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On rock or sand: firm foundations for Britain's future

Active in communities all across our nation, the churches often have a better idea of what is going on than even those of us knocking on doors and campaigning in elections. But what do the churches think about what the next government should do? A book edited by the archbishop of York, John Sentamu, makes some interesting suggestions. As we look ahead to the next government, ‘On rock or sand?: Firm foundations for Britain’s future’ challenges us to work for a government that supports the common good. It is one of the church’s recent forays into national politics.

The church, not just the Church of England but other denominations too, has usually been very cautious about becoming involved in party politics, and for good reason. Christians can be found in parties across the political spectrum. The church is usually very aware that while it may have something to offer in terms of the values by which our nation should be governed, it does not necessarily have the expertise to outline how. It does, however, contain experts amongst its members and supporters.

On rock or sand?: Firm foundations for Britain’s future’ looks at how we can build a common vision as a nation. It is aimed at a wide readership and is about politics and policy. The title comes from Jesus’ parable of the builders found in the bible. Two builders built a house, one on rock and one on sand. All was fine until a storm. The house built on firm foundations survived, whilst the other collapsed. The point of the story was to ask us what foundation our lives are built upon. The archbishop and his contributors apply this question to the nation as a whole, challenging us about the values we are living by, given the inequality and poverty we can see.

The book is a collection of essays is based on symposia organised by the archbishop of York, and the contributors include Andrew Adonis, Andrew Sentence, former member of the Bank of England monetary policy committee, and Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury.

Justin Welby provides probably the most eloquent essay and he focuses on inequality, noting the work of local churches helping people suffering from the recession. He cautions against an excessive focus on the economy, important though it is, arguing:

"There is a general social assumption that the economy has the power to dictate what is and is not possible for human beings. We believe that if we can fix the economy, the fixing of human beings will automatically follow. That is a lie."

Human beings, the archbishop writes, have an inherent dignity because they are made in the image of god and he argues that, ‘the principle of the intrinsic value of each human being has its foundation here. We are all equal.’

‘On rock or sand?: Firm foundations for Britain’s future’ consists of contributions written from an explicitly christian perspective, as one would expect from a book edited by an archbishop. It also contains challenges to the church itself. However, it recognises that others will share similar aims and values. The main message is that a society based on individualism and consumerism is one built on sand. It is clear that the authors believe that this is the way British society is going, unless government and people decide otherwise and take action, both at the policy and community levels. Archbishop John Sentamu calls instead for a society based on ‘freedom, fellowship, service for god and neighbour, and the rule of law’. These form the firm foundation, the rock, on which to build a society that promotes the common good – incidentally, a concept explicitly mentioned in Labour’s manifesto.

In the days the construction and character of the next government will be decided, and with them the future of our country. The values and political objectives outlined in this book, many of which resonate with people of various beliefs, should be heeded if we are to avoid further division within our country.

This article was first published by Progress on 21 May 2015.

Progress, 21 May 2015, 21/05/2015

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