Will the Voice of the Faithful Laity be heard at next R.C. Synod?

Will the bishops be any more open about their second consultation on family?
12 December 2014 by Michael Phelan

So the Vatican has asked national bishops’ conferences around the world to seek input from Catholics at “all levels” about how the Church should respond to sometimes difficult questions of modern family life, such as divorce and remarriage. It was reported this week that bishops have been asked to respond in mercy and avoid basing their pastoral care solely on current Catholic doctrine.

This comes a year after the English and Welsh bishops’ conference decided to publish widely the Vatican consultative questionnaire on the family, in preparation for last October’s extraordinary synod and next year’s ordinary synod on the family. Catholics welcomed this move even though the questionnaire had been amateurishly constructed and was therefore not at all academically respectable. But the bishops – unlike their counterparts in Germany and Austria – suppressed the responses to the questionnaire, leaving many Catholics with the impression that our answers were not as our bishops would have wished them to be.

Reading the recent interview of bishops’ conference president Cardinal Vincent Nichols’ with The Tablet’s acting editor, Elena Curti, I found it difficult to understand whether the bishops are going to follow their initial procedure of wide consultation or just rely on parish clergy without speaking to parishioners. Blessed John Henry Newman suggested that consulting the laity is a branch of evidence that needs to be taken into account in matters of doctrine.

I am concerned at this possible lack of consultation “at all levels” in England and Wales. We know from the failure of the majority of the lay faithful to “receive” the teaching of Humanae Vitae how important it is that the teaching of the Church needs to be exercised by the People of God as a whole, as set out in Vatican II – that is by the Pope, bishops, clergy, and lay faithful. As we know, Pope Paul VI had removed the debate on responsible parenthood and contraception, married priests, and women priests from the Second Vatican Council agenda. He then went against the decision of the committee that had been set up by his predecessor and himself on responsible parenthood and
which through prayer and the Eucharist came to disagree with the Church’s position on artificial contraception.

Although Humanae Vitae was good in parts, its promulgation damaged the standing of the magisterium when it was not “received” fully by the laity. Surveys have shown that large numbers of practising Catholics ignore the Church’s teaching on contraception, and remarriage.

Pope Francis has brought out Christ’s loving message of mercy and forgiveness and in Evangelii Gaudium has offered pastors guidance on
interpreting traditional teaching on marriage and family life.

The need to consult with the laity on family matters is more important than on other questions of doctrine and morals, because it is lay Catholics who have families, not celibate bishops and clergy. Modern IT and broadcasting give the Church every opportunity to be collegial in consulting with the faithful in matters of doctrine, particularly on the family.

Many Catholics are well aware of the developments in church teaching over the centuries on slavery, usury, just war, sexual activity in marriage not being just for procreation, and capital punishment. I hope that our English and Welsh ordinary synod bishops, Vincent Nichols and Peter Doyle, will bear in mind God’s compassion, forgiveness and mercy when looking at family life for the forthcoming synod.


“Blessed John Henry Newman suggested that consulting the laity is a branch of evidence that needs to be taken into account in matters of doctrine.”

In the light of this observation, in this blog article by Michael Phelan in the latest issue of The Tablet’, it may well be thought – at least by the Titular Head of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, Pope Francis, that, on matters of the human family, families themselves need to have the most wide-spread input into any doctrinal discussion in the future on this vital subject. Celibate bishops and clergy have little practical experience of what it might be like to live out the moral imperatives of being a normal family.

Let’s hope that the English Bishops of the R.C. Church will be more forthcoming in allowing, not only clergy, but also the faithful laity, to have some input into the expected discussion that lead up to the next Ordinary Synod of Bishop at the Vatican next year.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Pope Francis mobilises the Laity

From the editor’s desk : ‘The Tablet’.

Pope Francis mobilises the laity
11 December 2014

At the Wednesday audience this week, Pope Francis began a series of highly significant talks on family life, in preparation for next autumn’s synod of bishops. This coincides with the publication of its preliminary documents, the lineamenta; and follows last autumn’s specially convened synod meeting when challenges were made to established Catholic teaching and practice, on issues ranging from homosexuality to the admission of remarried Catholics to Holy Communion. The fact that Francis favours emphasising God’s mercy rather than the narrow application of doctrine has not made him popular in certain quarters – including, at the ultra-conservative fringe, those who question the whole process and even his legitimacy as Pope.

So when he said in his first talk that at last autumn’s synod meeting “Everything happened ‘cum Petro et sub Petro’, that is, in the presence of the Pope – that is a guarantee of freedom and trust for all, and a guarantee of orthodoxy,” he is reminding his critics that the Pope, not them, has the right to decide what is and what is not orthodox. He gave his explicit backing to the text of the lineamenta, which in turn endorses the final report of last autumn’s event. Clearly the argument then still goes on. But the lineamenta insists that the argument has to restart where it left off, not return to first base and begin again.

That is a warning that he will be relentless in pursuing this process until it arrives at satisfactory answers – satisfactory to him. What is to be avoided, the lineamenta insists, is “a formulation of pastoral care based simply on an application of doctrine”. That will be incomprehensible to some conservatives, who seem determined to fight him every inch of the way.

One of his strongest allies, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, has given a frank account of last autumn’s extraordinary synod to Herder Korrespondenz magazine. Some cardinals praised President Vladimir Putin of Russia for championing family values, and wanted a similar authoritarian tone in the Church. Schönborn repeated words he had addressed to the synod, saying: “There is a certain temptation at the moment to dream of a powerful Church, a longing for political Catholicism which will impress people like in the 1930s. These cardinals get extremely worried when they think they see signs that the power of the papacy is diminishing and that the Pope is, as it were, descending from his throne.”

Opposition to Pope Francis is apparently being mounted not only in the Curia but also among senior Italian bishops. What is notable is that they were virtually all appointed or promoted by Pope John Paul II, and though nobody is explicitly saying so, much of what Pope Francis is trying to undo is the legacy of that papacy. In the remarks quoted by Cardinal Schönborn, “Putin” is almost code for “Wojtyla”. This Pope, however, understands that his most powerful allies are laypeople in ordinary parishes, who know about family life from the inside. So the synodical process he has initiated is an attempt to mobilise them in favour of reform. He is treating them like adults, and that is how they must respond.


This latest Editorial from ‘The Tablet’ emphasises the fact that the present Pope, Francis, is determined to bring the Roman Catholic Church into the contemporary world – by means of a divestment of political machination by Italian hierarchs, into a new and vital understanding of the Church as a more eclectic servant body, whose context is both in this world as well as of it – an incarnational structure cognisant of real human needs.

Perhaps the most telling part of this editorial is found in this excerpt:

“Opposition to Pope Francis is apparently being mounted not only in the Curia but also among senior Italian bishops. What is notable is that they were virtually all appointed or promoted by Pope John Paul II, and though nobody is explicitly saying so, much of what Pope Francis is trying to undo is the legacy of that papacy. In the remarks quoted by Cardinal Schönborn, “Putin” is almost code for “Wojtyla”. This Pope, however, understands that his most powerful allies are laypeople in ordinary parishes, who know about family life from the inside.

Part of the relevance of the mention of Putin here, is that some of the conservative bishops are siding with the Russian Leader’s rhetoric on the subject of family life, in which he has outlawed any form of relationships that are not modelled on the concept of heterosexual marriage and traditional family values. Cardinal Schönborn, strikingly, seems to be comparing Putin’s morality stance on marriage with that of Pope John Paul II, whose conservative initiatives are now being questioned by Pope Francis. 

No doubt, Pope Francis’ extensive pastoral experience among the ordinary people of the Latin American world has equipped him for the task of introducing a less formal way of Church leadership into the hierarchical situation of the Vatican. It is this, and the Pope’s readiness to discard the panoply of the Sacred Office, that has set the more conservative members of the Curia and the Italian bishops at odds with his leadership.

As a point of interest, the Church of England is currently about to set up a special management efficiency unit, calculated to target and train people for what seems like a theological MBA qualification leading to hierarchical preferment in that Church. How such a scheme will tally with what Pope Francis has in mind for the renewal of the Roman Catholic Church has yet to be seen. The biggest question about both initiatives might be to discern where the Holy Spirit might be leading in the rejuvenation of the Body of Christ.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Ten ways to keep a holy Advent


These are ten wonderful ways in which the thoughtful person might attend to the soul’s good during this Advent Season. – Father Ron Smith

Originally posted on The religious imagineer:

Camino de Santiago near Atapuerca

Camino de Santiago near Atapuerca

Advent is a time to keep watch for the unexpected comings of God, to prepare our own hearts to make room for the Blessed One, and to be ourselves signs to the world around us of divine compassion and justice.

Here is a list of ten general practices, each with some specific suggestions for the keeping of this holy season.

In a month that is already far too busy and rushed, these are not offered as one more to-do list to work through, but as ways to slow down, take a breath, pay attention, and make room in our lives for the birth of the Holy. These practices do not begin to exhaust the possibilities, but I hope they may stimulate your own thoughtful and prayerful responses. If anything here speaks to you, or prompts your own variation, try it out – for a minute, an hour…

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Gambian President Defends Homophobia on Religious Grounds

Gambia: President, Foreign Minister Portray Anti-Gay Persecution as Defense of Islam, Africa

We have reported previously on Gambia’s viciously anti-gay president Yahya Jammeh. Buzzfeed’s Lester Feder reports on the politics behind the latest wave of violence, which includes raids on people’s homes and arrests carried out by the National Intelligence Agency:

But the raids come as Jammeh appears to have ratcheted up his presence on the international stage, which some observers suggest is part of a strategy to court support and aid from Africa and the Middle East as he has lost support from nations like the United States and Great Britain.

Last fall, Jammeh pulled the Gambia out of the Commonwealth of former British colonies. That was just days after declaring at the United Nations in New York, “Those who promote homosexuality want to put an end to human existence. It is becoming an epidemic and we Muslims and Africans will fight to end this behavior…. Homosexuality in all its forms and manifestations which, though very evil, antihuman as well as anti-Allah, is being promoted as a human right by some powers.”

Fatou Camara, who briefly served as Jammeh’s communications director and hosted a Gambian television program before she was charged with sedition and fled to the United States, noted that the current wave of arrests took place just before Jammeh made a state visit to the Persian Gulf state of Qatar. While there, he signed a cooperation agreement with Qatar’s leader, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.

Camara said that she spoke with sources who accompanied Jammeh on the visit, and that they told her he was using this issue to make the case for Qatari support. “This is one point he used to talk to the emir: ‘I cannot get along with the West because they want [me] to promote homosexuality,’” she said.

Gambia’s Foreign Minister Bala Garba Jahumpa went on television last week in a prime-time address to say the country would refuse to negotiate with the European Union over its anti-gay laws, regardless of how much foreign aid might be in question. According to Pink News, he “attacked homosexuality as ‘Satanic’ ungodly behaviour, which is ‘detrimental to human existence.’”

“Our country’s socio-economic development depends only on the Almighty Allah’s benevolence.

“We also hereby declare that The Gambia will always be an independent, dignified and Allah worshipping Muslim country where our way of life; our laws will be based on our Islamic values, that is, the strict adherence to our Islamic faith.

“This being the case, any agreement, convention or protocol that is at variance with our Islamic faith, economic prosperity and our national security interest will be surely rejected outright.

“We will never be a party to such decadence and will never ratify such conventions.

“Our laws are promulgated to ensure peace, security and our African and Islamic heritage and will be strengthened and enforced to the letter and spirit and will not be repealed.”

His speech denounced the history of colonialism as well as the treatment of African migrants currently living in Europe.

“They facilitate the continuous looting of African resources by the same forces that enslaved Africans; who still believe that we blacks are monkeys and not human and, therefore, should not benefit from our Allah-given vast natural resources that we have on the African continent.”

“This being the case, the Republic of The Gambia will never be a party to the so-called EPA with the European Union as it is designed to continue the same exploitation and impoverishment of the African continent. We will rather die than be colonised twice, enslaved twice and be robbed of our resources; our dignity and our humanity twice.”

“Our relationship with any country or any bloc will be based on mutual respect and the respect of the sovereignty and independence and religious values of our country. We will no longer be a member of any sub-regional, regional and international bloc or organisation that will allow the continuous racist exploitation and humiliation and the looting of the African continent in particular and the black race in general.”

“In conclusion, we are no longer going to entertain and dialogue with the European Union either directly or through the sub-regional, regional and international blocs to which we are members.”

“Allah willing, we will continue to develop our country in dignity and prosperity with our independence and Islamic values intact. We will also continue to depend on and worship only the Almighty Allah.”

Uganda:  Will Anti-Gay Law be Christmas ‘Gift’ to the Nation?

We have reported on efforts by anti-gay Ugandan lawmakers to draft a new bill to replace the Anti-Homosexuality Act that was thrown out by courts based on a procedural issue. Now a lawmaker on the committee drafting the new bill says it is ready and to pass to that the entire country can“celebrate it as a Christmas gift.”

As Reuters reports, [President Yoweri] Museveni is walking a political tightrope with regard to the new antihomosexuality bill. Museveni is keenly aware of the political backlash that befell his country in the wake of his signature on the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014, which saw tens of millions in aid dollars suddenly vanish from Western and European nations, including Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and ultimately, the United States. Such foreign aid makes up a full 20 percent of the country’s budget and helps prop up Museveni’s administration, notes Reuters.

Despite the international outrage at the law’s enactment, Museveni was actually greeted by throngs of cheering Ugandans who carried him through the streets of Kampala in a five-hour celebration of “thanksgiving” after he signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act in February. A repeat of such adulation could prove a campaign stunt too tempting to decline.

Kapya Kaoma at Political Research Associates reports that in advance of the new legislation,Rebecca Kadaga, the Speaker of the Parliament, is “ramping up her U.S. conservative-fed talking points.” Kaoma notes that the headline of a Uganda Daily Monitor story about a recent speech was “Gay groups targeting church leaders, schools – Kadaga.”

Speaking at the golden jubilee celebrations of St. Stephen’s Church in Uganda on November 30, Kadaga repeated the U.S. culture warriors’ claim that “computers and books donated to (underfunded and technology starved) schools are installed with software and literature that promote homosexuality in the institutions.” She went on to say, “Homosexuals are recruiting members of religious institutions,” and homosexuals are now “adopting” vulnerable children and turning them gay. “Be very careful because gays are here to distort our heritage. We have discovered that they adopt our children and confine them in gay communities abroad to train them on gay practices. By the time they come back home, they are already influenced by homosexuality and are used to influence others in the community,” Kadaga told her audience.

Kaoma writes that Kadaga’s claims reflect “the changing religious landscape of Africa’s homophobia.”

After many unchallenged years of demonizing sexual minorities and human rights activists by U.S. culture warriors and their African allies, pro-human rights clergy are growing slowly on the continent. Many are realizing that the U.S.-born campaigns of demonization and violence against sexual minorities goes against their religious convictions. As the KwaZulu Natal Declaration showed, some African clergy opposed to the violent persecution of sexual minorities are now speaking out. In almost all Sub-Saharan African countries, religious voices against hate are slowly emerging. Since these leaders are preaching love and acceptance of sexual minorities as opposed to hatred, anti-gay pastors’ voices are now being challenged. To dismiss their critical voices, they are being branded as homosexuals themselves. African anti-gay pastors and their U.S. Right allies have entirely branded affirming Religious leaders such as Bishop Christopher Ssenyonjo of Uganda, Revds. MacDonald Sembereka of Malawi, Benebo Fubara-Manuel of Nigeria, Michael Kimindu of Kenya, this author, and many others as homosexuals. Regardless, their numbers are growing—forcing anti-gay pastors and their Western allies into social panic.

Kadaga’s claim to have discovered Western homosexuals adopting African children and “confining them in gay communities abroad to train them on gay practices” is certainly a new low in her attempts to vilify LGBTQ people. Kadaga does not, of course, have any evidence for such claims—it is just another way anti-gay groups incite hatred against gay communities. African sexual minorities and their allies are also frequently accused of receiving “millions of dollars” to recruit people into homosexuality. The reality, however, being that the majority of LGBTQ people in Africa live in extreme poverty.


This paragraph, from the above report in ‘Religion Dispatches’, quoting Gambian President Yahya Jammeh’s speech to the United Nations, shows the level of homophobic rhetoric being employed in his country’s persecution of the LGBTI minority:

“Those who promote homosexuality want to put an end to human existence. It is becoming an epidemic and we Muslims and Africans will fight to end this behavior.. Homosexuality in all its forms and manifestations which, though very evil, antihuman as well as anti-Allah, is being promoted as a human right by some powers.” 

This typically homophobic reaction to Western acceptance of the human rights of Gay people is, sadly, being embraced by con/evo Christians  – not only in Africa, but in other parts of the world, where the modern understanding of homosexuality is denied.

The idea that in some way, the incidence of homosexuality is actually growing, at the encouragement of Western governments, is so ludicrous  it barely needs to be refuted. What has happened, is that Western society is now more aware of the un-necessary suffering caused to LGBTI people because of  endemic prejudice.

The outdated African myth/supposition that homosexuality was somehow imported by colonial administration is nothing more than an unsubstantiated fairy-tale. What actually took place, with the colonial take-over, was the importation of a Victorian-style morality taboo in gender and sexuality issues that has continued until this day, so that we might have real cause to blame the entrenched culture of homophobia to those administrators (among them some of the missionaries) whose antediluvian understanding of these matters was current at that time in our history.

Until the ex-colonial territories catch up with the enlightenment of Western society on the ethology of homosexuality, there is likely to be no let-up in the culture of homophobia that President Jammeh – and the presidents of certain other African countries that embrace that ethos – presently advocate.   

Sadly, for Anglicans around the world, this homophobic  stance is also being supported and embraced by certain Primates of the GAFCON  Provinces  of the Anglican Communion. This may yet prove to be the real stumbling block preventing greater cohesion  among the Provinces of the  world-wide Church. In this instance, the principle of justice needs to be served before that of unity.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand             

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Oxford Faith Debate on Vision for the Church of England

Image: Union Buildings Debate Chamber by Barker Evans (barkerevans.com) via Wikimedia Commons • http://is.gd/6oRW7o

The fifth and final debate of the current Oxford series took place last Thursday. Audio recordings of the entire event are now available on this page.

Those who have been attending regularly seemed to agree that this debate was the best of the series. Do listen to it all if you can.

Links to the opening statements:

Link to the ensuing discussion.

Lorraine Cavanagh has written about the event here: What does the Church of England offer the next generation?

Posted by Simon Sarmiento (Thinking Anglicans)  on Tuesday, 9 Dec. 2014


Having just listened to each of the headline Speakers and the following Questions and answers in this, the final session of the Oxford Debates; I am convinced that the Church of England will need to pull its socks up on issues of human justice  – especially its attitude towards Women and LGBTI people – in order to survive into a viable future.

I was especially taken with the words of the first Speaker, Diarmaid McCulloch, Professor of Church History at the University of Oxford, in his direct challenge to the Church on its seeming unwillingness to recognise its need to more fully express its mandated mission to the rank and file of its constituents, which he sees as, primarily, the revelation the God of Love – as incarnated in the Person and Mission of Jesus Christ.

Following Speakers were also adamant that the Church needs to move more quickly into the acknowledgement of its own failure to respond to the justice issues of the world of today – most notably in the way in which young people respond to its institutional misogynistic  and homophobic attitudes in the wake of new public initiatives towards the marginalised of society. 

The urgency with which the Speakers, Interlocutors, Questioners and Debaters addressed the present malaise on justice issues within the Established Church of England, will alert those who love and cherish the place of the Church in modern life to our need for action.

I hope my Readers will take this opportunity to listen in the the Speakers and to the following debate – all very thought-provoking and necessary if the Church is to remain alive and relevant into the current millenium.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Giles Fraser – The Advent Message: God & Humanity

The whole point of Christianity is to create a deeper form of humanism

It seems that making the human stand out as morally particular requires some sort of leap of faith
Nativity, Barocci
‘Christmas Christianity insists that fully to imagine God is to imagine a human child.’ Nativity by Federico Barocci (1597). Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Christians make better humanists. That could be the top line of a report just out from the think tank Theos. And I suspect the timing – just in time for Christmas – is no coincidence. After all, the story of God becoming a human being is one of the deep wellsprings of European humanism. Instead of presenting us with a booming voice from the mountain top, or some universal expression of cosmic power, Christmas Christianity insists that fully to imagine God is to imagine a human child – little, weak and helpless.

Two thousand years later, when all the misleading tinsel has been pushed aside, it remains a shockingly subversive message. God is not to be discovered beyond Orion’s belt but down on Earth. Early cosmologists looked into the sky for clues to the whereabouts of God, but, incomprehensibly to them, the stars led towards a random shed on the back streets of a small town in the Middle East. From then on, think of God, think of a crying infant. Not a superhuman force, not even a human being enhanced by superhero-like powers, but a gurgling, pink and fleshy homo sapiens. It is the ultimate humanist narrative. Surely no abstract and intellectual deconstruction of divine power can possibly compete with the seditious thought of the need to change God’s nappy. It’s little wonder that many accused early Christianity of atheism.

It is true – and much to be regretted – that Christians have not always been convincing humanists. The catalogue of woe is long and depressingly familiar, from the way Christians have treated slaves, people of other faiths, women and homosexuals. In too many cases, religion has stood over and against human flourishing. Loyalty to God has meant disloyalty to being human. In such an ideology, it makes little difference whether or not human beings flourish as a consequence of faith: if God orders it, we must obey. Well, if that’s the choice, count me out of the whole religion thing.

But, properly understood, these denigrations of the human should be just as much an affront to Christian values. “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” is how Jesus expresses his mission in St John’s gospel. “The glory of God is a human being fully alive,” wrote Irenaeus in the second century. In other words, the point of Christianity is to generate a deeper form of humanism.

Indeed, the fascinating question posed by Theos is whether an entirely atheistic form of humanism has the resources to sustain itself. If the foundational story of human origins is not that we are chosen by God but that we are descended from apes, what is it that makes human beings morally distinctive? Yes, of course I think Darwin was correct scientifically – but, as a story of human origins, evolution hardly encourages us to think of human beings as being unique as a species. Indeed, Darwin’s point is precisely the opposite. So how does humanism generate a sense of the human as being uniquely valuable? Some may say because we are rational. But are rational people more morally valuable than irrational ones? Surely not. No, it seems that making the human stand out as morally particular requires some sort of leap of faith.

That’s why some of the most ardent atheists have rejected humanism altogether. For instance, the 19th-century French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon insisted that “humanism is a religion as detestable as any of the theisms of ancient origin” and that it was necessary to reject humanism because it tended “invincibly, by the deification of humanity, to a religious restoration”. And I kind of agree with him. Humanism sits more comfortably with religion than with atheism.

Perhaps this is why atheists are not always at the forefront of defending human life when it comes up against other values such as choice. In a whole range of debates from abortion to assisted dying, the moral category of choice is often regarded as trumping the moral category of humanity. And it is surely problematic to call this humanism – if by humanism we mean that the human is something morally superior to all other categories. Which is why many of us find a more robust form of humanism at the side of a 2,000-year-old crib.


Incarnational Christian theology has a most inspirational advocate in Fr. Giles Fraser – former Chancellor  of St. Paul’s Cathedral; former Vicar of St. Mary’s, Putney; and now priest at St. Mary’s church, Newington, in the London diocese.

His distinctly Christian view here helps us to understand the true value of the historical Incarnation of Jesus in our assessment of the centrality of God in our human situations of life. The ‘Jesus Event’ – pivotal to our understanding of God ‘s identification with every single human being born into the world – uniquely proclaims the fundamental relationship of the Creator to the creation: Jesus, conceived and born of a human mother, sharing our common human nature – and yet of a divine providence, capable of expressing God in human form; subject to all the vulnerability that this represented.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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The ABC Speaks to The House of Lords – re ‘Soft Power’

Archbishop of Canterbury’s House of Lords soft power debate opening speech

Posted on: December 5, 2014 2:39 PM

Abp Welby: “The Anglican Communion enables better communication of information than anything that can be arranged through government agencies, but it does it with an end of blessing rather than advantage.”
Related Categories: Abp Welby, Europe and Middle East

Below is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s opening speech in the House of Lords debate he is leading today on the role of soft power and non-military options in preventing conflict. 

My Lords, I am most grateful for the opportunity to introduce this debate on a subject of great importance to the role of the United Kingdom in a world increasingly characterised by conflicting values which end in violence. I am particularly grateful for the interest shown by so many here today and to those Noble Lords who have put their names down to speak and I look forward very much to hearing them.

It is perhaps appropriate to remember that it is, I believe, a year to the day since the death of  Nelson Mandela, and there you have an illustration of soft power executed through virtue (something to which I would not claim) but nevertheless demonstrates the potential impact of great figures in changing history.

There have been two particularly significant aspects my own preparation today. The first has been to read the report of the Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influencefor session 2013/2014 entitled, ‘Persuasion and power in the modern world, published at the end of March 2014, and the second has been the experience since April 2013 of travelling with my wife to all 37 other Provinces of the Anglican Communion. One of the most difficult and dangerous was finished last week when I was in Edinburgh. [Laughter]

The Select Committee report was the result of significant evidence taking and much reflection by a remarkably experienced and expert number of your Lordships’ House. Particular tribute should be paid to Lord Howell of Guildford, who chaired the committee. I was especially struck by three aspects.

First, the report makes it clear that there is no avoiding the need for the exercise of soft power, and in fact the exercise of hard power (from sanctions to the use of violence) is itself only effective as an addition to the impact of soft power. It is soft power in its many ramifications that makes it possible for this country to exert a benevolent and beneficial influence in the world around.

I saw an example of that when at the degree awards ceremony for Coventry University some two or three weeks ago, one of the best modern universities: 60 per cent of students were from overseas; they are a powerful source of earnings, and they will return home with a brilliant education and an exceptional experience of the UK, in most cases they will be our friends for life.

Secondly, the report points especially to the rapid increase in complexity and what it calls hypersensitivity in the modern world. There has been an introduction of information technology, with more than five billion mobile telephones around the world; we have the growth of access to the world-wide web, which means you can sit in Kaduna and look at what is happening in London, you can look at the shops in New York, you have access to cultural influences of the most extraordinary kind; and the possibilities of this both for governments and for non-state actors are ever more powerful with the advent of the sophistication of modern computers.

Thirdly, the report highlighted that power is in three levels, three dimensional chess they call it: at the top, force, in the middle economic actors, and at the third level civil society with NGOs (principally, of course – and I will return to this, as you might expect –  churches, the world’s greatest and most beneficial multinationals. I might declare an interest there).

Since the report was published, there has been added to the mix the recognition of international, and often religion-linked, terrorism and the growth of ISIS, of Boko Haram, Al Shabab and of numerous others. There is a continuity between the Select Committee report and the needs of a world in which international terror and localised conflict seem ever more dangerous.

The clear conclusion of the last few months of reflection on the advent of ISIS and of our renewed involvement in the use of armed force in Iraq, has been that this is an ideological, and even theological struggle principally, that cannot be won by violence but has to be by the development of a fresh narrative which provides a peaceful, humane, viable, motivating and effective alternative to the terrible visions of ISIS and Boko Haram, to violence in India, in Myanmar and in many other areas of the world, in which we have been recently.

Such a narrative will only be developed with soft power, in collaboration with allies and partners around the world. It is the only way of avoiding the alternative: a long descent into the dark and fear filled ways of anarchic, networked conflicts – perhaps never critical, but always a frightening and deeply draining demand.

The key institutions that are capable of exerting soft power for the common good of the countries with which we have contact (rather than merely to our own advantage) will be those that represent most adequately this generous hospitality that so characterises this country.

In 1867, in an inscription on the door of the 16th century, temporary but still existing Huguenot Chapel in Canterbury Cathedral – still used every Sunday by the French Reformed Church –  the author Samuel Smiles spoke of the history of the hospitality of church and nation to those in need. His words bear quoting. He says: “still that…eloquent memorial of the religious history of the middle ages survives, bearing testimony alike to the rancour of the persecutions abroad… the large and liberal spirit of the English church, and the glorious asylum which England has in all times given to foreigners flying for refuge against oppression and tyranny.”

In our 21st century, such a sentiment must still apply. My Lords, it is who we are.

Apart from the Church, those generous and hospitable institutions are listed in the Select Committee report. They include the BBC, the Commonwealth, DfID, the brilliant diplomats – often profoundly courageous – of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the armed services, the monarchy, the universities and so on. The common characteristic is clear British identity without being wrapped in the flag, a powerful ethos of service, and a self criticality. They are the institutions of the top level of power and of the bottom of the three dimensional chess board.

In the middle level – the economic – there is remarkable and frequently neglected potential, both of benefit to us and to those with whom we deal. In the 37 Anglican Communion Provinces we found that in the majority which are hit by war from fear or from economic under-development there is almost invariably a great desire for British presence, British presence especially in trade and investment, as well as in presence and engagement in other ways. We are much trusted, as the Select Committee report also shows, but little present and we seem in many places to have lost our nerve, commercially and in engagement. Others come in with more self interest and less ethics, and we seem far away, at a time when it is in our interest in terms of manufacturing and employment, and in the interest of those overseas, to have ethical, committed long-term economic partners.

Especially for the SME sector in this country, one that I grew to know well in Durham and in Liverpool, grossly under-supported, it comes down to simple measures recommended in the report like one stop shops for exports, good advice on agents, and reliable export finance. Many others provide this; we seem to find it difficult. All this lies within the grip of Government, and has done these 20 last years or more.

The institutions at all three levels that live out the narrative we need demonstrate how it is possible to operate internationally in a way that increases understanding and hence reduces the likelihood of armed conflict, while maintaining a generosity of spirit that enables those with whom we cooperate to maintain their autonomy, their independence and their self-respect. And we can do all that to mutual advantage.

This benefit is especially evident at present thought the commitment of the medical teams fighting Ebola who come with support from DFID and have set an example of courage and sacrifice that is drawing attention across the whole of West Africa. We cannot be anything but overwhelmed by what they are doing.

Following the election next year, it seems likely that there will be a Strategic Defence and Security Review that should consider both soft and hard power – not merely hard power. My Lords, I suggest that this is the moment for an exceptionally serious commitment to this review, and not merely using it as an adjunct as that of 2010, and that the seriousness should be especially in the interface between soft power and hard power.

The review should set out clearly the ways in which foreign policy will support and develop the generous hospitality of soft power, in particular in order to provide the convincing narrative of which I have spoken as an alternative to the malevolent and evil claims of violent religion, whether in the Middle East or elsewhere around the world, and secondly as a means of conflict mitigation and prevention.

The new narrative must operate at all three levels of power. It requires the next Strategic Defence and Security Review to involve a national debate that draws in all three levels, and enables us as a country to find afresh the vision of who we are. It cannot be simply an armed forces versus the Treasury rumble in the jungle of Whitehall, out of which emerges something unconnected to the vision of our role in the world.

An example of the nature of a good inclusive review brings in the questions of visas, the role of universities, the future of the BBC World Service and so forth. Visas were highlighted in the Select Committee report – and I mention them simply because everywhere we go the first thing anyone says to me is ‘visas’ and how difficult that system is. It was highlighted in the report that the apparently random and invariably extremely expensive way in which those coming here apply, or are refused, or are accepted is deeply damaging to the exercise of soft power.

You only have to look at the number of students coming from India, which has fallen precipitously. It appears that this policy is unconnected to our wider interests, and in my experience of more than 35 years of visiting Africa especially, that that has been true for much of that period.

At the third level there is, crucially, the use of intervention through reconciliation and mediation work, something that I have worked on for over 10 years, including in its economic and investment aspects, as well as the use of stronger levels of force at the early stages of development of conflict. It is both economically more effective than hard power, reconciliation and mediation, by several orders of magnitude, and in humanitarian terms transformative.

This reality is acknowledged in the Government’s 2010 Building Stability Overseas Strategy. Yet the application of this strategy in terms of developing the tools for intervention through reconciliation and mediation is still absent.

The exceptional skills and courage of the diplomatic service, which we have seen in our travels around the world, and the credibility of the BBC and the British Council, the Commonwealth and the extraordinary collaborative, autonomous but interdependent networks of the Anglican Communion provide unrivalled networks for conflict mitigation. Other countries look at them with envy and are unable to emulate them.

A clear policy for conflict mitigation is called for in any Strategic Defence and Security Review, and it will require investment. But when one considers the Institute for Economics and Peace research figure of violence containment costing up to $9.4 trillion dollars a year, the contrast is a stark one. Conflict prevention seems quite a good investment.

Coventry University is working with the Church of England on the Faith-Based Conflict Prevention Scoping Project, reflecting the reality that the church, the Anglican Communion globally, is consistently at the forefront of conflict prevention, above all currently in the Great Lakes of Africa, in the South Sudan and in the Central African Republic.

Standing by a mass grave that I had just consecrated for the bodies of clergy and lay leaders of Bor Cathedral, last January, and then hearing the Archbishop of the Sudan, whose home town it was, call for reconciliation, and to know that he is working with us on that now, was one of the most powerful moments of my life.

I might, if your Lordships will permit another slight dig, comment that the Anglican Communion, as far as my search and my reading found, was unmentioned in the otherwise excellent Select Committee report – I couldn’t find bishop, Archbishop, church, Church of England; which, as we are in 165 countries or more, far more than the Commonwealth, seems, if I may put it at its most polite, a little surprising. The Anglican Communion enables better communication of information than anything that can be arranged through government agencies, but it does it with an end of blessing rather than advantage.

Soft power is far cheaper to exercise than hard power. One day of deploying a battalion will cost more than years of conflict prevention work by NGOs. In the Other Place they are debating today a Bill to enshrine in law the 0.7 per cent of GDP target for overseas aid. This Government has, with strong cross-party support, superbly reached and maintained that target. It is not only right but it is also extremely cost effective in the best sense for deploying our values, for showing our generosity. And DFID is, incidentally, one of the world’s best agencies in this field.

My Lords, to conclude, I hope that in this debate we will see how the different strands of soft and hard power can be better combined, and there can be a clearer sense of the narrative which sustains this wonderful country, which has in the past given so much to the world when at its best, and has the potential to give even more, if the advantages of our history, the skills of our institutions and the courage of our people are combined with a clear aim in view.


“The Anglican Communion enables better communication of information than anything that can be arranged through government agencies, but it does it with an end of blessing rather than advantage.”

– The Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking to the House of Lords in the U.K. -

Let’s hope that the next world-wide communication from the Archbishop of Canterbury might inform that ‘larger world’ (than the British Commonwealth countries) of some real BLESSINGS, that can be shared with faithful, monogamous Same Sex Partners who desire the Church to recognise their fidelity in relationship . Now this really will be good news for the LBGT community – not only for Anglicans around the world but also for the whole of humanity.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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