Friday, 5 December 2008

The duty of a Christian citizen.

I suppose jury service makes you think about this. But I also found a wee booklet whilst tidying up in the house (!) which I read and it made me think. Entitled "Hensley Henson and the Durham Miners", it was the 1983 Durham Cathedral Lecture by Professor Owen Chadwick. Henson was the often controversial Bishop of Durham in the 1920's and 30's. There was a terrible fuss over his consecration as he was alleged to be a Modernist. Brought up an Evangelical, turned Anglo-Catholic at Oxford, where he was influenced by the Anglo-Catholic Socialist theologian, bishop and founder of the Community of the Resurrection Charles Gore, he nearly became an Anglican Franciscan monk and worked as a slum priest in East London. After a change of theological viewpoint, he became famous as one of the best preachers of his day and had been Dean of Durham Cathedral. In politics he was a rather radical Tory. His time at Durham covered the prayer Book controversies within the C of E in 1927-28, the Miner's Strike and General Strike of 1926, the Great Depression and the run up to WW2. He was one of the early critics of Hitler and Mussolini over their treatment of the Jews and Abyssinia respectively and was one of the great episcopal mavericks the Cove from time to time produces.

Chadwick quotes a 1929 sermon in which Henson, who was very outspoken against the Miner's Strike, laid outy 10 axioms of Christian citizenship which struck me as still relevant in a time of economic crisis when the Church has been recently self-obsessed with internal debates. I'll quote him as writen (so apologies for the non -PC lingo) His 10 points are:

1. Man is not to be regarded merely as an economic force. He is always and indestructably a Person.

2. Whosoever pictures a man as essentially dependent on his circumstances or as incapable of the highest manhood in the worst situations, offends against the mind of Jesus.

3. Whosoever represents honest work as degrading or undesirable is in conflict with the example and teaching of Jesus.

4. Gifts and opportunities must surely be accounted for to God who gave them.

5. Wealth becomes respectable just so far as it can be stated in terms of social service. It is either an instrument or a chain. It may enable public work or it may endanger personal liberty.

6. The power to reform society is finally dependent on the moral quality of the reformer. Bad men may promote sound policies; and no personal goodness in a politician can avert disater if his policy be unsound. But the personal badness of reforms lowers the social temperature and in the long term brings worse mischiefs than those which their reforms corrected.

7. Popular approval is no security for moral rightness.

8. Liberty works from within outwards: the freee man makes the free state, not the free state the free man.

9. The value of service is determined by the amount of self-sacrifice it involves.

10. No external authority, be it Church, State, political party, employers federation, trade union, public opinion, can have the last word with the Christian citizen. The final court is within the man himself. "The Spirit of man is the candle of the Lord".

I think 1 is absolutely fundemental to any Christian concept of citizenship and responsiblity, as is 4. Point 5 reminds us that it is very much what we do with the means and gifts at our disposal that matters. 7 reminds us that the mob isn't always right - listening to a Radio Scotland phone in on the Peter Tobin case meant I heard plenty of people in favour of "getting rid" of Tobin. It would be popular, but scarcely moral. And point 10 I think is essential for understanding the role of Christian conscience with regard to public action. I might not personally agree with those who chain themselves to the fence at Faslane but I understand and respect the moral sense that makes them see it as both valid and necessary. Any thoughts on this one folks?

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