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Global politics has gone mad, former archbishop of Canterbury tells Belsize Park church audience

Dr Williams said Ken Loach's new film 'I, Daniel Blake' was 'prophetic'

17 November, 2016 — By Ella Jessel

Dr Rowan Williams in Belsize Park

FORMER Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said he was struggling to see the “sanity” in global politics as he delivered a lecture on ethics at a Belsize Park church.

The pews of St Peter’s, in Belsize Square, were packed to hear Dr Williams talk about German theologian and anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Opening his lecture last Wednesday – as Donald Trump was confirmed as the winner of the US presidential election – Dr Williams said it was an “odd day” to be discussing the work of a churchman who “worked and witnessed in context of what seemed to many at the time an insane political world”.

He said: “I think that at present it’s very hard for us to see where sanity lies in our global political environment, and I dare to hope that thinking about and listening to Dietrich Bonhoeffer may help to settle us and focus us in some way in this strange and challenging time.”


The lecture focused on Bonhoeffer’s unfinished work, Ethics, written when he was a double agent working for the German intelligence office while being involved in a plot to overthrow the Nazi regime.

He was a founding member of the Confessing Church, a movement in 1930s Germany to reject government efforts to use the church to further its agenda, and was hanged in a death camp in 1945.

Dr Williams spoke of Bonhoeffer’s writings on the nature of human solidarity and the dilemmas faced in times of political upheaval when “ordinary forms of human connectedness are overridden and undermined”.

When asked how the Church should respond when politics turns to “racialism”, Dr Williams said: “We’ve seen in the 1930s just how hard it was for the German churches to resist the ‘will of the people’, a phrase I’m starting to regard as demonic in its own way. The ‘will of the people’ – this absolutised, amorphous, popular view and prejudice which somehow takes away all need for discernment and questioning.”

He said: “The church, of course, counteracts it most conspicuously and obviously just by doing differently, and by doing differently in as public and as clear a way as it can. By not being co-opted into that world of exclusions.”

Dr Williams also said that the Church needed to listen to those on the receiving end of the welfare system, and those struggling in food banks and homeless shelters. He described Ken Loach’s new film, I, Daniel Blake as “prophetic”.

Organised by the Hampstead Christian Study Centre, the talk was the fourth annual memorial lecture for Donald Barnes, a former priest of St Peter’s and a prominent supporter of the ordination of women.

Paying tribute to his friend of 40 years, who died in 2011, Dr Williams said it was a “personal privilege” to be able to honour the memory of Rev Barnes, an “immeasurable gift to this parish”.


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