The clergy of the Church of England in my personal experience are for the most part quick-witted, intelligent, learned, prayerful and determined for the welfare of all people. However they appear readily to gravitate politically towards socialism and social liberalism. This is a contradiction and a frustration for conservatives.
In the Georgian Age, the Church of England was called ‘the Tory Party at prayer’ – that was in the great days of politics and the degenerate days of the church: the Church of England represented establishment, which was the very purpose of the Tories, though the Church was stulted by its own establishment. The Whigs favoured non-conformism.
Now the nation is very different and the Church of England is seeking its own form. Within it there is but one purpose, namely the good of mankind, which is unarguable. Then comes the question: how can you save the world.
“Why should men love the Church? Why should they love her laws?T S Eliot
She tells them of Life and Death, and of all that they would forget.
She is tender where they would be hard, and hard where they like to be soft.
She tells them of Evil and Sin, and other unpleasant facts.
They constantly try to escape
From the darkness outside and within
By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.
But the man that is will shadow
The man that pretends to be.”
It is too easy, as a layman or a clergyman, to seek those systems so perfect that no one need ever be good. Here the Labour Party’s rhetoric fills the gap, promising what can never be, while conservatism, pragmatic, promising nothing but grinding on, achieves quietly, accused of meanness while bringing prosperity.
The Conservative idea looks to the individual, while socialism talks corporately of classes. The scriptures talk of compassion for the poor, as do socialists – but talking is not achieving. If your whole outlook is to society as a whole then a philosophy of the individual may seem wrong.
Except, that Christianity is about the individual. There is no corporate salvation, only individual salvation. It is all about the individual man, woman and child and their individual relationship with God through one individual, Jesus of Nazareth, the one Messiah. The Kingdom of God is won not corporately but soul by soul.
Even on the care for the poor, at no point does Jesus nor do any of the prophets condemn enterprise and profit, but exploitation, abuse and the individual’s own failings: several parables praise the wise businessman (and in the Book of Proverbs Chapter 31 praises a wise businesswoman).
Without repeating wholesale (not in this post anyway) Hobbes’s observations on the Kingdome of Darknesse, clergy have lost their way in finding the wrong solution to the wrong issue.
There may be more to it though, in deep philosophical and theological terms, and I am not a clergyman and so can speak only speculatively.
A better voice would be that of a leading, politically active, thinking churchman, sound in theology: such a one as Canon Dr Giles Fraser. He has framed the question of politics in terms of Augustinianism versus Pelagianism, a topic I explored some time ago in different guises:
Writing in UnHerd, Dr Fraser describes his abandonment of the left and an examination of the failings of that philosophy, and why the socialist philosophy is so nasty:
How to win the clergy over again, to break the recalcitrant vicar from simple attachment to an irreligious creed of failure to one which better achieves their aim; that is another question.