Latest Rector’s Letter

The New Tribalism.

My dear friends.
Some of us may remember the troubling days when it was apparently acceptable for a sign outside a pub or a boarding house to say ‘no dogs, no blacks, no Irish’.
To our modern minds, such prejudice can seem pretty shocking. In fact, I like to think that to a great many good and broad-minded people, such sentiments were shocking even in the 1960s. Thankfully those memories are just that, memories of a past that have now rightly and thankfully slid away and disappeared below the horizon. It may therefore come as some surprise in our liberal and multicultural society that there is growing evidence that over the last fifty years we have become demonstrably a less tolerant, less accepting, and less generous society towards those who think differently from ourselves.
In one piece of research it was discovered that in 1960 only one in twenty parents would be unhappy if their child were to marry someone of a different political persuasion from their own. I suppose such was the case in my own family. Politically, my father was a Daily Mail Tory, my mother was an unreformed Labour socialist; it was no big
deal. But there is growing evidence that this would not be the case today. The research suggests that by 2010 a half of all parents said they would be unhappy if their children were to choose partners of a different political persuasion from their own.
A few examples: on social media we can unconsciously surround ourselves by politically like-minded friends. Indeed, we may be tempted to ‘unfriend’ ourselves from those whose political and social opinions we disagree with or perhaps even find distasteful.
Universities, which should be places of debate and robust argument are increasingly pressurised to ‘no platform’ public speakers whose political ideologies the staff or student body disagree with. In the Church, the Suffragan Bishop of Burnley, Philip North, was recently appointed to the senior post of Diocesan Bishop of Sheffield. Bishop
Philip is a traditionalist and represents a dissenting position on women priests. The furore that followed the announcement of his appointment led to his withdrawal – despite the fact that he received almost universal support from women bishops who had worked with him and the many women priests who had served under his oversight.
The early church was a diverse body comprised of political zealots and quisling tax collectors, religious pharisees and prostitutes from the streets, covenantal Jews and Greek foreigners, men and women, traditionalists and radicals. When they decided what it was to be a Christian, they didn’t talk about sexual preference or political ideology.
We, as a people, decided that as long as we hold to a core faith in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the rest is just acceptable diversity. In a time when politics is becoming increasingly divisive, and when some shrill voices in the church are dividing over secondary issues of sexuality or gender we, as Christians, have a duty to speak out for
how it is possible to live together in harmony and difference.
Otherwise, I fear we have the capacity as a society to descend into a new tribalism. We live in a more dangerous world when we don’t know how to disagree and still love one another.

Jeff Cuttell.
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