Yes, the church is hyp­o­crit­i­cal. But self-de­cep­tion is far worse

The Observer - - Comment & Analysis -

So, the Church of Eng­land is a nest of hyp­ocrites. Well, I’ll be damned.

The arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury, Justin Welby, went to the Trades Union Congress to de­nounce Ama­zon for avoid­ing taxes and to brand zero-hours con­tracts as “evil”, only to discover that the church has huge in­vest­ments in Ama­zon and his own cathe­drals ad­ver­tise for zero-hours posts. If only he’d read Matthew 6:1: “Beware of prac­tis­ing your right­eous­ness be­fore other peo­ple in or­der to be seen by them, for then you will have no re­ward from your Fa­ther who is in heaven.”

I’m al­ways wary, though, of those who make too much of hypocrisy. Some forms of hypocrisy are un­avoid­able, both in pri­vate and in pub­lic life. To pre­tend we can live our lives with­out hypocrisy and con­tra­dic­tion is it­self a form of de­cep­tion.

The charge of hypocrisy is also of­ten a means of de­flect­ing from the real is­sues. Many de­nounc­ing Welby’s hypocrisy are more con­cerned about his cri­tique of Ama­zon than about the church’s em­ploy­ment or in­vest­ment prac­tices. And cru­sades to ex­pose hypocrisy can be worse than the hypocrisy it­self. Bet­ter, as David Runci­man ob­served in his book,

Po­lit­i­cal Hypocrisy, to dis­tin­guish be­tween be­nign and ma­lign forms.

So, what of the Church of Eng­land’s hypocrisy? If, as an in­sti­tu­tion, you in­sist on lay­ing down moral lines to the na­tion, it helps not to con­stantly ig­nore them.

The church, how­ever, did not sim­ply trans­gress its lines – it tried to jus­tify its hypocrisy, in­sist­ing that “it is most ef­fec­tive to be in the room with these com­pa­nies seek­ing change as a share­holder”. Yes, I’m sure a Justin Welby ser­mon is all it needs to make Ama­zon’s Jeff Be­zos see the er­ror of his ways.

The re­sponse was at best self­de­cep­tion, at worst du­plic­ity. It ex­posed an in­sti­tu­tion that cares more about moral­is­ing than it does about moral­ity. “Beware of the teach­ers of the law who like to walk around in long robes.” (Mark 12:38)

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