(Painting of William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
(This piece originally appeared in Episcopal Café's Speaking to the Soul, Sunday, November 6, 2011)
Readings For the Feast Day of William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, Sunday, November 6:
Psalm 119: 97-104
In recent days, as I've been following the "Occupy Wall Street" movement spreading across different cities in the U.S., I keep thinking William Temple would have something to say about it. In fact, were he alive today, he might have been in the midst of them.
William Temple was born in a setting of genteel Victorian privilege--his father served as Bishop of London, and, later, Archbishop of Canterbury--and he seemed destined for a similar kind of life. He was a sickly child, suffering from gout and bad eyesight (he became blind in his right eye by age 40,) and by all accounts, an excellent scholar. His road to ordination, however, was not entirely smooth. His initial application for ordination was turned down by the Archbishop of Canterbury because he had "unconventional" notions about the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection.
Turns out that was not the only "unconventional" notion he'd have.
Temple became president of the Worker's Education Association in 1908, while tutoring at Queen's College, Oxford. This organization was highly influenced by the philosophy of Anglican theologist Frederick Denison Maurice, the pioneer of the Christian Socialist movement. Temple also joined the Labour Party around that time. Over the next two decades, despite his privileged upbringing, he would become a champion for worker's rights, as well as social and economic reforms. In his famous book, Christianity and the Social Order, he outlined six propositions for a Christian society:
Every child should find itself a member of a family housed with decency and dignity.
Every child should have an opportunity for education up to maturity.
Every citizen should have sufficient income to make a home and bring up his children properly.
Every worker should have a voice in the conduct of the business or industry in which he works.
Every citizen should have sufficient leisure—two days' rest in seven and an annual holiday with pay.
Every citizen should be guaranteed freedom of worship, speech, assembly and association.
Our readings today focus on several elements that speak to reform as a nidus of spiritual transformation. Our Psalm speaks to the love of the law and the value of wise teachers. Exodus discusses the evils of abusing the more vulnerable elements of society. Paul's letter to the Ephesians reminds us of the virtues of servant leadership, and hearing the call in our Baptismal Covenant to seek and serve Christ in all people. Finally, John's Gospel proclaims the power of phos--the luminous power of the Light of Christ's grace to illuminate the darkness of a hurting, broken world.
The life and personal theology of William Temple calls us to our own self examination as agents of the Light of Christ, changing the world, one act of kindness at a time. How are each of us called to respond to the love of those who teach us about grace and tolerance? How have we personally stood up to the abuse of the powerless? How are we servant leaders in our parishes, our schools, or our communities? How does the life of William Temple influence us in our tasks to be bearers of this true Light?
Perhaps the answer is in one of Temple's more famous quotes: "It is a great mistake to suppose that God is only, or even chiefly, concerned with religion."