Churches offer great chance for free speech

The Very Rev Dr Frances Ward, Dean of St Edmundsbury
The Very Rev Dr Frances Ward, Dean of St Edmundsbury
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Desmond Tutu once said that he was puzzled by which Bible people are reading when they say that religion and politics don’t mix. And I agree with him.

One of the real contributions that Churches and Cathedrals can make in today’s world is a good, big space where people can come together to talk and listen about the ultimate questions of life, the future of the planet, what makes a good society, the common good. Such questions are political questions. They are religious questions too. The best Churches and Cathedrals have a long tradition of what I call ‘good hosting’, where people from all different persuasions can express opinion and principle, with a clear commitment to free speech.

There’s a real difference when we do this face to face, with respect; even when we differ fundamentally with someone else. So often we simply mix with people we agree with, and dismiss those we don’t as ‘wrong’, or worse. Meeting people who make us cross because they have fundamentally different outlooks to us is good for us. It makes us consider our own position; it makes us listen to stuff we don’t usually like to hear. Spaces for such exchange and dialogue are relatively rare today. Twitter and social media only go so far.

If you like a good debate come along to the Cathedral this evening, Friday 12 February, for the first of a series of ‘Any Questions?’ Tonight I’ll chair a panel of three local men – all of whom have been in the House of Lords: the former Bishop of Leicester, Tim Stevens; Patrick Lord Jenkin and Norman Tebbit. In case you’re thinking that sounds like three old Tories, Bishop Tim is well left of centre. Lord Jenkin is a social liberal, centre right and Norman Tebbit is ... well, Norman Tebbit. A good, thought-provoking evening is in store. Questions will come from the audience – so please email yours in to anyquestions@stedscathedral.org – there’s still time.

The next Any Questions? will be a panel of three women. Sally Sweeney is my hairdresser – the voice from Hatter Street! – who is right behind Jeremy Corbyn. Julia Wakelam, the deputy mayor, is a Green party councillor, and Jo Churchill is our MP. Local politics for local people. The date: Friday 22 April, at 8 pm, with a reception beforehand. Do put it in your diaries. And do come along this evening.

-- We are now in the season of Lent at the Cathedral. A thought provoking series of lectures takes place on Tuesday evenings at 7.30pm on the theme of Religion and Violence and at 1pm on Friday lunchtimes on the theme of Healing. Full details on www.stedscathedral.co.uk.

-- The Very Rev Dr Frances Ward is Dean of St Edmundsbury