By Cal Courtney
In the late afternoon of November 4, 1789, the 101st anniversary of the Glorious Revolution, Richard Price mounted his white horse outside his home on Newington Green and made his way to the Old Jewry Meeting House, near the Barbican.
Later that evening he climbed into the Old Jewry's pulpit, still wearing his overcoat for it was cold, and preached a sermon that initiated 'the most crucial ideological debate ever carried on in English', according to one commentator (Thomas W. Copeland).
Price's sermon, A Discourse on the Love of our Country, suggested that all people were entitled to choose their governors, hold them accountable for bad government and organise their governments for themselves. No one who knew the man could have been surprised by his remarks, but, perhaps the confidence in his voice that evening was partly inspired by a letter he had recently received from his good friend Thomas Jefferson who wrote, 'whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights'.
Edmund Burke, a leading light among the 18th century Tories, felt compelled to attack Price for what he had preached. His famous rebuttal, Reflections on the Revolution in France, suggested that the only message one should hear from pulpits was the calm message of Christian charity. It was easy for Burke to make these comments. After all, he was part of the establishment, and, unlike Price, his religious views were not illegal and he did not face the possibility of imprisonment for holding them. Mary Wollestonecraft, wanting to support her friend and mentor, quickly published her Rights of Man, soon followed by Thomas Paine's Rights of Man.
So, Richard Price, the minister of Newington Green Unitarian Church, can be seen as the person responsible for four of
the most important publications in the canon of British political theory.
Recently I had occasion to think about Burke's notion that ministers
should only preach Christian charity from their pulpits. I am not known
as an angry preacher and I hadn't planned to get angry, but as I explored with my congregation the
government's plan to detain people on the say-so of a politician, I got
angry. I thought of the churchmen from around the world who had gathered in Armagh, Northern
Ireland, not far from where I am from, to issue a statement denouncing the American Anglican Church for consecrating a gay bishop.
Disgracefully, not one of them saw fit to issue a statement raising concern regarding the government's detention plans.
Not one of them saw fit to raise concern over the maiming and torture of gay people in Mugabe's Zimbabwe. Not one of them saw fit to raise concern over the plight of the world's poor, the hungry, the naked, the marginalized.
Instead, dressed in their black bombazine dresses with pink chiffon accessories, they pandered to the homophobes and took on an easy target. Shame on them. Perhaps they've been reading too much Burke, but if that's Christian Charity then I want nothing to do with it.
Cal is Minister at the Newington Green Unitarian Church. This is the first in a series of regular articles he will be writing for N16.
Sunday 5 June - Sunday 12 June
Clissold Park, Stoke Newington
Following the enormous success of Stoke Fest 2003 a summer festival that attracted 20,000 people over one day in Clissold Park, Stoke Fest 2005 returns with something even bigger and better...
Kicking off with Reel Take, a cinema in the park on Sunday 5 June, the festival will continue with a week's residency by Bassline Circus and climax with Stoke Fest on Sunday 12 June. Cutting edge, interactive, family friendly and fun, this will be one not to miss. Locally based bands, food stands and theatre groups will be staged alongside activity areas for all ages. From the dub and reggae of Solution Stoke Fest 2005 Sound & Gladdy Wax, to the turn, carve and spin sensations of the Skate Zone, Stoke Fest 05 has something to amuse everyone. Stoke Fest is run by not-for-profit organisation, Open Source Productions (OSP). OSP is a voluntary group of event professionals who make art and cultural events happen for the community. As a dynamic group of volunteers, OSP act as a catalyst for local and new talent pushing open the barriers to culture in the community.
OSP are looking for new volunteers for Stoke Fest and fundraising events: production staff, stewards, bar staff, administrators, web designers, outreach workers and many more. We are looking for people who want to make a difference.
Stoke Run 5km
Sunday 8 May Clissold Park
Fancy getting those dusty trainers out and joining us on a community fun run this spring?
Stoke Run will be a fun, relaxed, achievable course, whether you walk, jog or run. If you've never run before then 5km (just over 3 miles) is a great distance to start and for those seasoned runners out there you know it's a great warm up for those bigger races. Run by local 'not for profit' organisers Open Source Productions, all funds raised will go towards Stoke Fest 2005.