Archbishop of York warns defence cuts 'risk the safety of the nation'
Our gloriously colourful Archbishop of York sounds the trumpet on behalf of our armed forces, and the Rev'd Giles Fraser bleats with all the comprehension of a 10-year-old, as though the Government's 'cuts' were chronic and deep and they were perpetually robbing pensioner Peter to pay Paul's disability benefit. In fact, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond is robbing us of 20,000 soldiers (that's a fifth of the British Army) in order to pay our EU (and euro) bill.
Dr Sentamu is a bishop quite unafraid to voice what his episcopal brothers rarely do: they prefer to nag about the pink fluffy stuff like the elderly and welfare while Dr Sentamu tackles the thornier issues, with nails if necessary.
He is of the view that cuts to the number of full-time military personnel would 'risk the safety of the nation', and so he opposes plans to increase our reliance on amatuer reservists. He warns: "These defence cuts need to be done with far, far greater sensitivity because we live still in a world that is very fragile and there are people out there still, wanting to do harm to...many, many people.
"To replace professionally trained, full time serving soldiers with part-timers, I'm afraid, for me. I don't think that can be the backbone of the British army," he added.
The Archbishop has form on this: back in 2009, he challenged whether troops serving in Afghanistan were being looked after in accordance with the terms of the military covenant. And in 2008, he made a sponsored parachute jump and raised an impressive £100,000 for the families of troops serving in Afghanistan. He cares about our armed services, as does a while network of chaplains which fuse the military with the church, binding them together for the common good and in the national interest.
What Giles Fraser and his ilk appear to ignore is that we do not live in an era of peace on earth and goodwill to all men. Sometimes the protection of life requires its surrender and sacrifice. The whole witness of the Bible from Cain and Abel in Genesis (4) to the warning against taking up the sword in Revelation (13:10) is against killing. But the situational peculiarities are constantly challenged by the reality of war. Some of these are waged in defence of honour, justice and liberty. But occasionally they are bloody struggles for economic supremacy.
As long as we have the Established Church, it is the task and function of its leaders to discern the ethics of government policy and to challenge motives. It is not the distinctive responsibility of Christian ethics to justify war - though there is a long and persuasive tradition stretching back to Augustine and Aquinas which does so - but to pronounce God's judgment upon it and to promote the conditions that are conducive to peace.
In extremis, God commands war as an option of last resort. Defence of liberty and justice, or to aid a weaker neighbour, are but a few such examples. As Karl Barth observes (no war-monger he), "There may well be bound up with the independent life of a nation responsibility for the whole physical, intellectual and spiritual life of the people comprising it, and therefore their relationship to God." In such cases, he says, Christians must fight and kill to protect the state.
And to do that we need an army. And to win we need a literally overpowering force. So, yes, Giles. It is right and moral to 'prefer cuts to other public services than to the military'. But few in the Church of England any longer have much comprehension of why. Thank God for Dr John Sentamu.