The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Walking the Way: Charles Gore, Liberal Anglo-Catholicism and Social Justice

[My talk this morning at Grace Church was not a sermon, so these bullet-pointed notes don't accurately reflect what I in fact said. Some subjects I compressed, some I expanded, some I deleted. Still, it's a pretty good précis of what I was prepared to cover, if not how it actually turned out. Many thanks to Grace Church and especially Nicholas Birns for having me to speak.]

1. We live in an era where the disputes within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion worldwide have led to a series of confrontations—lawsuits between parishes and dioceses, between dioceses and the national Episcopal Church,--and between provinces of the Communion over who’s is, who’s out; who’s orthodox, who’s not.

2. These disputes often turn on what is the “Faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude1:3)—or, more prosaically, what is “real” Christian teaching. But what is real Christian teaching? In Anglicanism, we look to three hallmarks—Cripture, tradition, and reason. In the disputes that have riven the Anglican Communion, we have often posited these conflicts as whether traditional interpretations should prevail over those guided by reason—reason as informed by increased scientific data and understanding. We have too often assumed that “tradition” is univocal, and supports retaining older understandings of scripture against new data.

3. But I’d like to posit a broader understanding of tradition, and to remind you of the Anglican tradition of changing our practice and our understanding of orthodoxy to incorporate the best understanding of new data.

4. To do that, I’d like to offer you the example of a “traitor to his class” even more overt than Franklin Roosevelt, Charles Gore (1853-1932), the nephew of one Earl (4th Arran) and the grandson of another (4th Bessborough) who was first Bishop of Worcester (1902-1905), Birmingham (1905-1911) and then of Oxford (1911-1919).

5. In an age where the nobility clung to its privileges—that last era where those privileges were unquestioned, Charles Gore was a scholar who reconciled Darwin and Genesis in an era where these were thought to be in deadly opposition, who became a supporter of the trades union movement while a student at Oxford, and a bishop who preached the importance of Christian socialism.

6. As a clergyman, Gore affiliated himself with the Oxford Movement, the original, conservative impetus of which was dying out after John Henry Newman, its greatest leader in the first generation, converted to Roman Catholicism. Newman’s old friends became more reactionary after his departure, and the young, charismatic Gore was named the first principal of Pusey House, an educational and religious institution intended to carry on the work of the Oxford Movement. Gore did so, but in a new, liberalized spirit, embracing science, political reform and, most of all, a fundamental commitment to what he called the Way—an approach that integrated Christian belief, including belief in the equality of all human beings and their fundamental dignity as children of God, from which stemmed his unswerving belief in the importance of each individual soul following its own light, in understanding the Gospel as not threatened by scientific understanding, and in the importance of social justice, labor unions.

7. That sounds, to modern ears, not very much. But in England in Gore’s youth, trade unions (let alone combinations of industrial workers were of dubious legality; under the 1825 Combination Act, a criminal combination in restraint of trade collective bargaining was defined so as to exclude combinations, whether of employers or of employed for the fixing of wages and hours. Unions could not hold property, or even enforce their agreements without possibly falling afoul of the Act. After a series of judicial decisions which contradicted each other in the strictness with which the 1825 Act was construed, a royal commission on trade societies was appointed in 1869. The Trade Union Act of 1871 legislatively overruled these decisions, but was combined with a Criminal Law Amendment Act which had the effect of “”under the specious guise of protecting public rights prohibited all incidents of effective combination.” In 1875 this act was repealed, and the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act finally legalized peaceful picketing and laid down that a combination of persons concerned in a trade dispute might lawfully do any act which was not punishable if committed by one person acting alone. he Employers and Workmen Act 1875 modified the old Master and Servant Law so that employers too could be sued for breach of contract. The 1874 Factory Act set a ten-hour limit on the working day - the unions were campaigning for eight. Even through the 1880s and 90s and into the first decade of the 20th Century, industrial Unionism was extremely controversial, as strikes by matchgirls (1888) and gas workers and dock workers (1889) brought led employers to increasingly harsh tactics, including in 1900 when the Taff Vale Railway Co. successfully sued the Amalgamated Soc’y of Railway Servants for economic losses caused by a strike—which bid fair to cripple the union movement in the UK altogether, until the decisions’ legislative repeal in the Trade Disputes Act of 1906.

8. It was in this period of tumult that Gore first came out as an advocate for the rights of labor. In 1889, heh helped to found the Christian Social Union (he was one of the two Vice-Presidents), dedicated to promoting the view that Christian principles as applied to the political and economic organization of society demanded reform along trade-unionist and moderate socialist lines. His political views aroused public protest.

9. If you’ve read Bernard Shaw’s play Candida, the Rev. James Mavor Morrell owes many of his attitudes to Gore, and much of his personality to his more flamboyant friend Henry Scott Holland, who helped him launch the Second Oxford Movement as it has come to be called, with the publication of Lux Mundi: A Series of Studies in the Religion of the Incarnation in 1889. Lux Mundi consists of a series of essays about various aspects of Christian theology by various members of Gore’s spiritual circle, but while each essay reflects the style and thought of the individual author, the authors’ “unity of conviction has enabled us freely to offer and accept mutual criticism and suggestion; so that, without each of us professing such responsibility for work other than his own, as would have involved undue interference with individual method, we do desire this volume to be the expression of a common mind and a common hope.”

10. In Lux Mundi, the two most controversial essays were Gore’s own exploration of the kenotic theory of the Incarnation—his view, now widely accepted in Anglican and even Catholic theology, that the earthly Jesus did not have the omniscience and omnipotence of God, that in being fully human, Christ emptied himself of those attributes of divinity, and Henry Scott Holland’s embrace in his essay on Faith of what he called “the wonders of Evolution” and of scientific inquiry in general. But not far behind these two essays were Robert Lawrence Ottley’s (principal of Cuddleston (theological) College) essay on Christian Ethics. His general theme was unobjectionable”[t]o Christianity, . . . each individual personality is an end in itself. Each has a right to moral education; each was called into being . . . that it might fulfill good works prepared specially for it, and correspond with its own separate ideal.”
11. But then in his Appendix on Christian Duty Ottley becomes distressingly specific:
To reason rightly on social problems, we must ever have regard to personality. For ethical purposes the abstract terms Capital, Labour, Production, Wealth, etc., must be replaced by personal terms, Employer, Employee, Producer, Man of Wealth, etc. Our problem is how to supersede the technical and legal relation by the personal. It is thus a matter of Christian concern (to suggest mere examples) that workers should attain to the possibility of free self -development : healthy conditions of work, the enjoyment of domestic life, security of maintenance, perhaps permanence of contract, opportunities of recreation and culture, every thing, in fact, which will give them fair chance of healthful and worthy human life. Christianity can be content with nothing short of this. On the other hand duties call for notice. Modern capitalists form a class whose responsibilities it is difficult adequately to measure. The general principle, however, is easily repeated : that it is the duty of the wealthy, or those who employ workers, to respect the personality of their employees, to treat them not as machines, but as men. Thomas Carlyle well describes the aim that should guide this influential class : 'to be a noble master among noble workers, the first ambition : to be a rich master, only the second.' Industrial development indeed brings into prominence many questions of duty and right, which can be solved only by deeper apprehension of the Christian standpoint : and of ' morality as an industrial force: ' for the ties which bind men in the relation of brotherhood and sonhood are the noblest and strongest
12. In Gore’s own writings, his love of sacramental religion and orthodoxy in questions of dogma is not inconsistent from but rather strengthens his fervent opposition to the abuses of the disadvantaged; he also championed the obligation of each soul to find truth for herself or himself.

13. In the wake of the World War I, the faith of many in organized religion was shaken, not unlike in our own time. The Victorian paradigm, in which humankind was on an ever-ascending journey toward perfection—so typical that John Galsworthy’s “Man of Property” could quote Coue’s slogan, “every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better”—was shattered. So in his late 60s, he could begin, and complete in his early 70s, his three volume work The Reconstruction of Belief, a sustained analysis of core Christian teaching, one which proceeds on the basis that one cannot “reason in chains”, by which he means that reasoning toward a predetermined outcome is worthless—if you cannot in good conscience accept the teaching of the Church, than you must accept that fact.

14. However, he emphasized, you should understanding what it is you are accepting or rejecting. So the Creeds are not a statement of all we need to know about Jesus to be good Christians; they are a road ma away from the ancient heresies that would favor his human over his divine nature or the orther way around. In another book, Roman Catholic Claims, he points out that the problem of the heresies is not that they are entirely false; it’s that they use a true insight into Christ—he was fully man, say, in the case of, and then use logic to disclaim other truths that are in tension with the one truth they had grasped. The result: Arianism, which holds so fast to Christ’s humanity that it has no room for his divinity. Gore valued reason, but not logic-chopping. And oversimplification of complex phenomena was abhorrent to him. Not “either or”, he argues, time and again, but AND.

15. In The Recosntruction of Belief, the completed three volume work, he rejected the notion model of laissez-faire economic, sardonically writing that “[i]t must have been expressed originally in sublime unconsciousness that the whole industrial system, then in its glory, had been built up on a basis of profound revolt against the central law of Christian morality, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ There are few things in history more astonishing than the silent acquiescence of the Christian world in the radical betrayal of its ethical foundation.”

16. Gore firmly held that “the meaning of Church authority in doctrinal matters can never be understood till it is the life and not the doctrine which is put into the first place.” In other words, the Way, the “life of brotherhood”, “self-surrender, self denial, equality” above all else.

17. The climax of Gore’s leadership of the Anglo-Catholic Movement may be said to have been the first Anglo-Catholic Conference in 1920, when the newly retired bishop led the last panel of the international conference of self-identified bishops, clergy and laypersons within the Anglican Communion identifying as “Catholic.” Typically, Gore’s panel concerned itself with “The Church and Social and Industrial Problems.” He invited onto the panel with him G.K. Chesterton (not yet a convert to Roman Catholicism at that time) and a local union leader, listed in the report of the Conference only as “Mr. A. Moore.” Gore in his remarks described the “great revolt embodied in the Labour Movement” as “against the hideous injustice in principle as well as in practice of our whole commercial and industrial system. It id declared to violate humanity—the root principal of brotherhood, that is the principal of equal God-given right of every human being born into the world to have a fair chance to make the most of himself or herself. The cry of this revolt is, ‘Not charity, but justice.” Now this revolt I believe to be absolutely justified and rooted in the principles of Christ.”

18. Gore’s belief in the Way, and in the justice of labor’s right to be heard at the table is a reminder that a belief in labor’s right to a a voice in the ordering of the workplace is not simply predicated on pragmatism, or economic efficiency, or even in averting the harms caused by workplace disputes, but has its origins at a deeper level, in the simple justice that declares all human beings equal, and oppression of anyone for economic gain is a violation of that fundamental assumption on which the Declaration of Independence is grounded: that we are all created equal. One need not be a Christian, or even a theist, to follow Gore there; although Gore drank from the same stream that led Martin Luther King to support the workers of AFSCME Local 1722, the Founders reached the same general principle from Enlightenment Thought. But Gore overcame the blinkers so often fastened on those whose background is privileged to reach the conclusion so many have lost sight of today: That labor rights are human rights.

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