The Archbishop of York has just done what so many of us have been looking for. As a senior church leader, he's has spoken of what it means to be English, in an open, embracing forward looking way, and has nailed the arguments of the BNP. Ruth Gledhill in her Times Articles of Faith blog has some comment and the full text,
and the Archbishops own site also has it here.
He goes right to the heart of the issues we face.
'Let us recognise collectively the enormous treasure that sits in our cultural and spiritual vaults. Let’s draw upon the riches of our heritage and find a sense of purpose for those who are thrashing around for meaning and settling for second best. Let us not forego our appreciation of an English identity for fear of upset or offence to those who claim such an identity has no place a multi-cultural society. Englishness is not diminished by newcomers who each bring with them a new strand to England’s fabric, rather Englishness is emboldened to grown anew. The truth is that an all embracing England, confident and hopeful in its own identity, is something to celebrate. Let us acknowledge and enjoy what we are.'
'Where there is no awareness of identity, there is a vacuum to be filled. Dissatisfaction with one’s heritage creates an opening for extremist ideologies. Whether it be the terror of salafi-jihadism or the insidious institutional racism of the British National Party, there are those who stand ready to fill the vacuum with a sanitised identity and twisted vision if the silent majority are reticent in holding back from forging a new identity. When hateful and vile slogans are shouted at returning soldiers as they march through our towns, Joe and Jane public should gather in large numbers to demonstrate peaceably that such bigotry has no place in England’s green and pleasant land. To be patriotic, is to appreciate and be grateful for all that is valuable in the country you live in. It does not require you to be a xenophobe or a blinkered nationalist.'
There is a lot of comment in the media already.
The Times leads with: John Sentamu lauds footballers for saving St George. Interestingly he looks positively on an issue that some of us would see negatively:
“Previously an icon of extreme nationalists, a sign of exclusion tinged with racism, the flag of St George instead became a unifying symbol for a country caught up in the hopes of 11 men kicking a ball around a field,” said Sentamu.My image of those same supporters is making a nuisance of themselves in Turkey and places like that. But there are always tow ways of seeing things. It continues to pick up on live issues:
The archbishop, the most senior black Anglican and the second most senior bishop, went on to argue that the same sort of pride “was again at work on the day that it was announced that the Olympics would be coming to London in 2012”. He asked: “Has the time come to make the feast of St George, the patron saint of England, a public holiday?” St George’s day is April 23. Sentamu warned that it was vital for the country to find a sense of identity in its largely Christian history using symbols such as St George. ..By contrast the Telegraph says: Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu calls for St George's Day to be a national holiday and majors on plans by the government to identify common values. It quotes Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks :
However, Sir Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, bemoaned the lack of ritual and said that plans for a list of values, as suggested by Gordon Brown, would not restore a sense of national identity. Speaking in a Radio 4 programme, called Britishness, to be broadcast on Tuesday, Sir Jonathan said: "We don't have inaugural addresses. We don't have moments where we celebrate Britishness. "We don't have enough ritual. Look at the way a religious tradition inculucates values. It doesn't do so by setting them out on a single sheet of paper to be committed to memory by kids in schools. "It does it by rituals and festivals and special days. We have underritualised our national life."
Jack Straw, the justice minister, has been asked to prepare "a statement
of British values" for everyone to learn by heart, but Cardinal Cormac
Murphy-O'Connor argued that this would not create a sense of unity. "I think there's too much jargon about values," the leader of
Catholics in England and Wales said in the BBC programme" I don't think they are enough to bind people together. Values are your
ideals things that you live by which are not necessarily shared by everybody."He argued that instead an emphasis should be placed on virtues, which could
enable people to grow within a community.
Going back to Ruth Gledhill. She asks: "My only puzzlement rests in the question of why it still takes a bishop born in Uganda to tell us what we should not need telling, but do." But is it not the case that it is always harder to speak of one's self (especially with our own national characteristics he has told us we have!) than to be told by someone else. The Archbishop is African, yet has lived here for many years and regularly walks in the very heartlands of Englishness. Yet he is also very self aware, and so able to speak from all sides.
I will look at some of Sentamu's aspects of Englishness another day.