Photo Credit: Alban Geller / UK Government Cabinet Office and Chris McAndrew /UK Parliament
[ACNS, by Rachel Farmer] Anglican leaders in England, Scotland and Wales have issued appeals to voters and politicians during the campaign leading up to the UK’s general election on 12 December. In a pastoral letter to churches this week, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York encouraged people to “stand up for truth and challenge falsehoods”. They said: “we call on all standing for election to reject the language of prejudice and not to stoke stigma or hatred towards people on the grounds of their religion, culture, origin, identity or belief.”
The primate of the Church in Wales, Archbishop John Davies, also issued a statement saying Wales faced many needs and challenges and calling for politicians to give proper time, attention and debate to improving the lives of people suffering increasing despair.
Speaking on behalf of the College of Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Primus, Bishop Mark Strange, said: “There must be opportunity for the issues and challenges which the United Kingdom currently faces to be addressed openly, truthfully and in the spirit of respect and grace.”
In their pastoral letter to the Church of England, Archbishops Justin Welby and Dr John Sentamu encouraged people to play their part in the political process but – crucially – to “leave our echo chambers” to listen to those with different viewpoints.
The letter, which the archbishops hope will be shared in local churches during the campaign, calls on people to engage responsibly on social media and uphold the Christian values of truth, humility and love.
They wrote: “As followers of Jesus Christ each of us is called to honour the gift of truth, both to speak it and to seek it; We all have a responsibility to speak accurately, to challenge falsehoods when we hear them, and to be careful to separate facts from opinion.”
They also encouraged humility and in love in communicating with those who hold different political views. “We will be praying for debates that seek to unite rather than divide, to bring us together and to rebuild trust in each other, in our institutions, and in our politics.”
Speaking on behalf of the Church in Wales, Archbishop John Davies, said poverty, homelessness and struggling public services are among the critical issues which have been airbrushed off the political agenda for too long and now need addressing. He also criticised the tone of both political discourse and the election campaign so far, and called for debate which “informs and enthuses” rather than “bewilders and wearies” voters.
Archbishop John encouraged people to vote, to take part in debates and also to help their friends and neighbours who may be reluctant to go out on dark winter days, to get to hustings and polling stations. He said, “The right to vote is a freedom we take for granted, a freedom hard won, and a freedom that is not universally enjoyed throughout the nations of the world. So, I urge you to exercise your right. It has already been said that an election in the winter is hardly a good idea, because many people, not least the frail, elderly and nervous, may feel discouraged from venturing out to attend hustings meetings or to actually cast their vote. We must be ready to help them.”
He asked them to vote for a government that seeks unity and a “just, welcoming and tolerant society” rather than feeds narrow self-interest. He also called for a willingness to pay more tax for what needs to be improved.
Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, Bishop Mark Strange, said, the election was an opportunity for voters to make their voices heard on matters such as environmental concerns and care for the least advantaged in society. He also encouraged people to vote and said: “we are concerned at the large numbers of eligible voters who as yet appear not to have registered to vote. Our prayer is that the election will enable the United Kingdom to move on into a period of reconciliation and of healing of the divisions within society which have been so evident in recent times. Moving toward such reconciliation and healing will be enhanced by participation in the political process.”
Voters in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will go to the polls on 12 December to elect 650 Members of Parliament. The leader of the largest party, or the largest group within Parliament if no party wins an outright majority, will be asked to form a government by Queen Elizabeth.