Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

of gambling with a nation's food-which the democracies of our Western civilisation are, for the most part, struggling to overthrow, and which the best economists of all our own political parties for a couple of generations have regarded (to use another Unionist's words) as the shameful exploitation of the many to enrich the few. There is no need to imply that this support was not given conscientiously. But such has been the blinding effect of the Establishment, around which privilege and property centre, and such has been the terrible mistake of our leaders in allowing themselves to be hitched to the chariots of reaction, through either a foolish short-sightedness or a craven mistrust of a democracy which was, and still is, ready to be its truest friend, that in its history since the time of Elizabeth, at least, it has so generally espoused the wrong cause in the nation's struggle for liberty and progress, that it would almost be a sufficient test to say that when any particular policy was supported by the clergy or Church party as a whole, the opposite policy was generally the right one. It is only natural that the main tendency of the Establishment-perhaps, too, of all organised religion-should be conservative. But the spirit of Christ, which above all things it was the duty of the Establishment to conserve, should have prevented the majority of its adherents being ranged, as history proves has been the undoubted case, on the side of political oppression and wrong. Rather should it have sought, as its Scriptural charter would have had it, to undo the heavy burden, to let the oppressed go free, and to see that they that are in need and necessity have—not doles, but right. The Bishop of Oxford has well described the work of the Church as 'wandering along the streets as a kind of salvage corps to pick up the diseased and the wounded when it was too late.'

That this indictment is only too true is easily proved. Some years ago the Times-a journal not unduly prejudiced against the Church-was forced to acknowledge that the Establishment was in favour of the alliance of Continental absolutists against constitutional government; it was against the amelioration of the criminal code

.; it was in favour of hanging for almost any offence for which a man is now fined at the Assizes; it was in favour of the slave-trade, and afterwards of slavery; it was against the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts; it was against Catholic emancipation; it was against Parliamentary reform and municipal reform; it was against the commutation of tithe, although it has since had to acknowledge the Act as of great benefit; it was against the repeal of the corn laws and the navigation laws; it was against Free Trade generally; it was against all education beyond the simplest elements. . . . Indeed, it is hard to say what it has not been against in the way of improvement.

Such is the terrible indictment which our leading journal made against the National Church. Should not such a damning record

make churchmen pause, and consider whether the attitude which the vast majority of them take up towards the men and measures of to-day will not add to the Establishment's condemnation in the future? It is, however, probably easier for the Ethiopian to change his skin or the leopard his spots than for the Establishment to alter its political and social course.

Nobody pretends (says Lord Morley) that the State Church alone is answerable for all the iniquities and follies of legislation and policy in which she has taken a leading part during these three centuries ... What is true, and a very important truth, is that the State Church has never resisted or moderated these coarse, ferocious, intolerant, and obstructive political impulses in the nation; that, on the contrary, she has stimulated and encouraged them, and, where she could, has most unflinchingly turned them to her own profit. .

When the national conscience was shocked at the employment of Chinese labour in South Africa, and the attending circumstances, the Archbishop of Canterbury condoned it as a regrettable necessity.' When, on the other hand, John Bull, in his 'jingo and mafficking fevers,' needed sobering and restraining, the professed heralds of the Gospel of love and goodwill towards men vied with the Yellow Press in inflaming his passions. How many of the clergy and the frequenters of our altars allow themselves to be swayed by a prejudiced and partisan Press, too often run in the interests of powerful and wealthy combines, and in their drawing-rooms to give vent to their vituperative scorn of statesmen whose names their descendants will probably emblazon among those who have done great things for their country. But of what use is it for Churchpeople to build the sepulchres of the prophets and garnish the tombs of the righteous' (one recalls the recent dedication of the Bunyan window in Westminster Abbey), while they continue to witness to themselves that they are the sons of them that slew the prophets?

What was, and still is, the attitude of the average comfortably-living church-goer towards the Insurance Act? Here we have a noble, far-reaching instrument, capable, too, of splendid development, for combating sickness and unemployment—those two dire evils that are ever darkening or threatening so many millions of our homes. Of course no reform ever worth carrying has been carried except in the teeth of clenched antagonisms, while every great social reformer must expect to

Stand pilloried on infamy's high stage
And bear the pelting scorn of half an age.

It was therefore anticipated that those apparently callous to misery and suffering, so long as party capital could be made,

[ocr errors]

would not hesitate to use unscrupulous misrepresentations and shameless suppressions to mystify and mislead. But amid this cynical campaign were our church workers and the more leisured of our churchpeople prominent in their desire to understand and promulgate the plain, unvarnished truth concerning this measure, which so profoundly affects the domestic and industrial welfare of the nation? Here, indeed, was an opportunity for the National Church to serve its day and generation !

The Insurance Act, with the Old Age Pensions, comes as an enormous boon to our toiling masses whose health and happiness it will so greatly promote, and to very many of whom it will be as an hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.' And yet too often the only comment heard was the parrot-cry of 'rushed, ill-considered legislation,' while the gloating was only too apparent in the hope that the doctor difficulty, or the mean 'Servant-tax' agitation, would succeed in

, bringing this beneficent measure tottering to the ground.

It seems almost as though a strong if somewhat sardonic sense of humour belongs to the power that has evolved such an institution as the Establishment (as distinct from the Church), seeing that it is ever bent on demonstrating to the world how not to realise the splendid ideals of Universal Peace and Brotherhood with which it has been entrusted. Dr. Gore (1st of February 1912) has told us how he has ‘constantly sat down bewildered, before the blank and simply stupid refusal of the mass of churchpeople to recognise their social duties. What produces this great blindness of heart and mind?' Although the bishop said he had tortured his mind in trying to find an answer, surely part of it is to be found in the ‘Established' position of the Church. When the writer was vicar of a large Lancashire parish, he found that he had two sets of people to lead and encourage-his own congregation on conventional lines, and a band of earnest social reformers who sat very loosely to any kind of religious organisation, and that the public spirit, zeal and earnestness shown for the betterment of the world was not in the former but in the latter, and that the two sets were almost mutually exclusive. He was, moreover, in occasional receipt of letters from young men in the mining and manufacturing districts of Lancashire and Yorkshire, who lamented how little encouragement, in their desire to improve the social conditions of those among whom they lived, they received from the Church.

It is to free our nation from so terrible an incubus as the Establishment has proved itself to be-a national deadweight against nearly everything that makes for political freedom and social amelioration, while leaving the Church free to uplift the

[ocr errors]

high and humanising ideal which is hers, and to apply the redemptive graces at her command, that we would plead with the State to rid us once for all of our miserable fetters, our intellectual bondage, and our cramping influences. To pretend that Disestablishment means the national repudiation of God is, in the face of the indictment here brought, ridiculous. The Christian side of our political controversies has been largely championed by Nonconformists; while tested by its capacity to form a right judgment in all things pertaining to justice, liberty and brotherhood, the Establishment has proved itself an ignominious failure. To take only a recent illustration. While a Nonconformist preacher led and fostered the agitation against a disgraceful contemplated prize-fight, several priests of the Establishment publicly favoured it. To his great pain and disappointment the late Mr. Gladstone was compelled to acknowledge that the Establishment had gone lamentably wrong upon questions involving deeply the interests of truth, justice, and humanity.'

But here it may be not unreasonably asked, In what way will Disestablishment remedy this unfortunate condition of things? Well, let us acknowledge at once that Disestablishment will not work any immediate change for the better. It possesses, of course, no magical efficacy. It is even possible that a feeling of soreness and a sincere if mistaken sense of injustice may at first produce a somewhat paralysing tendency and a further accentuation of bitterness in our religious differences. But the better, higher life of the Church, freed from meretricious influences, would soon assert itself. Above all, the genuinely felt but harmfully operating necessity for allying herself with those unprogressive and reactionary forces (which seek to promote, as against the common weal, privilege and self-interest), in order to preserve her connexion with the State, would have, for ever, passed away : while the Church, liberated from so much which was hampering her activity and restricting her development, would not only brace herself anew to fulfil her noble mission and splendid destiny, but, in so doing, would also attract many an earnest spirit to her ranks, who at present, though one with her in aim, is too often repelled. In love with those high ideals, and those deeply tender associations which are so peculiarly hers, inspired by her long, romantic if chequered history, attracted by her stately ritual and pathetic liturgy, yes, moved even by pity for what was held to be due to persecution and unjustifiable injury, her present sons and daughters would find their loyalty and devotion quickened ; while a number of able and earnest recruits who now join other organisations would probably rally to her ministry. And all this fresh life and vigour, all this renewed interest and deepened sympathy, would more than compensate her for any apparent loss of prestige

[ocr errors]

and for a certain temporary crippling of her resources. At the same time a first great obstacle towards the ultimate reunion of our English Christendom will have been removed, while our nation in its growing impatience of all that savours of privilege and pretentiousness will be more ready to welcome the old Faith as presented to them in the newer light and in the improved conditions..

The note which the two archbishops strike in their appeal to the nation is a curious one. Disestablishment, they say, will deprive the nation of its legal right to the spiritual ministrations of the Church. Is it not obvious that a very large section of the nation, by making voluntary provision for the spiritual ministrations they prefer, and another perhaps still larger section by ignoring such ministrations altogether, have no desire to make use of the provision which the law makes? And are we to suppose that any minister of religion, including the vast number of voluntary agents now found nearly everywhere, will no longer minister to one in need even when the law's sanction is removed? And of what value, after all, is the law's sanction in such cases? Spiritual things are only spiritually discerned and, to be of any value, must be spiritually and not legally administered.

If this article be a true statement concerning the Establishment, then few impartial and thoughtful observers who take a wide view of the general trend of human progress and social advance can fail to see that an Established religion is not in keeping with the Zeitgeist, and belongs to an age which we are quickly outgrowing. Every great intellectual ferment is followed by political and religious change; while none but a faithless pessimist can question that such a change will but be in the interests of a purer and nobler faith. Why then shoul

not the Church as a whole recognise that the time has come - when her relation to the State must be recast, both in the

interest of her own spiritual liberty and progress and to vindicate the impartiality of the State towards its citizens of all faiths? Let the Church meet the changing circumstances by a voluntary act of sacrifice which would do more for her permanent welfare than an unwarrantable struggle, waged in, what cannot but appear to outsiders, the spirit of any worldly concern fighting for its own, to preserve endowments which are sure to be wrung from her sooner or later. A well-known Labour leader a vowed to a friend of the writer that the masses had so far lost faith in the sincerity of the Church that only some great act of sacrifice on her part would lead them to treat her claim seriously. Are our leaders capable of inspiring the Church with this noble spirit ? It would obviate the piecemeal treatment

« VorigeDoorgaan »