Memo to Justin Welby: Charity is for the Church, not government
Does the Archbishop of Canterbury see no role for a modern CofE?
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has called on the British government to reconsider proposed cuts to the foreign aid budget. His comments follow on from reports that the cash-strapped UK Treasury is considering ending the commitment to spend 0.7% of British GDP annually on international development.
“Our generosity and strategic input has genuinely changed lives and communities for the better,” Welby told The Observer. “In his teaching, Jesus tells us we mustn’t limit our concept of neighbour simply to those close by to us. We need to heed that message in the tough times as well as the good.” While Welby’s intentions are doubtless good, his endorsement of government as a vector for charitable work raises some troubling implications.
Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email
Already registered? Sign in
It should scarcely need saying that governments aren’t charities. As such, they don’t do charity; they do politics. In his criticism of the proposed cuts, Tony Blair stated this baldly: aid, he said, “has been a great British soft power achievement. It isn’t about charity. It’s enlightened self-interest.”
Last year I wrote about ‘policy laundering’, the practice of governments funding NGOs to lobby government for things government wanted to do anyway. It’s apt that Blair should be among the first to intervene on hearing the Treasury’s aid plans: one senior NGO staffer told me recently that it was under Blair that policy laundering began in earnest. Government grants to development charities skyrocketed; the price was a strong government hand in shaping charities’ campaigning priorities.
Perhaps Welby takes the view that such political co-opting of charity is acceptable provided it does good as well. But what he misses here is the fact that as voluntary civil society activities become dependent on state pump-priming, top-down political objectives do not so much complement as replace civil society ones.
If the public thinks something is the government’s job, they’ll stop doing it themselves. We were snowed in a few years ago and lived on a little housing estate served by a private road. My husband took a shovel and started clearing a path to the main road, only for one woman to appear in her doorway and say: “About time the council did something”. In effect, by calling for government to take centre stage in the nation’s charitable activities, Justin Welby is calling for the continued marginalisation of his own institution’s efforts.
If Welby wants the Tories to maintain a strong foreign policy focus he should say so, and explain why this should take the form of development aid. But if he thinks it’s right for Britain to send money overseas to help poorer countries, he should have the courage to call on his flock to tithe.
That he has not done so suggests strongly that Welby would prefer the latter, but doesn’t really believe he has enough of a flock any more for such charitable efforts to have a meaningful impact. This would imply the grim possibility that he sees no role for a modern Church of England except as yet another vehicle for that class of elite moral nodding-dogs who cheerlead for the imposition of state-sponsored liberalism on a fragmented and ambivalent civil society.
It is never charitable to give away money you have forcibly removed from somebody else!
Or borrowed, and then forcibly removed from the same person in order to pay the interest on the loan.
It is very interesting that Jesus was Jewish and was talking about his immediate environment. As for the ABC, he hasn’t appeared to mind that local residents and primary school children will be removed from their tiny local park and playground situated opposite his home in Lambeth Palace. And this is because he prefers to see the construction of an ugly monstrosity to the Holocaust, which would fit better in his own back garden than in a Grade II listed Heritage area. The official Church of England is a laughing stock and should disestablish itself immediately – its top hierarchy is a complete and utter embarrassment. As for the current ABC, whenever he opens his mouth he appears to put his foot in it, and many of us wish that he would desist.
The Church (including its leader) has become a laughing stock because it has failed to undertake its own core activities in the last nine months, when at a time of great social pressures, both individual and collective, it has closed its doors to the people it purports to care for in its own country. Not a time therefore to be concerned about what might happen elsewhere.
Where does it say governments of rich nations should not help poor nations with funding for development, and food and medical supplies etc in emergencies? Britain’s contribution has been relatively generous over the years and I think the Archbishop is justified in questioning its cessation. It is unfortunate but understandable that political strings can be attached to aid but the Zimbabwean farmer receiving help with irrigation probably won’t mind. It would be a shame to snuff out this tiny point of light in the prevailing darkness of global affairs.
The last two paragraphs of this article need attention.
1. The present Archbishop has probably done more than any to encourage committed members of the Church of England to increase their giving. On average a member gives 3% of annual income which is nowhere near the tithe (10%) but it is much better than it was. I doubt whether any except members of other religions give as much on a weekly basis to anything.
2. Christian Aid is one of our biggest charities. Â£13.3m was raised in 2018 of which Â£8.6m was raised in the annual house to house collection. 57,000 volunteers were involved,the vast majority of whom were church members.
3. Church members are called upon to fund many things in addition to aid for world poverty. There are improvements and repairs to church buildings, maintenance of the Church’s ordained ministry (stipends,pensions), Church administration ( now cut to the bone) and Christian mission projects at home and abroad. My own church fellowship are reordering our church building to make it fit for purpose for worship,mission and service to the community in the 21st. century. It has cost Â£128,000 of which we have raised Â£127,500 so far. Â£87,000 has come through the direct giving of our church members. We are a small,vibrant and growing congregation on the Welsh border. No “elite moral nodding dogs” here; just some good Christian people who put their money where their mouth is.
Very sad to see so much venom and self-interest in some of the comments here. None of these issues are binary: It is not a question of right or wrong, good or bad, government or “charities”. We are all human beings together and our interests are linked with those of many of those countries that receive aid. Yes we can do better! Yes the government could use our money more effectively! Yes the church could do more! But no! Charity is not just the preserve of the church or of charities. The biblical understanding of charity is about self-denying love, giving for the sake of the other without expecting anything back. A bit more charity and courtesy and a little less self-interest might help us to fix some of the issues. And what happened to common courtesy that refers to people by their surname, Mary Harrington?
Yes, but as others have observed, giving your own money is charity, giving other people’s money is something else.
He has forfeited the right to courtesy being a bully himself. He should have stayed in the oil business where he belongs. The Bible talks about the local community first. Giving millions to China is not in the biblical spirit-looking after the needs of his local flock come first.
It is the 21st century. We are the 5th (?) leading economy in the world. We have the ‘mother of parliaments’. The centre of world finance? One of the oldest democracies of the modern area. And so on and on and on.
Then if we are so bl**dy smart why do we need charities?
If anyone believes they exist because the state cannot or will not cover their reason for existence, then the point is missed. Charities (excluding wholly voluntary ones) exist to make money, including well paid staff also in prestigious offices. They are a disgrace and the charity card is a scam.
How many charities are there? How much does the government gift them tax payers money? Who has an overview of their work?
If I am wrong forgive my rant but over decades I have seen the myth of charity work in the raw. Many are despicable and useless.
In not offering to replace the government as a collector and distributor of charitable giving, the Church of England admits to its own impotence and irrelevance. Politicians dispense money for political reasons. The British Government uses foreign aid to pay for the support of its political allies abroad. Once the money is in their countries, Britain’s ‘friends’ can pilfer what they want.
Interesting. I always naively thought foreign aid was about helping others but I suppose if their was no individual gain then maybe it wouldn’t be done. Not sure how political the church should be, if at all. Maybe they should be limited to saying it is important to help the poor, the moral authority, and leave it up to others with the money to sort it out.
In the past – ever since there has been a Christian Church – it has played a massive active role in charitable giving, alms, redistribution.
But then Justin Welby isn’t someone who gives the impression of actually liking the church he leads, or it’s members, or the basic religious tenets that are supposed to underlie it.
Well, there is the old joke that The Church of England is just a refuge for people who don’t believe in God.
Perhaps in my dotage I will want to sign up to a church. But if I do it will be Catholic.
Like a lot of old jokes it’s cheap and has no foundation in fact unless you’re a member in name only. Including them does not yield a true picture of the spiritual health of the Church of England.
The joke’s “foundation in fact” is probably accurate. Active churchgoers in this country are greatly outnumbered by those who describe their religion as C of E when asked, such as on official questionnaires and other documents. For most, it is more likely that they use the term in relation to themselves more as an indication of background than a belief in God.
Join the discussion
To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.
Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.Subscribe