Tom Harris MP: Archbishop Cranmer talks ‘nonsense’ and spreads lies
But perhaps that is politics.
Tom Harris MP is a Christian Socialist – or a Socialist Christian – who may never have read The Cross and the Sickle but certainly raps Jesus in the red flag of Archbishop William Temple’s Christianity and Social Order along with the complete works of RH Tawney. It is only a pity that he has not grasped the values of decency and tolerance, or understands the purpose of personal responsibility or the cause of moral collapse.
His article ‘Should you vote for a party or for God?’ was written in response to Cranmer’s ‘One good reason Christians should vote Conservative’.
But Cranmer is stuck even at the meaning of Mr Harris’ title. What does he mean by ‘vote for God’? One may vote for a party or an individual, but neither can be a vote for God. And, since we are not in a theocracy, neither the party nor the individual would arrogate to themselves that status of divinity.
Cranmer does not know Tom Harris, who is, by all accounts, a perfectly decent chap. Quite why he chose to take issue with a post on abortion is unknown. But even more unknown are his motives for distorting its meaning and fabricating a narrative a world apart from that which was written. It is time for a fisking:
CRANMER reckons there are many reasons why Christians should vote Conservative. Well, of course he does: he’s a Christian, he’s a Tory, ergo, all Christians should be Tories.
Indeed, Cranmer did say there were many reasons why Christians should vote Conservative. And he does not hide his light under a bushel and he is a Tory (with Whiggish tendencies, actually, but we will let that nuance pass). But the rest of this opening sentence is a perversion of his belief. He has always held and has consistently said that it is the role of the Christian in a democracy to vote according to his or her conscience. He has never, unlike some church leaders, taken to the pulpit and instructed his flock in the way they should vote. Indeed, he has been full of admiration and praise for Christian Socialists like Frank Field, who are politicians of conviction whose faith is at the core of their being and their political raison d’être. To speak of him as ‘a moral crusader of impeccable integrity and devout Christian conviction’ refutes utterly Mr Harris’ assertion that Cranmer believes ‘all Christians should be Tory’. And note the italicised ‘all’. According to Tom Harris, there is no latitude in His Grace’s theology; no flexibility; no ‘space’ for the individual conscience. Tom Harris caricatures Cranmer to the point of infallible pontification: it is an offence against his conscience and quite antithetical to the Protestant understanding of grace.
I’ve come across this nonsense before, of course, many times, within the church.
Of course you have. But the ‘nonsense’ you apportion to His Grace is a fabrication of your mind. And your superficial swipe is purely for party political purposes.
Shortly after the 1987 general election, I was visiting a friend who had been a member of the same “house church” as me back in our Ayshire (sic) days. She had now settled in Sale, Cheshire, with her husband. A Christian friend came round in the evening (with his guitar, natch; wouldn’t want to avoid any evangelical Christian clichés, now, would we?). “Did you vote for our man?” he asked my friend. “Our man”, it turned out, had been the local SDP/Liberal Alliance candidate a few weeks previously, who was also a member of my friend’s local church. Never mind the policies — so long as the person voting for them in the Commons shares your faith. Apparently.
This is curiously detailed but important biographical information, for it informs us of a childhood trauma endured by Mr Harris which has not only coloured his attitude towards Evangelicals, but clouded his appreciation of the Christian moral character and fraternity. And why does he believe it acceptable to mock Evangelicals? Would he joke about Roman Catholics bringing their prayer beads or reciting their ‘Hail Marys’? Or about Muslims bringing their Qur’an and a prayer mat? He is a politician representing a major political party. Why are Evangelicals singled out for derision?
Cranmer agrees that the whole notion of voting for ‘our man’, irrespective of the policies, is naïve. But so is repudiating the exhortation of a Christian simply because he (or she) belongs to another political party. Christian faith should precede temporal politics, or it is no faith at all.
Cranmer’s argument, naturally, is slightly more sophisticated
Bless you, Mr Harris, for providing His Grace with a quotation for his wall of commendation. But the ‘naturally’ is curious. And the ‘slightly’ even more so. If Cranmer is ‘naturally’ more sophisticated, there must be something in either his theology or character which makes him so. Unless you are meaning that Anglicanism is naturally more sophisticated (which it undoubtedly is), you must be averring that His Grace is himself naturally more sophisticated.
Even though it is ‘slightly’, Cranmer thanks you for providing him with his first Socialist praise (and that is not an Evangelical charismatic hymn book).
If you’re a Christian, you’ll oppose abortion, and since David Cameron has apparently offered a free vote on reducing the upper limit, then Christians should vote for a Conservative government. Now, I don’t deny that this argument has a certain logic: more Tory MPs and candidates than Labour tend to be pro-life, so if that’s the most important issue for you, you’ll be tempted to vote accordingly.
It is difficult for Cranmer to grasp how a Christian can advocate support for abortion. And this is not the same as understanding that God himself aborts (for miscarriage is quite ‘natural’), or that there may not be occasions when it is absolutely necessary. But what kind of Christian advocates termination of a developing baby simply because, like a replica Gucchi shoe and the crocodile handbag, it is ‘not wanted’? The Christian will oppose abortion because it is revealed in Scripture that God knits in the womb and knows us before we are born. If John the Baptist can leap for joy at the approaching Messiah before he is born, then that which dwells in the womb is not just a bunch of cells, a zygote, a parasite: it is a human being, and all human beings have the right to life.
But as I’ve argued before, abortion has always been decided on a free vote, and I assume always will be.
By many accounts, that was not the case during the passage of the Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. And to observe Harriet Harman’s disdainful pointing during the debate within the chamber gives an indication of what she and her cohorts may have done without. And Ruth Kelly was under no illusion that this Bill was not to be a free vote. Indeed, a number of Christian cabinet ministers expressed their disquiet that it was a Government Bill and whipped, with some distinctly anti-Christian responses from Labour politicians.
My biggest problem with Cranmer’s argument (apart from the fact that he refers to himself in the third person; Tom has never been comfortable with that style of writing, which is why he gave up on Facebook) is that he’s trying to accomplish what others —such as Nadine — have tried to do before: make abortion a party political issue along the same lines as in the US.
Third person communication may be discomforting, but it is conveniently stylistic and also deployed by inter alia Guido Fawkes, The Times, The Telegraph, the BBC and Her Majesty the Queen. To abandon Facebook (which is wholly worthy of abandonment) for such a trivial issue (which must have been self-inflicted, for there is no compulsion), shows a curious propensity to throw foetuses out with the amniotic fluid.
It is Labour who made abortion a party political issue. But if the parties differ in their approach, why on earth should it not be?
This would be very bad for British politics and even worse, in the long term, for the Conservative Party.
Why? If the Conservative Party is intent on revisiting the limit for abortion, such that the number of terminations may be incrementally reduced as medicine advances, then the position of the Conservative Party is pragmatic. In the long term, the change would be good not only for ‘British politics’ and the Conservative Party, but also for the thousands of babies who will be granted the right to breathe.
Yes, there was a time when the Republican Party successfully exploited the prejudices and intolerance of the Christian Right for electoral gain. But they paid the price for their 4G strategy (God, guns, gays and gynecology [sic]) at the last election and look as if they’ll ditch their fundamentalist allies in order to gain a foothold in the mid-terms next year.
So, the Christian Right is prejudiced and intolerant, ergo the Christian Left is enlightened, tolerant, inclusive and progressive. This is the sort of banal analysis which proves Tom Harris to be a hypocrite, for the Christian Right is Conservative, and ‘this nonsense’ avers that the Left possesses the superior doctrine of God. It is, at the very least, illogical to criticise Cranmer for saying (what he never said) ‘that all Christians should be Tories’, when you state yourself that Conservative Christians (albeit in the US) are prejudiced and intolerant. All of them?
There’s nothing wrong in promoting your own party to those of your own faith, of course.
Bless you for that.
But it is New Labour who have made it unacceptable to promote the Christian faith to those of one's own party.
In 1988 I made an impassioned plea to my own church members that the poll tax should be resisted on the basis that a flat tax, with everyone paying the same amount regardless of income, was incompatible with the Biblical principle of tithing. Most members agreed, but it didn’t mean they voted Labour afterwards; I suspect most of them continued to vote Tory.
Cranmer is bemused, and wishes he had heard your sermon. For the tithe was a flat tax and a requirement of the Law. It was fixed at 10 per cent of everything earned (Lev 27:30; Num 18:26; Deut 14:24; 2Chron 31:5), though multiple tithes would have increased this to a sum nearer a quarter of earned income (and produce). The New Testament nowhere commands, or even recommends, that Christians submit to a legalistic tithe system. Taxation like the poll tax is done under compulsion: Paul states that believers should give with a joyful heart a sum in keeping with their income (1 Cor 16:1f). On the poll tax, he would have said (a he taught) render unto Caesar, at whatever rate it was set.
Tory-voting Christians all too often try to make this specious argument, that a single party (theirs, of course) most accurately represents “Christian values”. Labour-voting Christians, in my experience, tend not to, or at least, they do it less often. Perhaps that’s because they look across at the American political system and are repulsed by the stranglehold that the Christian Right have over Republican policy and don’t want to see the same thing happen here.
Labour-voting Christians all too often try to make this specious argument, that a single party (theirs, of course) most accurately represents ‘Christian values’. Conservative-voting Christians, in Cranmer’s experience, tend not to, or at least, they do it less often. Perhaps because they look across at the American political system and are repulsed by the stranglehold that the pseudo-Christians have over Democrat policy and don’t want to see the same thing happen here.
Mr Harris, His Grace provided you with a list of Labour’s profoundly anti-Christian legislation, and you chose to ignore it. ‘Christian values’ are not the preserve of any single political party, but it is perfectly possible for one to be more faithful to the divine precepts than another, for that is the free choice bequeathed by God to man.
The problem is that there are some vocal Tories out there who look across the Atlantic and actually like what they see. They see the intolerance and ignorance of the likes of Sarah Palin and think: “Yes, let’s have some of that over here!”
Very worrying indeed.
Cranmer is far more concerned about those Labour (and Conservative) supporters who look across the Atlantic and like what they see in the nebulous, inconsistent, statist, protectionist likes of Barack Obama. What is it about Sarah Palin that makes her ‘intolerant’ and ‘ignorant’? Is it her support for the unborn child? Is that intolerant? Is it her support for individual liberty and personal responsibility? Is that ignorant?
Why have you not responded to Cranmer’s humble requests for clarification? Why have you not explained to him why homosexual rights should trump Christian conviction? Why have you not explained why Roman Catholic adoption agencies have to close because they refuse to dispense children to gay couples who have never even sought to adopt a child through them? Why does your party attack faith-based education? Why has it undermined the institution of marriage? Why has it sought to limit freedom of speech on religious matters? Why do you seek incremental disestablishment of the Church of England? Why do you undermine the Christian constitution which is woven into the fabric of the nation? Why do you accuse His Grace of spreading lies when Nadine Dorries provides primary source material for his assertion?
And where, Mr Harris, is your Christian conviction or the conscience which permits you to say that it is the writing of such people as Cranmer or the speeches of such as Nadine Dorries which are likely, in future, to incline you not to vote for a reduction in the upper limit for abortion?
Are the lives of thousands of babies really to be determined in a fit of pique?
What kind of 'nonsense' is that?