The international Religious Left equates Big Government with God’s Kingdom and angrily rejects any limits on government growth as supposed attacks on the vulnerable.
But former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey dissents from Religious Left orthodoxy, recently pronouncing of his own Britain’s precarious public finances: “The sheer scale of our public debt, which hit £1trillion yesterday, is the greatest moral scandal facing Britain today.”
Senior prelates in America are not so discerning. Infamously, Jim Wallis of Sojourners helped form a “Circle of Protection” around the welfare and entitlement state during last July’s federal debt ceiling crisis. Sadly, his coalition recruited the U.S. Catholic Conference, the National Council of Churches, the National Association of Evangelicals and the Salvation Army. Meeting with President Obama, they effectively sided with President Obama against congressional Republicans more seriously trying to limit government growth in the face of gargantuan debt.
Similarly in Britain, Church of England bishops, with supine faith in the Welfare State, recently voted in the House of Lords to oppose their government’s proposed cap on welfare benefits to £26,000, or about $40,000.
But their former senior bishop, Lord Carey, who was Archbishop from 1991 to 2002, has criticized his colleagues’ fiscal and moral blindness. Noting the bishops were insisting that families on welfare qualify for up £50,000 in benefits, or over $78,000, Carey expressed restrained Anglican incredulity.
“They must have known the popular opinion was against them, including that of many hard-working, hard-pressed churchgoers,” Carey laconically observed. “They also knew that the case for welfare reform had been persuasively made, even if they didn’t agree with it.” Carey pronounced that these bishops, in their unquestioning defense of an engorged welfare state, “cannot lay claim to the moral high-ground.”
Carey, writing in a British newspaper op-ed, observed the obvious: “If we can’t get the deficit under control and begin paying back this debt, we will be mortgaging the futures of our children and grandchildren.” Surely fiscal responsibility is a moral cause that “mainstream” church leaders should support but too often don’t. And fiscal health, for Britain, America, and most of the Welfare State addicted West, means some restraints on spending. “We desperately need to reform our welfare system,” Carey concluded, saying what is simultaneously so clear yet so difficult to admit for some. “Opportunities to do so in times of prosperity have been squandered and now we are forced to do so at a time of high unemployment, under the guise of cutting expenditure.”
Admirably, Lord Carey specified that welfare reform is necessary not just for fiscal sanity but also moral health. He faulted the Welfare State for fueling the “very vices” it attempted to cure and “impoverishing us all,” while trapping its victims into “dependency” and rewarding “fecklessness and irresponsibility.” Such critiques do not usually fall from the mouths of bishops, in Britain or America. Carey also noted the Welfare State stokes “social division” by creating resentment by the “squeezed” middle class against the “hand-outs” ladled to the entitlement class.
In typical fashion, the befuddled, indignant Church of England bishops opposing welfare reform claimed they are defending children and cited the Bible as their political manifesto. Lord Carey countered: “I can’t possibly believe prolonging our culture of welfare dependency is in the best interests of our children.”
Unlike many bishops, Carey was himself a child of the working class. He was appointed Archbishop by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose own father was a grocer, often placing her at odds with other, more liberal Tories from privileged backgrounds. Carey recalled his father was a low-paid hospital porter who supported his stay at home mother and 5 children. Lacking material wealth, Carey’s parents gave their children an “unfailing work ethic, and their belief that our lives could be more prosperous than theirs if we applied ourselves.” Lord Carey left school at age 15 to work. Self-made like Thatcher, he is not so intimidated by calls to class welfare or the guilt of accommodating wealthy elites.
“Young people raised in workless households suffer far more acutely from poverty of aspiration than from any material poverty,” Carey insisted. “These children have no role models to illustrate how liberating a lifetime of work can be — materially and spiritually.” Instead, they are trapped in a “ghetto of dependency.” The Welfare State’s “biggest tragedy” is how it “squeezed such hope from people’s lives,” he regretted of the entitlement class. “If we cannot make the rewards of hard work more appealing than a life spent on the dole then we will have failed a generation of children.” He called the attempt to “break the cycle of dependency” the most important aspect of the British government’s welfare reform and “so-called cuts.” Carey perceptively seems to understand that what the Religious Left routinely denounces as “cuts” are actually any limits on endless government growth.
Carey reasonably asked why “good Christians who care for their fellow man should continue to support our bloated welfare state.” And he denounced the “modern myth” that “some people can neither be helped, nor help themselves into work.” Poverty cannot be solved by “merely throwing money.” And encouraging the jobless to work means, obviously, that employment has to “pay significantly more than a life on benefits.”
Christians are supposed to understand fallen human nature. But the Religious Left denies that people follow self-interest and prefers its own ideology of victimization. Lord Carey prefers none of their ideology or crocodile guilt. He also pronounced another truism that’s anathema to the leftist prelates: poverty and welfare cannot be relegated to the government. Carey summoned churches and “social entrepreneurs” to do more, as they did in the Victorian era.
Lord Carey appealed to his fellow bishops who are so enamored of the Welfare State instead to preserve “hope against the despair and pessimism which blights our workless communities.” Churches typically specialized in offering hope before the Religious Left decided to exchange divine redemption for the ostensible security of government entitlements. The former Archbishop of Canterbury’s summons to fiscal and moral recovery hopefully will awaken a few slumbering churchmen in Britain and America.
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