William Ewart Gladstone born 200 years ago today
Gladstone believed that Christianity was the crucial issue of the age, the political problem being how to make the Church of Laud survive in an age of universal suffrage. He opened the gate to democracy, and his liberalism was an attempt to retain moral control by abandoning what he perceived to be an untenable political religion. In the gap left by Newman’s destruction of the national regeneration which Oxford Anglicanism had promised in his youth, Gladstone came to see the parliamentary process rather than the Established Church as the agent of moral unity.
And how are we commemorating the bicentenary of the birth of this colossus of nineteenth-century politics?
How are we remembering the achievements for justice?
How are we honouring his political greatness?
How are we celebrating his learning?
How are we revering his memory and commitment to God?
How are we respecting his aspiration and vision for the dignity of all human beings?
How are we valuing his contribution to public life in seeking to relieve poverty and misery through education?
We are establishing a £500,000 Islamic Reading Room, the aim of which is ‘primarily to inform non-Muslims about Islam’.
St Deiniol’s in Hawarden, North Wales, is the unique library founded by Mr Gladstone for the pursuit of ‘divine learning’. They say that the move to create a dedicated space for Islamic study, and increase the stock of Islamic material, is ‘faithful to Gladstone’s spirit’.
Was that not dedicated to Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
Yet an ‘Islamic Reading Room’ is to be the living monument to commemorate the bicentenary of the birth of one the Church of England’s greatest.
When this project was announced earlier this year, stones were thrown through the chapel windows.
Cranmer does not advocate damage to private property or any such act of violence.
And he applauds all educative programmes for Muslims as for all peoples everywhere.
But he has damned if he can understand why one of the greatest thinking Anglicans since the Reformation should be commemorated by the library he founded with the establishment of a room dedicated to the cause of Islam.
But doubtless such incredulity is ‘Islamophobic’.
Yet raising such a monument is rather like commemorating the quatercentenary of the death of William Shakespeare (in 2016) with a bowdlerised performance of Tamburlaine.
YHWH, that is.
Anglicanism in England is presently far more vulnerable than Islam: it is in far greater need of ‘reading rooms’ dedicated to educating the masses of its origin, reason and purpose. Rather than educating Christians in a deeper understanding of Islam, Gladstone would have been more urgently concerned to educate Muslims in a deeper understanding of Christianity in the hope that they might find salvation.
But that is now considered an unacceptable imposition, an insensitive pursuit; indeed, ‘racist’.
Gladstone’s devotion to Christianity quickened his spirit to preach the gospel in season and out. His love of the Lord inspired him to great reforms to alleviate poverty and ameliorate the plight of the poor. He was acutely concerned with the rescuing and rehabilitation of prostitutes. And he was uncompromising in his criticism of the Qur’an, of which he once said in the House of Commons: “So long as there is this book, there will be no peace in the world”. To him, as to many Victorian Christians, it was an ‘accursed book’.
But the expression of such sentiment is now a crime; indeed, it doubtless constitutes ‘religious hatred’.
William Ewart Gladstone was not merely a politician of conviction; he was an eminent scholar and a gifted theologian who was unafraid to speak his mind in an era of religio-political revolution.
Take him for all in all, we shall not look upon his like again.
At least not in Downing Street.