Thursday, 15 May 2014

Lefty Clergy and the Tory Party at Prayer

It was Andrew Brown of the Grubaid newspaper who put his finger quite nicely on a politico-religious hypothesis - generally borne out, I think. Certainly I agreed with it when I heard it, at that Guardian Cheese-and-post-colonial-guilt party.

"Seatrout's Law" states that, particularly in the Church of England, the congregations tend to be more conservative on economic issues and more liberal on social ones. The bishops as a body, and the institution as a whole, are conservative on social issues and leftwing on economic ones. Whereas, in my own addendum to Seatrout's Law, I would suggest that clergy - at least on Twitter - are more left wing all round.

And I would like to suggest why this might be.

First up, Church of England lay people tend to be, by the standards of the country, relatively well off and well educated. They are therefore natural Tory folk. They will accept the State - as a national body - is most efficient in delivering things like defence, social security, roads. But they will also generally tend to think that in other areas, the State should back off. And they will quite likely believe - with a great deal of good reason, in my opinion - that what happens to the money they have earned, over a certain point, is up to them. It's theirs, to take home, to spend on port, or support the Church, the local school or Medcins Sans Frontiers as they feel led. They are socially remarkably progressive - many have had 20 years of experience of women priests, and quite often a lifetime of knowing, or knowing of gay people and gay priests. And, in their judgement, they've not done too badly, so live and let live.

While the clergy, by and large, are already part of two redistributive, centralised systems - the Church and the State. Both take money from people, to support others. In the case of the Church, that's mostly the clergy. So it seems to me they mustn't be too uncomfortable with the idea as a whole. They can be progressive socially, as that fits nicely with their worldview. If Jesus was about being kind to people, then let's be kind, by all means. The Green party are kind to Nature as well, so many clergy are warmly attracted to the Greens. Most clergy have arts rather than science degrees. Just thought I'd mention that.

The Church institution itself, meanwhile, being in existence as an institution, is going to be directly in favour of the current state of affairs. Without centralised, paternalistic,  redistributive systems, the Church as institution wouldn't exist. The current state of affairs will do nicely. And, for institutions, change as a whole is tricky. So leaving things economically and socially - will do fine, thanks.

It will be interesting to see how this state of affairs changes as the Church of England becomes populated to a greater degree with young, socially - conservative Anglicans who have moved to this country. Then the current crop of left/left clergy will have a whole new challenge.

I only really went into this ramble to make one little point. When clergy on Twitter throw vitriol at the supporters of UKIP, or even the Tories, they're attacking the intelligence of their own congregations. Just thought I'd mention it.


  1. Bless you! NB do peruse the Church Times tomorrow ;)

    1. Never read it. Is there a good job in there?

  2. I may have popularised this idea (for infinitesimal values of "popular") but it was fished out of the data by Linda Woodhead.


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