our respective solutions, both in this House and outside, and in this recognition of diversity let us realise that our Lord glories in the diversity of His creation. We were not made the same, so it is no wonder that we do not think the same. We can argue our case in the proper spirit and seek the best source of action, respecting each other's position, and not always seeking to denigrate or ridicule any contrary political argument. Secondly, we can both surely pursue absolute values in human society--the common creed that must be the basis for a secure civilisation. Here there is some legitimate criticism of the Anglican Church for not seeming to stand for absolute values, for ever qualifying and making relative even such matters as the wrong to be seen in lying and stealing. There are values that are classless and timeless, held and broken by families in all circumstances and in every part of the realm. It is not right to accept different standards of moral behaviour because of environmental circumstances. Violence and theft are wrong wherever they exist--not to be tolerated in Toxteth or Broadwater Farm or in the lager- swilling suburbs of the home counties, and
Column 49the more strongly the Church and the state can stand together for absolute values, the better it will be for society as a whole. The Ten Commandments are not relative--they are the Ten Commandments, not a voluntary code of practice or a set of guidelines upon which Moses was required to report back to plenary session in the wilderness, there mandated to accept Nos. 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 unconditionally ; to negotiate on No. 8 ; to reject Nos. 7, 9 and 10 on the grounds that they were incompatible for a nomadic, economically deprived group ; and definitely to reject No. 4--about keeping the Sabbath holy--because, with so much walking through the desert to be done, the Sabbath was the only day to get out with the family and drop down to the garden centre and the do-it -yourself tent. So, there are some absolute values to be held.
Thirdly, Church and state must find the issues of the day on which to join, for it is concerted action alone that can produce the best results. This is surely the great lesson of 19th century social legislation, which is such a pride to us now, that stopped such a number of evils in their tracks. Each can bring its own strengths to bear on modern-day problems. The state has all its formidable legislative powers built on the rock of democracy and the will of the people. The Church has the redeeming power of our Lord Jesus Christ flowing through it. Together, Church and state have achieved great things in the past. It is well to remember this when we occasionally debate the spats and fights that punctuate their great union. I shall close, if I may, with a small passage from Job, which might be a fitting epitaph not just for politicians but for any of us, if we could possibly live up to it. Job is speaking of a previous time before his difficulties, and he says this :
"When I went to the gate of the city
and took my seat in the public square,
the young men saw me and stepped aside
and the old men rose to their feet ;
the chief men refrained from speaking
and covered their mouths with their hands ;
the voices of the nobles were hushed,
and their tongues stuck to the roof of their mouths.
Whoever heard me spoke well of me,
and those who saw me commended me,
because I rescued the poor who cried for help,
and the fatherless who had none to assist him.
The man who was dying blessed me ;
I made the widow's heart sing.
I put on righteousness as my clothing ;
justice was my robe and my turban.
I was eyes to the blind
and feet to the lame.
I was a father to the needy ;
I took up the case of the stranger.
I broke the fangs of the wicked
and snatched the victims from their teeth."
If any politician in this House could go to his grave with that as an epitaph, he would have done his job. I suggest that it is a moral and a lead, not only for us in this House in respect of the way in which we do our work, but for any individual in society, to try to live up to those standards also.