Be Bold and Outspoken – John Major

16th May 2022

Former PM John Major said the church should be bold in its actions and outspoken in its concerns.

And he urged the Church to be the voice of the poor, the oppressed, the weak and the voiceless, and speak out against the glaring inequalities in our communities despite opposition from the Government and beyond.

Sir John was the opening speaker to 350-plus delegates from cathedrals across England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland who had gathered in Newcastle Cathedral for the second National Cathedrals Conference called: Different Country, Different Church.

His speech explored the opportunities for Church and for Government, his fear for the current climate emergency, the impact of Brexit and Covid, both its cost ,and in the long term, and offered his hopes for the future.

He used his speech to argue that the Government should rethink its policy on Rwanda, that there should be a public inquiry into its handling of the Covid crisis within the life of this current parliament, and that more was needed to be done to ensure a levelling up on the serious inequalities in the UK, that there had been no “trickle down” effect and that the Government should find help immediately for those “many people who will be unable to meet the bills that lie ahead.

He said:

“You will all remember the “key” workers, for whom we stood applauding on our doorsteps during the Covid crisis. They were mostly poorly paid. There was no “trickle down” to them – and yet it was they upon whom we relied in a crisis. 

“Our values need “Levelling Up” as well as our communities,’ he added.

And he said that if the Government helped those who would not be able to pay their bills, they would win back trust and respect.

On the church, he was adamant its voice should be heard especially in a society which was drifting towards secularity:

“Some argue that the Church should “keep out of politics”…..Is not poverty about politics? 

“And, if any part of our nation is lost or forgotten by authority, then surely the Church should be a voice for the weak and the voiceless. 

“Should we stand by silently when vile opinion is lauded; when truth is disposable: when authority is mocked; when tradition is trashed, when bad men hold sway in many countries? 

I think not. It may be unfashionable to speak of values, but it should not be. They should never be cast aside. 

“Our churches today may be fewer in number, and less full than in years past, but their pulpits still have a distinctive voice. Millions of people wish to hear that voice used loudly, clearly, and often – either to uplift hearts and smooth away despair or, where necessary, to speak out on issues that depress or oppress our fellow citizens. 

“What we are as a nation, and what we stand for, is a legitimate issue for the voice of the Church to be heard, and that voice must carry to the faithless as well as the faithful,’ he added.

He argued that it was not fair for parishes to bear the lion’s share of the cost of maintaining our churches (“this huge community asset”) pointing out that the CoE was responsible for no less than 45 per cent of our architectural and cultural heritage.

And on Brexit, Sir John said that Brexit had not presented Britain’s best face to the world:

“Brexit divided our four nations and our politics, as well as family from family, and friend from friend. If Scotland and Northern Ireland secede from the UK, Brexit must bear a part of that blame. “

And while he acknowledged the way that the Government had acted boldly during the pandemic with furlough payments and the vaccine roll-out, he said valid questions remained to be answered.

Sir John closed his speech by praising the advances in medical science and by sharing his two hopes for the future: young people and the rise of women to prominence in nearly every field of endeavour.

He concluded his speech with these words:

“Both our Country and our Church are more precious to our very being than most either acknowledge or realise. 

Are they “Different” now than in the past? Yes. Will they be “Different” in the future? Of course. For – as the world around us changes – so, too, will they. 

But our Country and our Church are eternal. And my hope is they will always remain shining beacons of goodness and decency in a world that – at the moment – is badly in need of both.”

Different Country Different Church, Second National Cathedrals Conference, Newcastle Cathedral, May 16 – May 19

You can read Sir John’s speech in full here.

Watch out for Sir John’s speech in full on our YouTube Channel shortly.

All the news from the National Cathedrals Conference can be found here.