Yes, the church is hypocritical. But self-deception is far worse – Kenan Malik
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 self-deception, 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.”