Bishop James' Presidential Address March 2011

Bishop James calls for a “politics of humility” as he urges the church to “rediscover its voice and its desire to be an agent of social change”.

The Bishop of Liverpool, in his Presidential Address to the Diocese of Liverpool’s Synod on Saturday clearly set out the role of the church in the Big Society debate.

He said the church should have a voice because “our God is a God of justice and mercy concerned with His people and His society”. He said that while so many have no one to speak for them the church, which is there for everyone in the parish, should speak because we believe in “hope, in generosity, in the value and potential of each individual and the potential of the community for human flourishing”.

The bishop accepted that we have to listen to the many voices in this morally complex debate but that our vision, bound up with Jesus’ teaching in Luke 4, is about extending a kingdom where the sick are healed and oppressed liberated. The church will continue with this when the political ideas are spent.

Bishop James documented the Archbishop of York’s recent visit to the diocese where he showed the Archbishop example several examples of our “laity and clergy together living out their Christian vocation, making a difference in individual lives and in their local communities.”

THE Bishop stated that these examples showed “the beauty of the church is that although we bear the marks of an organization the principle images to be found in the bible to describe us are organic, the body and the vine”. He warned against trying to replace the organic nature of the church which “makes us a distinctive agent in our society” and said that while “we will never be a creature of government” we can “have a dynamic effect on the wider community”.

Bishop James added “I hope that the new economic and social landscape opening up before us will find the organism of the church responding again in a creative way to make good the lives of those who become the casualties of our economic crisis.”

He stated the test will be “how much and how far we will inform the political vision of future politicians at local, national and international levels” because while political slogans such as “the Big Society, “back to basics” and the “third way” come and go “the church for all its faults and foibles will still be there”.

“At our best” affirmed the Bishop “we are the repository of timeless human values which have their authority in a mandate from God.” These are values that “come from people of faith, living under the Lordship of Christ, rooted in the harsh realities of local communities”.

The Bishop concluded by espousing the need for a politics of humility saying we must “take seriously the question God asks through the prophet Micah “what does the Lord require of you to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God?”. Bishop James said if he were a politician looking for a slogan he might campaign for the “politics of humility” and recognizing that that may a contradiction stated “that takes us to the heart of the challenge of the contribution Christians are being called to make in our society today”.