The leaders of the Church of England have urged the public to “leave their echo chambers” during the general election campaign in an effort to understand those with whom they disagree.
The archbishops of Canterbury and York released a message on Tuesday, saying voters, campaigners and candidates “have a responsibility to speak accurately, to challenge falsehoods when we hear them, and to be careful to separate facts from opinion”.
The message, intended to be shared in churches across the country, reminds people of their “democratic duty to vote”, saying “it is time to put aside apathy and cynicism”.
Justin Welby and John Sentamu said: “Offering facts and opinions should be done with humility and in love. People who hold different political views are not our enemies. Two people can look at the same facts and in good faith interpret them very differently. Issues need to be debated respectfully, and without resorting to personal abuse.
“We should engage responsibly, especially on social media. If we leave our echo-chambers and make a conscious effort to listen to people and ideas we disagree with it will help us understand where others are coming from in this election period, even though we may disagree vehemently.
“As Christians, in recognising God’s image in others who are not in our own image, we can start to build relationships that bridge political divides.”
The archbishops also said that political leaders “face huge responsibilities and challenges, and these come with personal sacrifices too”.
They called on candidates “to reject the language of prejudice and not to stoke stigma or hatred towards people on the grounds of their religion, their culture, their origin, their identity or their belief.
“Several groups, especially in Jewish and Muslim communities, feel threatened and are in much anxiety … Parties must make it an absolute priority to offer positive reassurance and avoid anything that increases the perception of fear.”
Saying they will pray for debates that “seek to unite rather than divide” and rebuild trust in politics and institutions, the church leaders added that the “vulnerable and those on the edges of society” must come first.
“Taking part in a democracy is a privilege and a responsibility, so let us be guided by a love for our neighbours, near and far, and seek that common good that truly benefits us all,” they said.
“That includes justice for the oppressed, protection for the persecuted, and a commitment to combat climate change and adapt to its effects. It also includes a just economic system, open and encouraging to aspiration and ambition, supportive of those who struggle.”
Main image copyright: Christopher Furlong/Getty
Written by: Harriet Sherwood
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