Be respectful even in heat of General Election debate, say church leaders

The UK and world are facing epic challenges, the Archbishops of York and Canterbury said.

Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell (left) and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, have called for respect in the heat of political debate
Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell (left) and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, have called for respect in the heat of political debate (Justin Tallis/PA)

A plea for respect and kindness “even in the heat of the debate” has been made by Church of England leaders after a General Election was called.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell spoke of the “epic challenges” facing the country and wider world, including war, peace, poverty and injustice.

But they urged that “no matter how big the issues” at stake over the coming weeks, the upcoming period should be “a time marked by respect for one another, for good grace and a commitment to truth and integrity”.

In a joint statement following Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s speech on Downing Street announcing that an election will be held on July 4, they said this is a “critical moment in the life of our nation, which will shape our future by electing those who will make decisions affecting generations to come”.

They said: “It is a time for us all – people of all faiths and of none – to ask important questions about what kind of country we want to be.

“We are facing epic challenges both in our country and our world: from questions of war and peace, to poverty and injustice and very future of the Earth God has given us.

“Faced with such huge questions, our instinct as Christians is to turn to God in prayer and so we want to put prayer at the very heart of this campaign.

“We are therefore inviting everyone who is willing to dedicate the next few weeks as a time not just to think about the big questions but to pray for our nation and our world.

“And we want to invite everyone to think about how we all can play our part both as voters and, more broadly, as citizens.”

Calling for the debate to be civil, they added: “It is our prayer that, even in the heat of the debate, we will treat each other with respect and kindness.

“And we give thanks for the dedication of all who stand for public office in service of our communities – often at great personal cost – and those who support the process.”

Mr Welby has been outspoken on the issue of child poverty, having previously called for an end to the “cruel” two-child benefit cap.

At the weekend he said the limit is “neither moral nor necessary” and “falls short of our values as a society”.

But while shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said he welcomed the Archbishop’s intervention, he added that Labour could not promise to scrap the policy without being able to set out how to pay for it.

The cap, which was introduced in 2017, restricts Child Tax Credit and Universal Credit to the first two children in most households.