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Work is serious, he says. So should the Church | Opinion

The first clue to emerge from our new Labour government is that it is serious. The adults are said to have returned to peace, led by the calm and sensible Keir Starmer, “unburdened by doctrine,” he says, treading lightly in our lives and always putting country before party interests.

The purpose of this piety, which really means nothing when it is undermined, is to separate the new administration from the last 14 years of Tory “chaos” – the slogan that carried Labour through the election campaign to victory.

Like Tony Blair before him, Starmer exudes an aura of serious competence, in contrast to what Labour would have us see as an essentially trivial and childish Conservative regime. This is unfair, not least because Rishi Sunak is a serious and significant person.

It was Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss who destroyed the Conservatives’ reputation for seriousness by presenting performances straight out of the pantomime tradition.

The idea that only what we think now counts is a consequence of the attack on tradition

As with Blair, the image of the serious man can stick. And if it sticks long enough, it can become the zeitgeist. Cultural history may record that the chaotic and clownish Conservatives have been replaced by serious and stable Socialists.

The mood of our times, perhaps from now until the mid-2030s—and perhaps even beyond, if we don’t reintroduce clowns—could be defined by one word: “serious.” It may not be very funny, but neither was Partygate or mini-budget.

A serious mission

The question arises as to how seriousness might affect other areas of our lives beyond politics. I have a particular interest in our national religious life, with particular reference to our established Anglican Church and other Christian denominations.

Starmer says he is an atheist. Probably a serious one (imagine him saying he hasn’t really thought about it – no, I can’t either). But he did say in an interview with this magazine that he wants to bring the churches into his mission of national renewal.

If this is to be the case, then our church must also be serious. Isn’t it already? No, not really. Too much time and attention is given to whether same-sex unions can be blessed in the church; too little is given to how we love our neighbors and serve the poor and marginalized.

If we are to be taken seriously, seriously enough to play a serious role in Starmer’s serious age, then we will have to rise to the occasion. That will mean emerging from an era of grotesque abuse of the vulnerable with a sense of public service that this new government has claimed as its own, with crystal clear social and economic priorities.

Liberal nonsense

Anglicans and Roman Catholics should have all of this in abundance. But too many of us do not. The dividing line, it is sad to say, is liberalism, where faith percolates into nonsense.

I hate to say that, because I would consider myself a liberal Catholic (that is, an Anglo-Catholic). The problem is that theological liberalism has come to mean, well, whatever you want it to mean, except for critical reasons. Now it has become something more than an attempt to be a little nice.

It’s a shock to wake up and realize, as I do, that you are a social conservative – for the family as the social basis; against assisted suicide and euthanasia, and against the loss of social significance of biological sex – but in favor of a socio-market economy. Following the example of Chancellor Angela Merkel, I would become a Christian Democrat in a heartbeat.

If we want to be taken seriously, we have to rise to the occasion

There is both a political and a religious orthodoxy here. Political because Christian Democracy, unlike Starmer, is burdened by doctrine. And a religious orthodoxy too, because it is rooted in the biblical law of the Beatitudes and the revolution in human worth that they heralded.

Bad word

Like orthodoxy, tradition has become a dirty word in the liberal hegemony, associated with liturgical obsessions. They overshadow the accumulated and lived experience of believers over the past two millennia. The idea that what we think now is all that matters is a consequence of the attack on tradition, which can celebrate the social gospel and ministry over the arcane vestments and orders of service.

Ultimately, it will be a question of who we are as a church. The choice is between a weakening social function and a cohesive people who speak truth to power, enable service, and believe that the weak have equal value to the wealthy and powerful.

If that’s a manifesto that matches Starmer’s, then count me in. But if today’s students are to stand up and be counted, it’s not about simply demanding to be taken seriously. We also need to offer a serious vision of the future to which people of faith can contribute.