Friday, September 26, 2008

26 September 2008: Sentamu

Meant to mention this earlier in the week (ie when it was news) but didn't have time given the pressures of creating training materials for URM, along with the continued excitement of Plymouth Argyle's winning streak (now standing at 2 (two) games) and my dad jeopardising his forthcoming visit to Kokomo by developing a kidney stone. Anyway, here it is now...

John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, made a speech to a bunch of bankers telling them that the City was populated with "bank robbers and asset strippers". Naturally, the beardy one joined in with his own condemnation (also reported in that first link) and that was that, cat firmly among the pigeons.

The reactions were unsurprisingly unsurprising. The BBC did a 'Have Your Say' page about it where ordinary web folk largely called the C of E hypocritical when for hundreds of years it sold pew season tickets, 'prime' burial spots in the crypt and the like, and even now 'it' has lots of money (although remember, there's not much of an 'it', each church is technically independent and legally even the building is 'owned' by whomever happens to have the keys, usually the vicar). The Financial Times chimed in, saying the bishops don't know what they're talking about and that short selling is a darn fine thing, don't ya know. And so the debate raged for, ooo, minutes, until the media started talking about the bail-out thing over here in the US instead.

But the thing that interested me most was a statement Sentamu made towards the bottom of the article:

"One of the ironies about this financial crisis is that it makes action on poverty look utterly achievable. It would cost $5bn (£2.7bn) to save six million children's lives. World leaders could find 140 times that amount for the banking system in a week. How can they tell us that action for the poorest is too expensive?"


And while fiscal experts and free-market debaters continue to discuss the relative importance of a stable economic climate (the standard response to such a statement), Sentamu's stance rings true on two levels: firstly, at a 'mood of the people' level, average folks who aren't part of the system but who are currently struggling to buy rice or sell a house are going to say 'hm, he's got a point', even though their personal struggles will take priority; secondly, we remember events like Live8 and the ONE campaign when we learned that there is an issue out there of unpayable third-world debt, where those debts simply now serve as a means of controlling the poorest countries and building what still amounts to little more than slave labour. Governments talk the talk and walk a little walk often - the usual 'it's complex but tell ya what, we'll double our aid to fifteen quid a year' . But then this happens and you go 'oh, so they do have lots of money', and no matter how much debate comes up as to context, the figures that Sentamu gives just look flat-out awful.

Of course, I'm a little biased. John Sentamu was the Bishop of Stepney (technically the boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Islington) when I was living in London and doing the Anglican thing at various churches. From time to time he'd show up in his blue Beetle car, huge smile, and he'd thoroughly enjoy doing the bishopy-thing at any service where he was present. He'd jump in the air and stand on pews to ensure that people in the gallery would get sprinkled with the holy water shaker thing he had, and he'd preach sermons that were somehow both relevant and timeless. He was famous for putting his reputation where his mouth was - he had a major role in the Stephen Lawrence enquiry - and it was no surprise when he was promoted first to oversee Birmingham and then to the second-highest episcopal post in the country, Archbishop of York, from where he has the position to say what needs to be said without the 'need to please everyone' demand of the Canterbury position.

Most of all, I liked the fact that he actually remembered me whenever he'd show up - he'd ask about my forthcoming round-the-world trip or how the music was going. He expressed surprise once on seeing me at St Stephen's up in Canonbury, given that he'd previously known me from a couple of other churches down in Hoxton (where he'd often voice support for Len's work doing all those jumble sales). He always seemed to be a very genuine, passionate man who cared a lot about the people - and their issues - in a rough part of London.

And is he qualified to talk on big matters? Well, let's not forget he's actually Dr John Sentamu, holding three degrees including a PhD from Cambridge, and before that he was a High Court lawyer in his native Uganda, where he was imprisoned and beaten for being willing to stand up to Idi Amin, before fleeing to the UK. He was a parish vicar and canon - actually based in Brixton at the same time as my dad was running the Methodist church down there - and he's been willing to jump out of a plane at 13,000 ft to raise funds for soldiers injured in Afghanistan. So he's been around, and has a little wisdom to match the passion he likes to show, so at the very least he's worth a listen. Whether anything happens as a result is, of course, another question entirely.

Meantime Rob tells me he's started blogging again, and actually got his version of this story up a couple of days ago. Sigh. On the upside, it's meant I've discovered that Casting Crowns are going to put out a Christmas album and Ubuntu is the new Fedora. Now, what odds can I get on Rob becoming Archbishop of York one day...?

1 comment:

Becky said...

I don't know ... I go away for a week and you blog not once but twice! Interesting stuff about Sentamu - certainly puts a few things in persective.